Chinese American Historical Museum at the Ng Shing Gung
The Chinese American Historical Museum is open every 1st and 3rd Sundays of the month from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm.
A joint project by History San José and the Chinese Historical & Cultural Project to share the stories of Chinese Americans in Santa Clara Valley, the museum building is a reconstruction of the original Ng Shing Gung (Temple of the Five Gods) that served as a community center for the Chinese American community. Inside, the first floor of the museum explores the experiences of Chinese Americans in Santa Clara Valley from the mid-19th century through today. The second floor features the alter from the original Ng Shing Gung.
History of the Ng Shing Gung
The original Ng Shing Gung, or Temple of the Five Gods, was constructed in 1888 at Taylor and Cleveland Streets in San Jose. The rear of the building faced onto Sixth Street. The two-story brick building, approximately 23 x 42 feet, was built under the direction of Yee Fook. Construction was financed by public subscription or $2000.
Ng Shing Gung served the Chinese community as a cultural center. The first floor was used as a classroom to instruct children in calligraphy and the classics of Chinese literature. It also served as a hall for town meetings and as a hostel for travelers who did not belong to any of the local family associations.
The second floor housed the temple. Its elaborately hand-carved and gilded altars were made in Canton City. Furnishings included drum, bell, and embroidered silk panels, as well as the five statues which gave the building its name. The five statues represent Choi Sun, God of Wealth; Kwan Gung, God of War and Justice; Kwan Yin, Goddess of Mercy; Tien Ho, Queen of Heaven; and the canton City God.
Ng Shing Gung came into the hands of the City of San Jose in 1931 along with the rest of the Heinlenville property. Several buildings were torn down to make way for the construction of a new Public Works facility. The Hip Sing Tong raised funds to hire attorney Gerald S. Chargin in an attempt to save Ng Shing Gung from demolition. This was the beginning of an 18-year struggle.
In December of 1941, the City decided to put the Ng Shing Gung building up for public auction. The Chinese community, led by Bill Kee, petitioned for the postponement of the sale in order to preserve the building as a historic landmark. Local newspapers supported the preservation of the building. In response to this public outcry, the City Council decided not to sell the building, but to turn it over to a Chinese organization for the purpose of managing it. Articles of Incorporation for the Ng Shing Gung Association were filed October 4, 194.
In 1945, due to extensive vandalism and disrepair, the building was deemed structurally unsafe and boarded up. The City Council deliberated three options: 1) to lease the building to the Chinese community for $1 a year if they would agree to pay for repair of all structural defects; 2) to repair and maintain the building as a historic landmark; or 3) to tear it down. City Historian Clyde Arbuckle conferred with Joseph Knowland, Chairman of the State Parks Commission, in an effort to convince the state to preserve the building. All efforts proved unsuccessful and in May 1949 Ng Shing Gung was demolished.
The altars, furnishings and a portion of the facade were saved and placed in storage by the City of San Jose. In the early 1970s, these artifacts were moved to the newly constructed warehouses for the History Museums of San Jose in Kelley Park and became part of the Museum collection. A replica of the Ng Shing Gung building was included in the Museum Master Plan approved by the City Council in 1972. In 1974 the Museum staff fully inventoried, photographed and prepared storage for the artifacts in its custody.
Museum staff then tried to develop efforts to raise funds for the reconstruction by contacting the Chinese American women’s Club (CAWC) in 1978. CAWC held several fundraising events and established a City Gift Trust Fund for he project. During construction of the Fairmont Hotel in 1985, archaeological materials form the Market Street Chinatown were recovered, generating interest in the construction of an appropriate facility for their display. In 1987, CAWC and the Museum renewed their attempt to generate interest in the reconstruction of Ng Shing Gung.
As a result, the Chinese Historical and Cultural Project (CHCP) was formed, with Lillian Gong-Guy and Gerrye Wong as Co-Chairs. A non-profit organization, the Project proposed to reconstruct Ng Shing Gung as an exhibit building on the Museum grounds, focusing on the history and culture of the Chinese in the Santa Clara Valley.
In 1988, CHCP entered into a formal contract with the City of San Jose in order to reconstruct Ng Shing Gung. Over the next four years, over $500,000 was raised from the community in support of the project. Construction of the replica began in November 1990 with Marvin Bamburg as general architect, Melvin Lee as landscape architect, and A. J. James Construction Co. as contractor. Daniel Quan was selected as exhibit designer with Jessica Yu as producer of the video.
The buildings and exhibits were dedicated on September 29, 1991, and are a gift to the community and its visitors from the Chinese Historical and Cultural Project.
The Chinese American Historical Museum at the Ng Shing Gung houses exhibits and Home Base: A Chinatown Called Heinlenville, a video depicting the life and contributions of the Chinese Americans in the Santa Clara Valley.
The Chinese American Historical Museum is featured in People at Work, History Park Tour, and Immigration: What’s Your Story?School Programs.