Becoming homeless just may be the best thing that ever happened to the 40-year-old Palo Alto Jewish Community Center. After losing its 20-year lease in 2000, the center's leaders gathered their resources and community support to put together a $200 million plan to build a 135,000-square-foot regional Jewish center along with new rental, senior, and for-sale housing and office space in expensive Palo Alto, Calif.

"Someone suggested we try and buy land, but it seemed like a ludicrous idea," says Shelley Hebert, executive director, campus development for the new Taube-Koret Campus for Jewish Life. "But it blossomed into inviting other organizations to create a Jewish community campus."

Palo Alto Jewish Community Center
Steinberg Architects Palo Alto Jewish Community Center

When a local 12-acre corporate campus came up for sale in 2001, Taube-Koret joined with Jewish Home and BRIDGE Housing, both of San Francisco, to buy the property. Jewish Home will handle the Jewish senior housing, BRIDGE will develop 67 low-income rentals and 100 for-sale townhomes, and Taube-Koret will build the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center.

Rob Steinberg, president of Steinberg Architects in Palo Alto, will design the eight acres dedicated to senior housing and the Jewish center. "I wanted it to look medieval, like the very old city of Jerusalem," he says. "But I also wanted architecture that is clear and contemporary so it could be built in California."

Palo Alto Jewish Community Center
Steinberg Architects Palo Alto Jewish Community Center

Construction is set to begin in fall 2006 if the coalition can raise the second half of the $150 million, Hebert says. But with recent demographic surveys showing a 248 percent increase in the Jewish population in 20 years, Hebert says she is confident the support is there.

–Erin Massey