As soon as you drive into the Fresno Betsuin Buddhist Temple grounds, you can’t miss the new Hondo — and it will leave you breathless.
The stunning, striking new Hondo is an ultramodern blend of the old — with the traditional Onaijin from the original temple on Kern Street — and the new, with subtle influences of iconic architect Frank Lloyd Wright. That is no coincidence — acclaimed architect Arthur Dyson was a student of Wright. The dimensions of the building floor are 78 feet by 73 feet, but the roof is an expansive 127 feet by 120 feet, and its height is 24.5 feet to the curb.
The new Hondo was dedicated during three separate services on the weekend of April 23-24.
The happy events marked the culmination of more than 20 years of hard work, fundraising, and perseverance amid pandemic-related delays involving the Fresno Betsuin; Dyson and general contractor BMY (Bower, Mitchell and Yemoto). Donations came from members and organizations of the Betsuin and from its Dharma friends in the BCA and Japan.
“The new Fresno Betsuin Hondo has a high degree of ‘wow’ factor in its appearance,” said BCA Bishop Rev. Marvin Harada, who attended all three dedication services. “Anyone driving by the new Hondo cannot help but turn their heads and think, ‘Wow, what is that building?’ I hope it will lead many new people to the Fresno Betsuin and to Shin Buddhism.”
It began in 1998
The story of the new temple began in 1998 when a few concerned Fresno Betsuin members gathered to share concerns about the future of our temple.
The temple, located at 1340 Kern St., would soon be 100 years old and the concern was of an aging and declining membership as well as a deteriorating neighborhood. Climbing to the third-floor Hondo had become difficult for many.
From this was born a movement to promote the propagation of Shin Buddhism and a plan for a relocation that would involve the building of a new temple complex. We envisioned a new temple and a Family Dharma Center.
The potential move and the idea of change from our old downtown temple was not going to be an easy transition and was not easily accepted by many Sangha members.
In the temple, many members were married, and many said their last farewells to their parents and grandparents. It was the home of a nursery school, Japanese school, and Dharma School.
In addition, Fresno Betsuin oversees rural towns in an expansive area that would add distance if we moved farther from the current location. Our ministers counseled us that the Hondo is a building and that our Sangha is living, dynamic and ever changing.
A seven-acre plot of land became available to us in north Fresno in a developing and growing neighborhood surrounded by homes and several other churches of varying denominations. The Board of Directors chose to purchase the property, which was the foundation that set into motion a realistic vision of a new Jodo Shinshu Buddhist complex.
After interviewing several architects, Arthur Dyson, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright and well known in his own right, captivated us with a unique, ultramodern rendition of a temple. BMY (Bower, Mitchell and Yemoto) was selected as the general contractor and patiently worked with us on costs and estimates.
Once we determined the cost of building both a Family Dharma Center and a new temple, it became evident that we could only build one building at a time.
Our membership was somewhat divided as to which should be built first. Building the 13,000-square-foot Family Dharma Center first with a gym, multi-purpose facility and a full-size commercial kitchen was the most practical choice for our membership. It would allow us to have large fundraisers, provide a day-to-day gathering place and serve as a temporary space to have our services.
On January 2010, the Family Dharma Center was opened debt free, fully funded by our generous membership and Dharma friends.
After taking a couple of months off, the building committee embarked with plans to build the new temple. After raising $4.5 million to build the Family Dharma Center, it was like starting from scratch and appeared to be a daunting task.
The same members that donated to the Family Dharma Center were being asked now to work and contribute toward the new temple.
But It was encouraging for the building committee to see that the membership had not lost sight of building the new temple. However, we were faced with the fact that the design of the new temple was much more complex and detailed than our Family Dharma Center. Coupled with rising cost of labor and materials, it was evident that we needed to take measures to reduce costs.
Months and years went by, and funds were coming in slowly. We reduced the size of the temple building drastical