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The iconic Oakland Mormon Temple opens its doors again to public tours

The Oakland California Temple. (Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)

The newly renovated Oakland landmark popularly known as the Mormon Temple is open to public tours this month for the first time since its dedication in 1964.

According to a history of the temple published in Mormon magazine, The Improvement Era, the site for the Oakland temple was picked out in 1924 by future Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) president George Albert Smith, who was looking out from a rooftop terrace at the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill in San Francisco and saw an area of the East Bay hills illuminated by the setting sun.

“Brother Macdonald, I can almost see in vision a white temple of the Lord high upon those hills,” Smith told W. Aird Macdonald of the church’s California stake, “an ensign to all the world travelers as they sail through the Golden Gate into this wonderful harbor.”

It took 40 years to realize that vision and the temple today remains one of Oakland’s most visible landmarks, “easily the most impressive structure in the Bay Area,” the San Francisco Examiner stated in 1964.

The Oakland California Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints originally opened on Nov. 17, 1964, after hosting a month of tours to the general public that attracted more than 350,000 curious visitors — as many as 20,000 in a day — that September.

Cover of the LDS magazine, The Improvement Era, from 1964, which was dedicated to the Oakland temple.

“In keeping with Mormon custom, no words were spoken as the visitors moved through the many ornate rooms used for religious ceremonies and the auditoriums for large gatherings of the faithful,” the San Francisco Examiner reported on the tours. “Questions were asked and answered outside the temple. Inside, men and women in white silently kept the crowd moving through the auditoriums, the onyx baptistry supported by 12 golden oxen representing the 12 tribes of Israel.

“After the temple has been consecrated in November, non-Mormons will be permitted to walk through the gardens, but not allowed to enter the structure.”

The temple is not a church in the traditional sense of a place of worship, as news accounts noted at the time, but for ceremonies such as “vicarious baptism for the dead, marriages, and priesthood ordinations,” noted the Los Angeles Times.

At the time it opened, the temple was the second built in California, after Los Angeles, and the 15th opened by the church overall. The Oakland temple, with five tall gold spires and a large reflecting pool in front, cost $6 million at the time (about $49 million today). It served a five-state area “from Fresno to the Canadian border and eastward to Idaho and Nevada,” the Oakland Tribune reported. Its region is now confined to the Bay Area.

Tours are being offered by reservation through June 1, except for May 19 and 26 at the temple, 4770 Lincoln Ave. Free reservations for tours can be made through templeopenhouse.lds.org.

The building will be rededicated on June 15.