Our second stop of Open House Chicago was the Buddhist Temple of Chicago. After Metropolitan Coffee Company, we thought it would be a nice change of pace. What we hadn’t anticipated was the gut-punch dealt by the building’s history.
Buddhist Temple of Chicago
Located in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, Buddhist Temple of Chicago was founded in 1944. From the outside, the building is rather unassuming.
The main sanctuary is a six-sided hexagonal shape, the only one of its kind outside of Japan. And at the front of the room is a shrine built with no nails or glue thanks to the tongue-in-groove design. (This is all from the brochure they handed me).
In the corner hung a few thousand small cranes. In Buddhism, paper cranes are a sign of good luck and well wishes.
Built By Hand
I asked the director of the center, Otto, about some of the wood carvings, and the Temple’s sordid history came to light. The original shrine was built after Japanese prisoners were released from internment camps. These wooden carvings of the Buddha were done by a man name Harry Koizumi who learned to carve while interned at the Heart Mountain wartime concentration camp near Cody, Wyoming. In fact, many of the pieces on display were made by those interned.
Remember the Past
Off to the right of the sanctuary sat a small room. Inside was the temple’s original shrine which was also made in Heart Mountain Camp by pieces that were scavenged from the area. The sign next to the shrine was also built from scrap wood in the camp. Both were still used until the new building dedication in 2006.
However, on all the shelves sat small boxes. Some had names while others did not. I asked Otto what these were, and he told me that they were the remains of family and temple members who didn’t make it home from the camps.
Others were more ornately decorated, though I didn’t ask who this was and why they get a light on their remains for all eternity.
With that, we said goodbye to what was an unexpectedly heavy stop on our tour. Next, we went to see The Lawrence House.