The structure is said to be the first Hindu Temple in the Western Hemisphere. The community’s history reaches back to the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 and the fair's concurrent World Parliament of Religions.
Sri RamakrishnaSwami (teacher) Vivekananda, a disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, visited San Francisco after attending the conference. His lectures and classes gathered a significant group of students in the Bay Area who formed the Vedanta Society in 1900.
The Vedanta is a philosophy based on the Upanishads, the final books of the Veda (ancient Indo-Aryan philosophic/religious texts). It is considered the basis of the Hindu religion and embraces the concept that all religions share the same goal, the achievement of spiritual knowledge and oneness with God.
The Old Temple served as the home for what became the Vedanta Society of Northern California. An early pamphlet published by the Society noted that the Temple "may be considered a Hindu temple, a Christian church, a Mohammedan mosque and a Hindu monastery."
In 1904 the San Francisco group purchased the property on Webster Street for $1,800 in order to build its first temple. The neighborhood was still dotted by sandlots, market gardens, and nursery operations.
Joseph A. Leonard
Joseph A. Leonard was chosen as the architect and worked with Swami Trigunathiandaji on the design. The first two floors were completed in 1905. Leonard (1849-1929) was an eclectic architect and developer who delivered a large Edwardian structure with undeniable Queen Anne touches.
The Old Temple.
In 1907-08, Swami Trigunathiandaji explicitly directed the design of an exuberant third floor: five hollow domes and the graceful, lobated arches of the gallery. The dome that looks down on Webster Street honors Christianity, seen as a European, Western religion. The corner dome is a double bulb, patterned on that of a Hindu temple in the Bengal region of India.
Hindu Temple in Bengal, India.
The easternmost Filbert Street dome is a two-stage octagon which represents a Shivite temple in India, but is topped with an Islamic crescent that is itself crowned by a trident.
A Shiva temple in India.
The next dome, moving west, is the “Hershey kisses” dome, a miniaturized replica of a temple in Benares (in Uttar Pradesh, India), also reminiscent of the onion domes of Russian Orthodox architecture.
"Hershey kisses" dome.
The final dome above Filbert Street is a copy of the Moghul architecture of the Taj Mahal.
The Old Vedanta Temple is in good company as a landmark-worthy house of worship and study in its Cow Hollow neighborhood. The Russian Orthodox Holy Trinity Cathedral, the English country-style Episcopal St. Mary the Virgin, and the Heidi-Swiss Roman Catholic St. Vincent de Paul churches are all nearby.
1959 - Present.
The "New" Vedanta Temple.
The Vendanta Community used the Old Temple from 1905 to 1959, when the community outgrew the space of the Old Temple. The “New” Vedanta Temple was dedicated in 1959 at Fillmore and Vallejo Streets, just a few blocks away from the Old Temple. The Old Temple continues to serve the community as a dormitory, lecture hall, and site of classrooms. Tours of the Old Temple are not available to the public, although architecture students are sometimes given access.