It stood for some 120 years at the corner of 18th and R streets in downtown Bakersfield.

The historic Let Sing Gong Temple was a throwback to a time when two distinct Chinatowns were thriving parts of the cultural, economic and spiritual landscape of the city.

Last week, the temple, associated with the Shen religion, was officially reopened and rededicated at its new location, Pioneer Village at the Kern County Museum.

The museum's executive director, Mike McCoy, said the temple will still be used as an active prayer location twice a year, although its primary purpose will be as a museum exhibit, a chance for thousands of visitors get a glimpse into the rich and diverse history of Chinese-Americans in Kern County.

"We invite local members of the Chinese community to worship here," McCoy said. "The space has been arranged to replicate its original location which was used for prayer."

The museum held a rededication celebration for the temple on Saturday. The exhibit is called the Joss House.

According to the book, "The Chinese in Kern County: 1857-1960," by William Harland Boyd, such temples were often referred to as joss houses.

"Joss was a corruption of Deus, meaning God," Boyd wrote. The temple was simply viewed as a house of God, a place where individuals and small groups could gather to pray, burn incense, and make offerings to the ancient gods as well as to their ancestors.

Norman Lum, now 73, remembers as a child going to the 1890s-era joss house for seasonal and cultural events.

Due to a fire and possibly other damage, the temple was condemned, probably in the late 1940s, Lum said. But according to Kern County property records, a replacement — the tiny structure that housed the temple until recently — was built in 1951. The Lums, along with three other families, inherited the job of caring for and overseeing the aging temple.

However, with the passing of the older generations, Lum said, direct cultural knowledge and participation in the old rituals has ebbed. And so had the structural integrity of the building.

"We had a roofing problem, the walls were cracking — and then we started having break-ins," Lum said of the old building.

So Lum connected with museum officials to relocate the contents of the temple, and most importantly the temple’s altar.

“I wanted the people of Kern County to be able see this temple," he said. "It's an integral part of our Kern County history."

Lum led the work of arranging the joss house as it now stands at Pioneer Village.

"Once we got the room together, it was Mr. Lum's baby," McCoy said. "He spent a week here putting it all together."

When McCoy threw open the doors during a recent tour, the first thing he pointed out was a "threshold guard," a 4-by-4 post, painted red and placed on the floor against the doors.

"It is meant to act as a guard," McCoy said. "To keep evil spirits from crossing the threshold and entering the temple."

Inside the newly renovated space, the dominant colors are green and red.

Filled with gilded sculptures of ancient gods, intricate altar pieces, incense urns and other authentic artifacts — imported from China in the 1880s or '90s — the temple appears much like it must have to the descendants of the Chinese workers who built railroads and mined for gold, those pioneers who helped build California in the mid- to late 1800s.

"The Chinese were such an important part of California history and Kern County history," McCoy said.

"Mr. Lum has been faithful to his community for all of these years," he said. "This is a wonderful legacy he is leaving for future generations."

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