The temple was built in 1949 for the Denver Buddhist Church, which had been founded 1919 to serve the city’s small Japanese immigrant community. Before building the temple, the group had moved around town for thirty years, according to a document from Denver Community Planning and Development. The temple also served as the headquarters for 36 Buddhist churches in Nebraska, Wyoming and Colorado.
In the 1960s, the Tri-State Buddhist Church set out to redevelop the block the building was on, as part of the Denver Urban Development Authority’s redevelopment of downtown. The congregation called the block Sakura Square, and set out to build a combination of residential, commercial and community spaces. The development broke ground in 1971 and officially launched in 1973.
Nearly 50 years later, the Tri-State/Denver Buddhist Temple is ready to back the redevelopment of the block again and build a new temple — if it can get permission from the City of Denver.
“As the aging structural and mechanical systems of Sakura Square and the Temple will soon reach the end of their economic lives and require replacement, the goal of the redevelopment is to reposition Sakura Square and the Temple for current and future generations,” Sakura Square LLC, the company that owns the majority of the block, posted online. “The key component of the redevelopment is the construction of a new Temple and Community Center facility to be located on the block. The overall project will consist of a variety of uses which may include residential, retail, commercial, parking venues, along with community uses which will highlight our Japanese American heritage and culture. In addition, an open plaza area will be located on site for enhanced cultural and community programming. Sakura Square will continue to remain a hub for organizations to participate in Japanese and Japanese American cultural and community programming.”
On Nov. 10, 2021, the church filed an application for a certificate of demolition eligibility.
“The Tri-State/Denver Buddhist Temple facility is 70+ years old and past its useful life,” said the temple’s board chair Chad Nitta. “For historical reasons, it is important to us that the Temple remain at Sakura Square. Our CDE application is just one step as we explore our options for building a new facility for our community and future generations.”
Landmark Preservation reviewed the structure and determined it had potential to be a Denver landmark. The agency wrote up the building’s history, arguing it could be preserved for the following reasons: tts association with the redevelopment of downtown, how it serves as a source of pride for the Japanese-American community, and its association with the Tri-State/Denver Buddhist Temple itself.
Yet it’s the Temple itself is ready to say goodbye.
Now people have until Jan. 3, 2022 to let the city know they intend to file for landmark designation. To do so, either the head of Community Planning and Development, a member of City Council or three residents of the City and County of Denver need to be on board. If they do file, they have another 60 days to file a designation application. Assuming nobody files, the temple would be eligible for demolition starting Jan. 4.