Buddhist center actualized 40 years after contemplation

By Kristin Bender, Inside Bay Area, Jan 16, 2007

Man's architectural baby born decades after conception; multipurpose facility housed in former Berkeley car dealership

Berkeley, CA (USA) -- It took 40 years, but Sady Hayashida finally saw his dream come true when a Buddhist learning center he designed recently opened in Berkeley.

The Jodo Shinshu Center for Buddhist Studies, a $12 million educational development center in downtown Berkeley, is now open, four decades after Hayashida's college plans for a similar center were rejected.

"I always hoped something could happen," said Hayashida, owner of Emeryville-based Hayashida Architects, which designed the center. "This center becoming a reality is realizing a dream I had back in the'60s."

In the last months of 1966, Hayashida, then 23, was a University of California, Berkeley, senior completing a bachelor's degree in architecture.

As part of his senior project, he drafted blueprints for the Buddhist Churches of America to build a temple, classrooms, a cafeteria, recreational areas, offices and dormitories on an expansive private school site that was up for sale in North Berkeley.

He labored for an entire semester on the grand plan, using a finely sharpened pencil and thumb-sized ink stamps to show where each building would be, where each tree would take root and where the cars would park. The plan was his college swan song, his masterpiece.

And then ...

"Buddhist organizations, like other charitable organizations, tend to be conservative ... this was a little ahead of their time. They weren't ready for it. I was patted on the head and told 'great idea,'" said Hayashida, a lifelong Buddhist and a Japanese American who was born in an internment camp during World War II. "It's too bad ... they could have possibly gotten ahead of the game, financially as well."

Hayashida rolled up his plans and went on.

But for the next 40 years he kept them in storage, most recently in the basement of his Berkeley home.

"It's pretty beat up now," he said this week, spreading the plan on a desk at the center and carefully ironing out the creases with his hands.

Nearly four years ago, the nonprofit Buddhist Churches of America (BCA) paid $7.4 million to buy a 35,000-square-foot building at Durant Avenue and Fulton Street from a South Bay development corporation that had cleaned up the building but never leased it.

BCA chose Hayashida's firm over four other candidates and then got down to work, reshaping the art deco building, which was tagged as a historic landmark by the city of Berkeley in 1983.

Built in the 1930s, the building originally housed a Buick dealership owned by Charles Howard, the owner of the famous race horse Seabiscuit.

The building later changed hands, housing the Maggini Chevrolet dealership from the late 1960s to the 1980s.

Baseball Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson later purchased it for his own car dealership, which closed in 1989.

It's far from an Impala service center these days.

The center now houses the Institute of Buddhist Studies, a graduate school and seminary that provides in-depth studies of Jodo Shinshu, general Buddhism and ministry training. The location is ideal because of its proximity to the Graduate Theological Union and UC Berkeley, two institutions with which the Institute is affiliated, center officials said.

"I think it's wonderful and it's elegant," said Dr. Richard Payne, dean of the Institute of Buddhist Studies. "It is well designed in terms of the interior space. I think it was a real challenge for Sady to take a building that had originally been constructed for such a different use and make it into a building that combines so many different functions — a bookstore, office space, as well as the residential space."

There are four apartments and 18 dormitory units for visiting scholars, students and guests on the third floor.

A wide open lobby on the ground floor opens to a bookstore and cafe, before leading to offices, classrooms, a library, research center, study hall, small dining room and kitchen.

The second floor houses a training chapel and Kodo or multipurpose room and a dry Japanese rock garden — a component that was also in Hayashida's original plan.

"This is one of the things I really wanted to see happen," he said, standing at the edge of the garden with its rocks and plants and miniature lantern. "This is the way we envisioned it to be" 40 years ago.

Hayashida and his wife of 40 years were an item back in 1966 when he drafted the plans in college. They were married a short time later, and Amy Hayashida still remembers her mate's idealism about the early project and his hopes and dreams for making it a reality.

She also remembers that it wasn't an era for Japanese-American-run organizations to be calling attention to themselves.

"We were raised to be conservative, to be low key, to quietly assimilate ... that way we didn't create waves and that way we could have a comfortable lifestyle after the war," she said. "(We) didn't complain about the past, we built on whatever we had, and I think (the Buddhist Churches of America) wanted to be productive, but very low key so members could enjoy their religion in peace."

This time around it was different for her husband's plans, she said. "I was concerned because I know how much emotional attachment he had to it. I was concerned for him because I thought he's going to be fighting the same issues, but it wasn't really as difficult for him this time."

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