A 109-YEAR-OLD BUILDING with an assortment of Old World touches, gingerly connected to a six-story contemporary residential mid-rise, is becoming the focal point of San Francisco's Japan Town. The Kokoro Assisted Living Center took both a Grand award for assisted living and a Merit award for infill community.

The historic structure has been a community center since 1895, when it was constructed as Temple Ohabai Shalom (“lovers of peace”) for the city's nascent Jewish community. It became a Buddhist temple in 1934, as that area of San Francisco became Japan Town. After the 1970s, it began its long decline.

Surprisingly, the old building's façade is redwood, made to emulate stone carvings. The ornate arcade above the entrance may have been inspired by the Doge's palace in Venice. The sloping roof is topped by twin minarets. Horizontal lumber emulates granite. The center houses 54 assisted-living units, 60 percent of which are reserved for low-income residents. It was financed with a $2.8 million grant and donations from the local community and $7 million from a HUD-insured mortgage.

For an aging community that was traumatized by its relocation to internment camps during World War II and subsequent return to the city, the reconstructed building has rekindled memories of better times, says architect Steven Kodama.

Still, the developer could have knocked down the old building. Starting from scratch would have been cheaper, Kodama says. The original brick foundation had to be replaced with concrete. “The soil below it is sand—a portion of the building slipped as we were excavating. We had to chemically treat the soil.”

But there were good reasons to stick with the existing structure—not all of them sentimental. “The building fills most of the site, with no setbacks,” Kodama says. “If we had started from scratch, we would have had to set it back and would have lost about a quarter of the building.”

What had once been the sanctuary has become the center's dining and lounge area. The residential units in the new building incorporate Japanese elements. Shoji panels close off the closet, kitchenette, and bedroom. And in one corner is a tokonoma, an alcove where a flower arrangement or a hanging scroll is meant to be placed.

CATEGORIES: Assisted living (grand); Infill community (merit); ENTRANT/ARCHITECT: KodamaDiseno, San Francisco; BUILDER: Roberts-Obayashi Corp., Danville, Calif.; DEVELOPER: Japanese-American Assisted Living Facilities, San Francisco; LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT: Merrill + Befu Associates, San Francisco; INTERIOR DESIGNER: Yokomizo Associates, San Francisco

BUILDER TIP No Match While the designers wanted the old and new buildings to function together, there was no attempt to make them match. A windowed stairwell makes a distinct break between the structures. The residential building's contemporary style refuses to ape the ornateness of the former temple. The two are related by color, their metal roofs, and bending arches. Says architect Steven Kodama, “We tried to treat the new building as the bedroom of a very large house.”

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