After long search, mosque for south Palo Alto takes shape | September 17, 2008 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - September 17, 2008

After long search, mosque for south Palo Alto takes shape

Modern meets ancient in building that will give Peninsula community a home

by Arden Pennell

The drawings have gone across the Atlantic to India and back. They have been tweaked and improved during the course of a year.

Now plans for the first mosque to be built in Palo Alto, at 998 San Antonio Road, are finally ready for review. They are scheduled to be presented by the Anjuman-e-Jamali Muslim group to the city's Architectural Review Board Thursday. The preliminary feedback session is expected to start at 8:30 a.m.

The 10,122-square-foot building would contain a 40-foot mosque with a roughly 60-foot minaret, adjacent to a two-story community center and parking structure, according to Matt Johnson, one of the designers from Barton Architect.

The center would also house an apartment for the imam and one for visiting imams, architect John Barton said.

The new mosque would blend contemporary and ancient styles, he said.

Current plans depict a beige structure of modern cement blocks arranged in subtle, graduated patterns.

The entrance is surrounded by an intricately carved grille that recalls traditional design but topped by a sleek steel awning.

Above is a row of pointed-arch, clerestory windows. The roof is ringed by a parapet stamped with geometric stapes.

The minaret — a decorative element, from which calls to prayer would not be issued — has two set-back levels and a domed top.

Inside the mosque, passages from the Koran will adorn the wall in Kufic script, Johnson said.

The shorter community center is less ornate, with simple wood slats planned for the sides, and semi-screened parking, he added.

Religious rules determined the mosque's placement on the site. Mosques must face Mecca and cars mustn't be driven behind them, the designer said.

The mosque's side, a wall of tall windows, faces an offshoot of San Antonio Road behind a pre-existing wall of vegetation, he said.

Architects strove to meld a variety of styles, according to Muslim community leader Esmail Essabhoy.

"The style of so many mosques, from Egypt, from London, something from India, Iraq — all those have been blended," he said.

The plans come from the Dawoodi Bohra sect of Islam, a group that includes about 80 families on the Peninsula, Essabhoy said.

The sect is based out of India — hence the local group's back-and-forth communication to get approval from the religious authority there.

The new mosque will be a home for a community that has spent a decade bouncing between temporary spaces, searching for a site to build a permanent worship hall.

"We were hopping around from place to place. ... It was tough," Essabhoy said. Meeting at community centers and other churches, the group was at the mercy of others' schedules and availability. It was hard to organize events without dependable headquarters, he said.

The new space will free the group to control its own schedule.

"It will be convenient. Any time we want to have a prayer meeting done we can do it at our beck and call."

The search for a mosque has taken nearly a decade because the worshippers needed to find a site zoned for church use, Essabhoy explained.

After looking from Los Gatos to Mountain View — including a Los Altos site later abandoned when the group realized neighbors were unlikely to approve an expansion — they found the Palo Alto site about four years ago, he said.

The religious community purchased the former church for $1.6 million. One family will pay to demolish the church and build the whole project, Essabhoy said, adding the family wants to be anonymous and would rather not disclose the cost now.

The mosque will be open to all Muslims, the representative said.

"Anybody is welcome."

The mosque will be Palo Alto's second. The Jamil Masjid mosque operates at 427 California Ave. adjacent to Jamil Oriental Carpets. That proximity keeps with a Middle Eastern tradition of businesses opening up extra space to prayer, according to Adam Jamil, son of the mosque's late founder, Mohammad Mazhar Jamil.

According to a 2001 count of mosques by the federal government, California has more than any other state, with 227 mosques at the time. New York clocked in second with 140.

Palo Alto has no official count of how many Muslims — or members of other religions — live in the city, according to Senior Planner Roland Rivera. About 250,000 live in the Bay Area, according to the San Francisco Bay Area Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Staff Writer Arden Pennell can be e-mailed at


Posted by Too Much Traffic, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 17, 2008 at 7:49 am

Won't this create too much traffic?
Also, it does not matter how they want the mosque to look and what rules need to be followed for placement--our Architectural review board will have the final say on this.

