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 drastically by removing the offices, small chapel and conference rooms to get to a more realistic budget figure. We relocated and reduced the size of the “nokotsudo,” or columbarium.
A turning point
A turning point in the building project occurred May 4, 2018, when the old downtown temple was sold to the Mrauk Oo Dhamma Center, which gave a major boost to the Fresno Betsuin treasury.
The Burmese Buddhist Sangha has maintained and remodeled the old temple dramatically, and it remains a vehicle to disseminate the Buddha-Dharma. Although we were significantly short of our budget goal, the Board of Directors voted to commence building the new temple.
Groundbreaking occurred on Jan. 19, 2020. However, COVID-19 affected the permitting process and building began on Nov. 19, 2020. We experienced high cost increases in lumber and steel, and the COVID-19 variants played havoc with our labor force.
However, with the continued financial support of our members and friends of the Fresno Betsuin, our patience was rewarded with a temporary permit to occupy the building in February 2022. The building was completed debt free.
The last piece of the puzzle was the installation of the Onaijin. We chose to blend the old with the new by installing the original downtown Onajin as well as the Rennyo Shonin and Shinran Shonin altars, which had been dismantled and stored in the temperature-controlled storage unit for a few years.
Through the work and vision of our ministers, Rinban Rev. Kakei Nakagawa, Rev, Kazuaki Nakata and Rev. Midori Nakagawa, the Onaijin came to life in the Hondo.
Glenn Hamamoto oversaw the dismantling and rebuilding of the Onaijin. The Onaijin installation service was conducted on April 8.
The Onaijin isn’t elevated, but level with the Sangha and behind the Onaijin is a large circular window made of translucent material. The theater-style seats slightly slope toward the Onaijin. The temple has a seating capacity of 234, but can be expanded to 299 with additional folding chairs.
Inside, there is a “nokotsudo” (columbarium), which houses over 140 niches. The doors entering the temple are 12 feet tall and were specially designed and manufactured. There are translucent windows around the building with high insulation properties just below the roof that looks like shoji screens.
After all these years, the Opening Services were held on the weekend of April 23-24.
Because of COVID-19, the health and safety of our members and friends was of concern. We opted to have three services. Saturday services were for members and Sunday was for members and special guests. This would allow everyone to be able to sit in a theater-style seat with no overflow and adequate spacing. Each service was identical, including three ribbon cuttings with different members and guests.
The service was a traditional Jodo Shinshu service seldom experienced in the United States. It was officiated by our ministers, Central California Minister’s Assistants and Padma youth ministers.
The words to the sutras were shown on the two TV monitors. The sound of the Gagaku music heard through our state-of-the-art sound system was wonderful.
Bishop Rev. Marvin Harada read a message from the BCA and Rev. Nakata read a message written by Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha Governor General Chiko Iwagami.
All attendees offered incense and adjourned to a picture-taking session and then to the Family Dharma Center for a program and meal.
Building Co-Chairperson Robert Ishikawa opened the program by speaking of our dedication of the temple to the Isseis and Niseis who laid the foundation for Jodo Shinshu Buddhism.
Speakers over the weekend included Bishop Rev. Marvin Harada, BCA President Terri Omori, Fresno Betsuin President Gordon Ah-Tye, Deputy Consul General of Japan Hajime Kishimoto, architect Arthur Dyson, Forrest Brown of BMY, Rinban Rev. Kakei Nakagawa, and former Rinban Rev. Nobuo Miyaji.
We were treated to a new song written and recorded by Trevor Kubose, the great-grandson of Rev. Gyomay Kubose, author of “Everyday Suchness.”
A video presentation by Greg Tsudama showed the time-lapse building of the temple and also a drone view of our whole complex.
Co-Chairperson Gordon Misaki recapped the building process, expressed gratitude to everyone who donated to the building and concluded by imploring the members to return to the temple and its brand new Hondo after being absent for two years due to the pandemic.
Members of the final building committee were: Alene Hayashi, Michael Hayashi, Robert Ishikawa, Paula Kanagawa, Jim Kubo, Gordon Misaki, Stephanie Nakata, Greg Tsudama, Ruth Yoneda and advisers Rinban Rev. Nakagawa, Rev. Kazuaki Nakata and Gordon Ah-Tye.