Elected officials work to preserve Weaverville Taoist temple; Joss House one of 70 state parks to close

Representative Fiona Ma, who represents much of the west side of San Francisco, is working closely with Supervisor Morris and the association to raise awareness on keeping the Joss House open.

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Among the 70 state parks slated for closure in July is one with a history spanning nearly 140 years -- the Joss House, a Taoist temple set in Weaverville that attracts visitors from across the state and beyond.

The temple's supporters have launched a campaign to save the historic structure from closure, a feat that has elected officials across the state interested.

At the temple's recent Chinese New Year celebration, a crowd of 400 people attended the event, including two assemblymembers and Trinity County District 2 Supervisor Judy Morris.

Morris said the park is an important part of the area's economy as well as its religious and cultural history. She hopes this is not the last Chinese New Year celebration the temple will have.

”This plays a part in our tourism as well as history and culture, and our history with the Chinese here in the 1850s. Some of the original family who donated the park in the '60s to the state are here. It's been a lovely treasure in our community,” Morris said.

The longest continuously used Chinese temple in the United States, the Weaverville Joss House was donated to the State Park system in 1956 by Moon Lim Lee, longtime Weaverville resident and descendant of Chinese immigrants, according to California State Parks. Constructed in 1874, the Weaverville Joss House has been the site of similar ceremonies for almost 140 years.

In the face of the closure, the Weaverville Joss House Association is raising money to keep the historic and cultural landmark open. Its plight has drawn the attention of Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, and Assemblyman Wes Chesbro, D-Arcata, both of whom attended the recent celebration, which featured Weaverville's White Tiger Lion Dance Team.

"The Joss House in Weaverville is one of the California jewels that we must save because there is no place like it on the continent...It is more than a historic site; it is an icon of Trinity County and of California's Chinese heritage. It also plays a vital role in the economy of Weaverville and the Trinity Alps region,” Chesbro said in a statement.

According to Ma's office, Chesbro alerted Ma to the Joss House's struggle.

In the release, Ma thanked Morris for her leadership in keeping the Joss House open. Ma, who represents much of the west side of San Francisco, is working closely with Supervisor Morris and the association to raise awareness on keeping the Joss House open.

"It was very obvious from the high attendance that the residents in Weaverville and northern California are all rallying around this California treasure during these tough times,” she said.

Morris said Ma has been reaching out to her constituents in the San Francisco Bay Area, which has a large Asian American population that may be interested in preserving the temple. Additionally, Ma donated $5,000 of her own money to the cause. The fundraising seems to be gaining momentum recently.

"Were seeing families here donate $10 to $20 that we know are struggling -- that shows what this place means to people,” Morris said.

The association is one example of how allowing park partnerships can be instrumental in preserving state parks. While the association is not completely taking over the park's management, it hopes to raise enough funds to keep the park open. Previous budget cuts left the park in operation for only two days a week, but took the park off the closure list.

This time around, it is scheduled to close in July.

Morris estimated that the association has raised roughly $60,000 so far, which could keep the park open for a year.

The group hopes to raise $80,000 -- enough to have the park open for three days instead of two, while maintaining the staff at the park -- with the ultimate goal of raising $250,000 this year to have reserves for the coming years.

Morris said she has not seen any analysis of the cost of closing the temple, which visitors still use for religious prayer.

"When you look at what's really the expense of the park versus the closure overall, there needs to be better cost analysis of the cost of closing not just the Joss House, but state parks everywhere, especially in rural areas where tourism is important,” she said.

For more information about the Joss House, go to www.weavervillejosshouse.org.

Donna Tam can be reached at 441-0532 or dtam@times-standard.com.

At A Glance

Joss House: “The Temple of the Forest Beneath the Clouds”

In the early 1850s, members of the Chinese community in Weaverville erected a place of Taoist worship. In its original form, Tao aimed at serenity through harmony with nature, to be achieved by each individual eliminating ambition and attaining purity and simplicity.

Elements of other eastern religions were incorporated, including Buddhism, Confucianism, and reverence for ancestors. They revered many spirits and forces, both natural and supernatural. There were beneficent spirits and malevolent spirits. Throughout their beliefs is the essential unity of mankind and the environment.

In June 1873, a nearby cabin caught fire, and the fire jumped to the Joss House and destroyed it. The original temple building and most of its furnishings, some of which had come from China, were destroyed. In October 1873, local Chinese contributed to build a new temple -- a record of the contributors' names, written in Chinese, still hangs in the conference room next to the temple.

Construction of the new temple began in February 1874, and it was dedicated the following April. This new structure was called the “Temple of the Forest Beneath the Clouds.”

Location: The Temple is located in the heart of Weaverville, a small community near the Trinity Alps on U.S Highway 299 about 50 miles west of Redding and about 105 miles east of Eureka. Weaver Creek runs nearby.