Newly installed signs in town reflect a many-year project to acknowledge and honor the historical Chinese community in Cambria. The Chinese Temple in the East Village was designated a California Point of Historical Interest in November of 2020. Its unusual history likely explains why it still exists, one of only five remaining Chinese temples in California from the 19th Century.
Its exact date of construction is still a mystery, but it might be one of three Chinese structures shown on the 1886 Sanford Insurance Company map for Cambria. Such maps detailed key insurance-related features of buildings in far-flung communities, making it possible for agents to sell insurance without repeated on-site visits to the town.
It is known that after most of the Chinese moved elsewhere and the property was sold, the building – no longer a temple – was moved closer to Center Street and attached to an existing house (built 1873) and used as its living room. At that time, two windows and an exterior door were added. The former temple was a humble structure with little if anything to suggest a Chinese cultural connection. In effect, it was hidden in plain sight for decades and effectively saved from tear-down, often the fate of similarly simple buildings.
When Greenspace–The Cambria Land Trust purchased the 1.67-acre property in 1999, its purpose was to conserve the natural setting along the creek that Cambrians and visitors now enjoy. But the multi-part was part of the sale, as well. When Greenspace directors learned of the former temple’s significance in California history and confirmed that it was structurally sound, they committed to restoring it. Doing so took 12 years and the financial support of countless residents, former residents, and appreciative visitors as well as local and regional foundations.
Preparing the application for recognition by the State Office of Historic Preservation was itself a challenge. Greenspace had hoped it would qualify as a California Historical Landmark but found the California Point of Historical Interest designation was a more achievable honor. The quest for designation was aided ably by Rincon Consultants and a grant from the Hind Foundation of San Luis Obispo.
As a reward for seeking out the newly designated Point of Historical Interest and following the new California Department of Transportation road signs, visitors will find interpretive signage at the site.