Marysville has a rich history and some dedicated people – many whose descendants lived that history – are working to preserve and celebrate one of the oldest parts of town – Chinatown.
The Friends of Marysville Bok Kai Temple and Historic Chinatown, one of a few groups that help preserve Chinatown, are having their annual meeting later this month and president Larry Bird is welcoming the community to participate.
“We’re still in a membership drive and whoever can attended meetings should come and join,” he said. “We will discuss projects we’ve done and what else needs to be done.”
Most recently, the group helped renovate the Chinese School and is continuing to make improvements on what is now a museum filled with local Chinese artifacts.
“One of the projects we took on a few years ago was the Chinese School and there are a few small rooms in the back that still need to be completed,” he said. “We put a new roof on the hospice house behind the school, which burned down several years ago, and with the new roof, we can get started on the walls.”
As a young boy, Ric Lim spent many years learning at the Chinese School and now he’s working to preserve it.
“The school is open the first Saturday of the month for tours. We have the main part of the exterior work done and on the inside, we’re still finding artifacts that we need to display,” Lim said. “The Hospice House was for when the elderly became too old or sick and unable to work. They were taken there to be cared for by the community.”
There’s no timeline for when the Hospice House will be completed but there are numerous items at the museum, including one of the old dragons that was used in several Bok Kai Parades.
“It’s an ongoing thing – we’re helping the Marysville Chinese Community however we can,” Bird said. “We assist them. We ask them what they want done and they vote on it and we put funds towards the project.”
Bok Kai Temple
Candice Young Fresquez, a member of the Marysville Chinese Community and the Bok Kai Parade Committee chair, said the group is instrumental in seeing historical projects come to fruition.
“They have always been a great help in getting done what was needed at the temple,” she said. “Over time, it wasn’t just the temple that needed help, it was other projects like the school and they had dinner events and wine tasting events to help raise funds.”
She said the historic Bok Kai Temple is in good shape and two other projects – a museum and an arch – are in different stages.
“The museum is a little more that half way done. We got some great display cases donated and they’re coming in and getting filled up with artifacts,” she said. “Moo Lung (the dragon head) has his own case. He did a tour in New York and Portland. I think that’s a piece that everybody is looking forward to seeing once we get done.”
An impromptu fundraiser at the Hop Sing Society dinner in 2017 – part of the Bok Kai Festival – raised $15,000 toward building a Marysville arch celebrating Chinese heritage and Fresquez said progress is being made on that as well.
“The rough design is done and we’re sourcing the types of materials that we think would work best,” she said. “We have a fundraiser that’s tentatively planned for sometime in the fall.”
Fresquez said the arch would have the look and feel of a traditional Chinese architectural arch, or gateway, and is modeled after one in Seattle.
“It will reinvigorate the area and make a landmark that distinguishes it as Chinatown,” she said. “The arch is very ornate with dragons and lots of details.”
Fresquez said they have plans that were drafted by the designer of a similar arch in Seattle and estimates the cost at about $80,000.
“The city and Larry Booth (with Frank M. Booth) have offered their expertise to help with the project,” Fresquez said.
The preliminary location for the arch would be at the corner of Second and C streets near the Yuba County Library.
Chinese American Museum
Brian Tom, who owns the Chinese American Museum of Northern California, has been searching far and wide to find people connected to Marysville.
“We have a committee made up of a group of people from the Bay Area because there are a lot of people that had a Marysville connection at some point,” he said. “With this committee, we’re trying to connect with those people and in the coming year, we’re broadening the scope.”
He said Marysville was, at one point, one of many Northern California towns that had a thriving Chinese community and district but many of those are long gone.
“All the small Chinatowns got burned out and the only one that survived was Marysville and during that time, Marysville’s Chinatown grew,” he said. “We’re trying to create a pilgrimage for the descendants of all the people that lived in these old Chinatowns.”
Bok Kai Daydream
Ronald E. Slater of Smartsville, created a 25-foot by 80-foot mural in 2015 titled: “Bok Kai Daydream” and it was funded by the Yuba Sutter Arts through the California Arts Council as part of its Creative California Communities project.
“In the past, we had received grants to paint the big ‘Bok Kai Daydream’ mural in Chinatown,” said David Read, executive director of Yuba Sutter Arts. “One year, we got a grant to hold a Chinese Arts festival and had a number of musicians and dance groups perform in the Burrows Theater during Bok Kai weekend.”
Bird said he discovered some things in a park that adjoins the mural and has been working to recreate them.
“I do dowsing and I recognized there was something in the yard and things underground. The Chinese phoenix I found is about 170 feet and we’ve got a bunch of sculptures in the park as well,” he said.
Dowsing is a type of divination employed in attempts to locate ground water, buried metals or ores, gemstones, oil, gravesites and other objects and materials without the use of scientific apparatus.