The History of the Vedanta Society in America dates from the end of the 19th century. After attending the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, Swami Vivekanandaji traveled to San Francisco, where he gathered a significant group of students. The Vedanta Society of San Francisco was founded in 1900.
Vedanta, one of the six schools of Hindu philosophy, was brought to America by Hindu students of Ramakrishna, including Vivekanandaji and Swami Trigunatitananda.
At an invitation from Vivekanandaji, Trigunatitananda arrived in San Francisco on January 2, 1903. He conducted courses and lectures at the local Vedanta Society, but operations soon began to outgrow the small apartment they used. The company raised $ 1,800 (equivalent to about $ 51,800 in 2021) which they used to build a new home for the company on the corner of Webster Street and Filbert Street.
The first two floors of the building were completed in August 1905 and served as offices and classrooms as well as living quarters for the swamis and their assistants. The temple was officially dedicated in January 1906. In 1908 an additional floor was built, which included a balcony and the main towers. The Vedanta Society published that “this temple can be architecturally viewed as a combination of a Hindu temple, a Christian church, a Mohammedan mosque, a Hindu mathematics or a Hindu monastery and an American residence”.
Due to its onion domes, the building is often mistaken for the Russian embassy. Incredibly, the temple survived the April 1906 earthquake and fire in San Francisco. It served the local Vedanta community until a new temple, inaugurated in 1959, was built at 2323 Vallejo Street. The old temple is now used as a bedroom and classroom.
The temple caught the city’s attention on December 28, 1914 when a former student exploded in the temple at the feet of Trigunatitananda explosives. The former student died and Trigunatitananda suffered injuries that resulted in his death a few weeks later. Viewers describe the bomber as going to the front of the temple and then slamming a package three times before it exploded.