It’s a small, unassuming-looking reddish building between Center Street and Santa Rosa Creek in Cambria, but for more than a dozen years, it’s been a focus of local and regional attention, hard work, high hopes and fundraising efforts.
Now, the Hind Foundation of San Luis Obispo, known for coming to the rescue of small projects of historical and social significance, has given Greenspace, The Cambria Land Trust a grant of $26,300 to complete interior restoration of the rare, circa 1880s Cambria Chinese temple/association hall.
The temple is reportedly one of only five in California left from that period and the only one south of Marysville, which is about 40 miles north of Sacramento.
The site was the social, business and religious center for local Chinese residents between the 1880s and 1910s, many of whom helped build Highway 1 or harvested seaweed and seafood.
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Greenspace began preserving the threatened structure in 2001 as part of its nearly $600,000 drive to conserve and protect 1.6 acres of prime, creek-front property in Cambria’s East Village.
That parcel is now the Greenspace Creekside Reserve, across from the Cambria Historical Museum on Center Street.
Once the temple is completely restored, the community’s plan for a Cambria historic district will be one step closer to reality, according to Greenspace President Wayne Attoe.
Key components that helped bring the formerly ramshackled, one-block area up by its bootstraps included work on the preserve and temple, the Cambria Historical Society’s restoration of the Guthrie-Bianchini House and garden, the tear-down of a Center Street structure destroyed by a fire and the clearing of the Cambria Community Services District’s lot at the intersection of Bridge and Center streets.
Greenspace bought the property in 1999, completed a historic-site preservation plan, cleared away brush and debris and built fences and a gate, paths, seating area and parking spaces.
In a set of complicated maneuvers, the temple itself was moved closer to its previous, more historically accurate site, and the building was shored up, repaired and painted.
All that was accomplished with donations and grants, nudged along with various fundraising campaigns, grant writing, concerts, historic celebrations and Greenspace’s annual auction of art, jewelry and travel adventures scheduled for Sept. 23 in Cambria.
Greenspace officials say they’ll use the Hind grant to restore the temple’s interior through painting and floor refinishing. They will also put in an alarm system and security gate, and plan to get electricity through solar panels. Funds will also go toward interpretive signage.
Attoe said once all that’s complete, the temple “will be open at designated times with a trained docent as guide.”
Richard Hawley, Greenspace executive director, said that in keeping with the building’s historic purposes, the organization likely will keep modern-day uses “simple and very Buddhist oriented I dare say that the people who built this structure used it judicially and with grace.”
Hawley said that Roberta Greenwood, a nationally recognized, award-winning accredited archeologist and historical investigator, would be advising Greenspace officials on appropriate décor and use of the structure. She prepared a restoration plan for the temple in 2005.