"Normal" Places We Go

Marysville’s Silver Dollar Saloon & Bok Kai Temple – Part 2

So, once you walk out of the Silver Dollar Saloon (located at the corner of D and First Streets), directly to your left and behind the house (pictured below and allegedly the oldest house in Marysville) behind the Saloon will be the area encompassing the Bok Kai Temple

The building to the left is the Silver Dollar Saloon and the Bok Kai Temple, which is not visible in this picture, is off to the right…

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Bok Kai Temple arch…

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Bok Kai Temple pavilion…

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Lion statue outside of Bok Kai Temple…

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When the Chinese came to Marysville during the Gold Rush days (primarily coming from the Canton Province of the Kwang Tung state of China), they brought their myths and customs with them. By 1854, about five years after the first contingent of Chinese arrived in California from the Orient to work the mines, they constructed a Temple, the Bok Kai Mui, where they could house their Gods and go to worship. Because they spoke in the Chinese dialects of “Say Yup” and “Som Yup”, their names of the Gods may vary from the ones found in Chinese Mythology books written in Mandarin.

The first Bok Kai Temple was built nearly two blocks upstream on the Yuba River from the present structure. It was appropriately named the Bok Kai Mui, which means Temple (Mui) of the North (Bok) side of the stream (Kai). (This particular site is now part of the area where the Marysville Levee Commission building and the Yuba River Sand Company (see pictures of silica mining operation below) are located, near the corner of First and B Streets). When the original Temple was destroyed, the present one was built on a property which was once the site of a bathhouse near the river. It was dedicated in March 1880.

The existing Bok Kai Temple long served a flourishing Chinese community first attracted to the area by the California gold rush. Boasting exquisite wall paintings and gilded altars, it is the place, as it has been for over a century, of worship for Chinese in North and Central America who pay tribute to Bok Eye, their water God or God of the Dark North. The Bok Kai Temple is the only surviving temple honoring Bok Eye in the United States and it has drawn countless worshipers and tourists through the years.

The temple is infrequently used as an active place of worship, but is preserved as both a California Historical Landmark and as a protected property on the National Register of Historic Places. A Bok Kai festival and parade is held annually in the spring, during which time the temple is opened for ceremonies as well as for interested parties to tour (And, really, if you show up at any time of the year that is significant to the Chinese community, the temple will likely be open and one is free to walk around and explore).

The Bok Kai parade, running down both D and C streets, is said to be the oldest continually-held parade in California. It features a 150-foot Chinese dragon and an array of floats and entertainment. The parade draws around 15,000 spectators and takes place in late February or early March, depending on the Chinese lunar calendar.

This is the exterior of the Bok Kai Temple…

And these are some shots and video of the impressive interior of the Bok Kai Temple…

Bok Kai Temple interior…

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There are several Gods placed in the Temple. This is the reason one of the Temple’s standards bears in Chinese writing: “Palace of Several Saints.” Bok I (or Eye) is the central Deity in this place of worship. Of the five Gods in the main altar, Bok Eye is situated in the center, flanked by the others. Bok Eye is believed to possess powers controlling floods, waters of irrigation and the rains. He is also called Hsuan-Tien Shang-Ti, Lord of the Black (Pavilions of) Heaven Chen We, and Peichi Yusheng Chen-chun. Bok Eye, according to the Chinese, means Northern or Dark North (Bok) and God (I or Eye).

Bok Eye’s position in the Temple of Many Saints is appropriate due to the fact that Bok Eye is the Water God and the building is situated alongside a river which periodically brings threats of flood during the rainy seasons.

Altar with offerings…

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This is what you see when you first walk into the Temple…

Deeper in the interior…

Some of the woodwork in the interior of the Bok Kai Temple…

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Temple interior with burning incense ring…

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Burning incense…

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More of the Temple interior…

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Fortune sticks…

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More of the interior woodwork of the Bok Kai Temple…

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Following your tour of the temple and grounds, follow these stairs to the top of the levee…

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The levee was constructed after the Bok Kai Temple was built. So, the Temple used to look down on a beautiful view of the river, but now the levee runs right up to the edge of the Temple. This is the not particularly attractive view from above…

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This is the view along the top of the levee…

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If you’re into dirt bikes, there will always be plenty to view on the track directly across the river…

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If you hike a little ways down the levee trail (to your left from the top of the stairs) you’ll come across an old silica mining operation which is interesting to poke around in and features an area great for skating or for improving your artistic skills by adding to the significant quantity of graffiti in the area…

The silica operation…

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Graffiti/Skate area…

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I think some of the graffiti is quite good…

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Brandon and me…

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If you keep walking past the silica mining operation you’ll come to an interesting railroad trestle…

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From here, you can turn left again and drop down into Old Marysville’s Chinatown…

Marysville had a fairly large Chinese population between 1850 and 1900 in comparison to other towns in the Northern Sacramento Valley. In businesses, it was ranked among the busiest and largest in the Northern Sacramento Valley and, at times, ranked second only to San Francisco.

Marysville’s Chinatown, which is one of the oldest in the United States still in existence, was ideally located, offering merchandising services to mining camps to the north and east. It was regularly supplied with goods and materials by river boats via the Sacramento and Feather Rivers and stage coaches. The Chinatown area was a place for rest and entertainment to thousands of Chinese miners and laborers. It was a bustling and lively community on weekends and during holidays, drawing between 500 and 2,000 Chinese at times.

In addition to serving as a shopping center for those Chinese coming from the mines and other outlying labor camps, it provided varied entertainment and a place for worship, the Bok Kai Temple. Marysville’s Chinatown also included the Suey Sing and Hop Sing Lodges, which are still in existence; a Masonic Lodge, Gee Kong Tong (a Chinese school), and two opera houses.

The Gee Kong Tong Opera House was in the Masonic building at the corner of Elm and First Streets and the Low Yee Opera House was located on the east side of C Street between First and Front Streets. Both regularly scheduled top entertainers form San Francisco and China.

When the railroad construction and mining activities diminished, many of the Chinese moved out of Marysville and to the surrounding areas. They worked as gardeners, toiled in clearing some of the present-day irrigation canals, labored on hop and other farms, cooked and laundered clothes.

Old Marysville Chinatown…

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Building closeup…

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2 thoughts on “Marysville’s Silver Dollar Saloon & Bok Kai Temple – Part 2

  1. I’m writing a Middle Grade novel that has Marysville as one of the settings. Your nice pictures help me to describe the temple. Mine taken at last year’s Bomb Day were too blurry.
    BTY the gravel on the opposite riverbank is actually old “tailings” or discarded ore that were dumped into the South Yuba by hydraulic gold mines during 1860’s to early 1900’s (causing big floods to Marysville). If you have a chance, go visit Malakoff Historic Park in Nevada County. There’s a mini man-made Grand Canyon created by hydraulic gold mining.
    I hoped you also visited Oroville. It’s about 17mn drive North from Marysville. It has a beautiful 19th c. Taoist temple and museum.
    Cheers,

    Anne

  2. Pingback: Marysville’s Silver Dollar Saloon & Bok Kai Temple – Part 1 « The Velvet Rocket

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