Posted by Neighbor, a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 17, 2008 at 8:01 am

Will the five times a day call to prayer from the minaret comply with Palo Alto's noise ordinance?

Posted by sally, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 17, 2008 at 8:34 am

I think it is great that Palo Alto can welcome different cultures and religions into our community. Welcome!

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 17, 2008 at 8:54 am

This is wonderful, everyone should have a "religious home" if they want one. Neighbor - if you read the article "The minaret — a decorative element, from which calls to prayer would not be issued" no calls to prayer will be issued.

Posted by Ted, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 17, 2008 at 9:39 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 17, 2008 at 9:41 am

Will San Antonio be called the Wailing Wall, since we have jewish community center one side and the muslims community center the other?

Posted by ARB field day, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 17, 2008 at 9:53 am

I am sure one of the complaints of the ARB will be that it looks too much like a mosque--they will recommend that they change the look, drop the minaret, make it more colorful, add more windows and doors and have it facing in another direction

Posted by Greg K, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 17, 2008 at 10:49 am

San Antonio is already an architectural waste land, full of haphazard and mostly cheap and ugly buildings. I'm sure that any religious building will be an upgrade to that street.

Posted by Close neighbor, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Sep 17, 2008 at 2:41 pm

When is the City going to do it's long promised redesign of San Antonio Road? The pine tree's roots buckle the roadway and make it downright unsafe for heavy trucks.

Mountain View has approved its development on the old HP site, the Campus for Jewish Life is under construction and now a new Mosque, but the surface of the roadway is an abomination. Please Palo Alto, the signs you've put out that the roadway is uneven don't do the job, it's time to remove those pine trees and their roots and then resurface.

Posted by Bill, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 17, 2008 at 10:28 pm

I see that Palo Alto's 50 foot height limit will again be broken. I wonder why we have it? The latest is Mr. Rapp's effort on University Ave.

What is the purpose of the minaret if there won't be calls to prayer for the usual 5 times a day?

Posted by San Antonio neighbor, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 18, 2008 at 9:26 am

Bill--from today's story in the PA Daily:
(Web Link)

"At this early stage, the plans appear entirely consistent with local design codes, said city planner Lata Vasudevan. The 58-foot spire is permitted under a statute that allows certain architectural features to exceed the city's 50-foot height limit by up to 15 feet."

So clearly they are not breaking any rules.

Also from the article:
"The review board will focus on how the building fits into the neighborhood around it. "

That area is an industrial area with grubby, run down buildings--anything that will be built there will improve the general appearance.

Posted by Anon, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 18, 2008 at 10:58 pm

even if they did have calls to prayer i don't see why it really matters. there are churches in (residential areas of) palo alto that have loud bells. plus i looked up the address on mapquest and its right next to the freeway, so noise doesn't seem like it should be a huge issue.

Posted by anon, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 18, 2008 at 11:01 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Paul, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 19, 2008 at 3:12 pm

Great design.

Posted by Kate, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 21, 2008 at 10:12 am

Maybe this will prompt somebody, anybody - city, county, state, to clean up the intersection of San Antonio and Highway 101, which has to be the most decrepit intersection, overpass, cloverleaf in the entire state.

Posted by Enthusiast, a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 8, 2008 at 4:46 pm

What a great opportunity for synergy, communication and understanding between Palo Alto jews and muslims!

Posted by Jay, a resident of Ventura
on Jun 20, 2012 at 2:17 pm

I wish I had heard of this before. I moved out of Palo Alto more than 10 years ago but my family is still there (6th generation Palo Altans). The building on this site has historical and cultural significance, which has been overlooked and ignored for years. This is where the Grateful Dead played their first gig after changing their name from The Warlocks and where they met their manager who got them signed to a major label. It is also where one of the first Acid Tests was conducted (that very same night of course) by Ken Kesey and The Merry Pranksters. The Big Beat Club is mentioned in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe. One could argue that the 60s counter-culture movement came out of Palo Alto and this building was one of the few with significance to that movement.

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