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Oakland Heritage Alliance Logo



The Rabbi Steven & Leona Chester Campus
at the Temple Sinai

OHA has presented a Partners in Preservation Award to Temple Sinai, the oldest continuously operating Jewish congregation in the East Bay. Incorporated in 1875, the temple has had four locations in Oakland, including its current site at 28th and Webster streets. In 2003, the congregation completed a two-year strategic planning process, which, among other things, identified the need for an expanded facility to accommodate a new chapel; a modern religious school facility, including space for a full-time pre-school; new administrative offices; a library; and parking.

In 2004, when the design process began, the Temple building complex included an historic sanctuary building and social hall that were initially dedicated in 1914 and designed by prominent Beaux Arts architect Albert Lansburgh. The sanctuary also included stained glass windows produced by H. Dombrink Company, California's oldest art glass works. At that time, the exterior of these two facilities had not been altered significantly since their construction; the sanctuary interior remained essentially unaltered since it was built, but the social hall had undergone extensive interior remodeling. In addition, the temple had completed a large addition to these historic structures sometime in the 1950s that housed the current school, administrative offices, and a small chapel. The exteriors of the sanctuary and social hall have been designated as historic City Landmarks by Oakland, but have not been designated as state or federal historic resources. The remainder of the building complex had no landmark status.

Even from the initial planning stages, the congregation had a strong commitment to preserving the historic sanctuary and social hall. However, the architects hired to design the new facility, Michael Harris and Mark Horton, had a distinctly modern style. The goal was to create a very contemporary-looking addition that would complement and offset, rather than mimic, the historic buildings.

A major early challenge was the new part of the campus that had been built in the 1950s. The first approach was to reuse the building shell and add space on the building's north end by utilizing several additional parcels that had been purchased by the congregation in the 1990s. But none of the design schemes considered were adequate to meet the program needs. Therefore, the decision was made to demolish the entire 1950s addition and build a completely new structure that would join up seamlessly with the historic social hall. A second very significant challenge occurred during the construction phase. The plans called for an extensive interior remodel of the original social hall. But, once walls were opened up and previous remodel work was uncovered, it became clear that this older work was very badly done and would require extensive remediation, thus both increasing the project's overall cost and construction time.

Despite the challenges, the new construction and restoration were completed and dedicated in 2010. Since that time, the Temple Sinai community has continued to grow its membership, as well as continuing its role as a prominent anchor institution for the south side of Pill Hill, or what is now known as the Broadway Valdez section of Oakland. In addition, Temple Sinai has and will continue to use this facility to support Oakland's interfaith community.