February 15, 2021
Megan Kane, Collections Manager
As you read this, February 12 just passed, marking the beginning of the Lunar New Year, commonly referred to as Chinese New Year, and the Year of the Ox. While we contemplate what lies ahead in this new year, let us also take a moment to look back at the past and remember Santa Rosa’s very own Chinatown.
The Chinese community of Santa Rosa came together in the area of Second and D Streets in downtown Santa Rosa in the years between 1890 and 1910 and established businesses and built homes. This area became known as Santa Rosa’s Chinatown. This was a small and tight-knit community, and it is here that Song Wong Bourbeau, beloved local restaurateur and philanthropist, grew up. Much of what we know about Chinatown and what life was like there comes from Song herself in an oral history interview with Gaye LeBaron, excerpts of which you can view here. Santa Rosa’s Chinatown thrived in downtown, a few short blocks away from city hall, until the 1930s and 1940s when businesses were gradually sold off and the residents moved away. But the legacy of Chinatown, and more importantly the people of Chinatown, live on through Song’s words and memories and through the tremendous collection of artifacts that she gifted to the Museum of Sonoma County.
Porcelain statues of Chinese Guardian lions, also known as Fu or Foo Dogs (MSC Collection).
These beautiful statues, now in the Museum’s collection, once guarded the temple that was at the heart of life in Santa Rosa’s Chinatown. Known in English as Fu or Foo Dogs, these statues are not dogs at all. They are Chinese guardian lions, and a pair of them would traditionally guard the entrances to buildings. The pair of guardians includes a male and a female lion. The male, on the right in the image, leans on a ball, and the female holds back a little lion cub. Guardian lions like these two have their origins in Chinese Buddhism and can be seen at the entrance or in front of buildings all over the world, from the palaces in the Forbidden City in Beijing, China, to the homes and businesses of Chinese emigrants and their descendants. These statues came to the Museum from Song. She and her family were the caretakers of the Chinese temple in Santa Rosa, and she took in these statues after Chinatown was sold off. Decades later, she entrusted them to the Museum along with her story.
May the Year of the Ox bring us all health, wealth, and double happiness, and let’s thank Song Wong Bourbeau for preserving and sharing her community’s legacy with all of us.
More from the Song Wong Bourbeau Collection
The Museum of Sonoma County maintains a permanent collection of over 18,000 objects, documenting the region's rich history and celebrating local artists.
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The mission of the Museum of Sonoma County is to engage and inspire our diverse community with art and history exhibitions, collections, and public programs that are inclusive, educational, and relevant.