Beginner’s Mind Temple Renovation Project

Why Renovate? Why Now?

When San Francisco Zen Center purchased Julia Morgan’s architectural jewel at 300 Page Street in 1969, some 40 men and women moved in along with their teacher, Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. No one could have anticipated that these young countercultural seekers would help Zen Buddhism take root and thrive in the US, nor that over 50 years later many thousands of people would cross the threshold of this iconic urban temple.

Today the spiritual home loved by so many of us is 100 years old. In all that time, it has never had a major renovation.

These improvements are not optional. They are necessary if the building is to continue to function as Beginner’s Mind Temple (often referred to as City Center). With mostly original 1922 electrical wiring and plumbing, and with thousands of residents and guests having lived, worked, and practiced here over five decades, 300 Page Street is in urgent need of major improvements. It is increasingly labor-intensive and expensive just to keep the building operating.

With this renovation, we will balance the needs of resident community members with those who live elsewhere. In the early years, Beginner’s Mind Temple was primarily a residential practice center where students shared a community life based on Zen practice. It was ideal for this purpose, having been designed by the Emanu-el Sisterhood as a residence club for young Jewish women, providing them with necessary privacy and security.

Today, the building is more about opening to the world. Broad access has become a priority, as more and more people come for zazen instruction, dharma talks, workshops, retreats, and to participate in groups such as Zen en Español, Young Urban Zen, Queer Dharma, and Meditation in Recovery. Now hundreds of people use a building designed as a residence for 40.

Renovation and construction are very expensive in San Francisco and the longer we put off this project, the more expensive it becomes. While the post-pandemic timing is not ideal, if we wait much longer, escalating costs will make it nearly impossible to fund.

The Welcome Center

In addition to replacing obsolete infrastructure, we are making major improvements related to the building’s use. The signature feature of our plan is the creation of a 1,350 square foot Welcome Center. (See image on this page.) This new space will be directly across the lobby from the Buddha Hall, and about the same size. It will be flooded with sunlight from Page Street through the four grand arched windows that until now have been hidden within small offices.

The Welcome Center will be an open, inviting, flexible area for pre- and post-event gatherings, conversations among dharma friends, sharing a cup of tea, book readings, small group meetings, and more.

The vitality of our community will be celebrated here.

Both our bookstore and front office will be modernized and incorporated into this bright new space where contemporary design will strongly complement the classic Julia Morgan interiors.

Additional features will make Beginner’s Mind Temple accessible and welcoming to more people:

  • Installing an elevator to all floors to make the building more accessible for both visitors and residents.
  • Constructing a new wheelchair ramp from Page Street and a wheelchair lift on the Laguna Street level.
  • Installing heating and ventilation in the zendo.
  • Adding an additional sangha meeting space on the Zendo level.
  • On the residential floors, replacing antiquated communal bathrooms with bathrooms for individual use.
  • Making public bathrooms in the basement and on the 1st floor accessible and gender neutral.

All work will reflect our aesthetic of simplicity and improve the environmental footprint in line with our deepest values of sustainability.

Our core aspiration for the renovation is perhaps best expressed by Senior Dharma Teacher Linda Ruth Cutts: “The outcome we want is for as many people as possible to take up the practice in a deep, thorough way for the benefit of the world, wherever they go. We want them to unreservedly plunge into a practice life.”