Wednesday, March 5, 2014

$600,000 for Isleton’s historic Bing Kong Tong Building

$600,000 in grants for Isleton’s historic Bing Kong Tong Building 
by Gene Beley, Delta Correspondent

March 5, 2014 10:15am
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•  A lesson in perseverance for every community and even for small business people
•  “An old building falling apart and an old couple trying to keep it going”
Bing Kong Tong Building

(Photo by Gene Beley)
Roger Chinn, former Isleton resident, tells crowd how his parents tried to save the building even in their old age

(Photo by Gene Beley)
Mimi Morris, Mayor Mark Bettencourt, Jean Akiko Yokotobi, Charles "Chuck" Hasz, Don Nottoli, and LaShelle Dozier

(Photo by Gene Beley)
Interior of building

(Photo by Gene Beley)
Audience for grant ceremonies

(Photo by Gene Beley)

It looks like the next puff of wind off the Delta would blow it over, but the historic Bing Kong Tong building in Isleton is tenacious and now it’s about to be rebuilt with $600,000 in grants.
To kick off the first phase of repairs, Isleton held an ancient Chinese blessing of the building with costumed manned “animals” with accompanying dramatic drums on Monday, March 3. Pioneers and business leaders in the Delta community told with great emotion why this historic structure, rebuilt after a 1926 fire, means so much to them.
Roger Chinn, former resident and president of the Tong Association, spoke about how the building has a lot to do with the significance of our country. “When you think about the Chinese and how they came to be a part of the country, this is part of it,” he said.
“My grandfather came here and started the Tong in 1903 — 111 years ago -- along with one in Stockton and another one in Walnut Grove. He was a born American in San Francisco — one of the few Chinese who could speak English. He became the person you talked to who got things done with the Chinese community,” Mr. Chinn said.
He told the group gathered in front of the building for the ceremony that the building was vacant when his grandfather convinced the San Francisco Tong to buy it. “The bottom floor was a Chinese language school that we all attended. Through the years this building became a place where people could come and talk to people to get things done to help each other. The basics for our relationship with the rest of society rest with buildings like this,” Mr. Chinn said.
He recalled that John Perez was another milestone in what happened to this part of Isleton. “My mother and John called the Main Street Association and asked what we could do to resurrect this Main Street. I got corralled by my mother to do the master plan for these two blocks. It was called the Chinn Study, named after my mother. It started to take root in the community to show what could be done. From that came the Isleton Historical Society. By that time my parents were pretty old but they alone maintained the building. My Dad would ask people to patch the roof and replace the building sidings and bought scaffolding just to take care of the building. That was quite a thing to do when you could see an old building falling apart and an old couple trying to keep it going.”
Jean Akiko Yokotobi, owner of the 25 Main Street Deli sandwich shop, said she arrived in Isleton in 1963. “When I came here I was introduced to the Chinn family and they became my second parents. I remember this building called the Tong Building at that time. Through 51 years I’ve seen the building deteriorate. Parts fell off and it was really sad. Through the years Isleton started fading as well with less resources to rebuild these kinds of structures.
“I am really happy that the Historical Society was able to receive some funding to get this building started. It will be a very beautiful building. The Chamber is working with the Delta Protection Commission and the Delta Conservancy in branding the Delta. This is the starting of the branding.”
Charles Hasz, of the Isleton Merchants’ Association, told the behind the scenes story of how the grants materialized. It is a lesson in perseverance for every community and even for small business people.
He said the first $100,000 came from the California Cultural & Historical Endowment, a state entity tasked with preserving and protecting California’s cultural heritage and part of the California Natural Resources Agency, when Mimi Morris was the head librarian for the state of California. She helped them get blueprints done and succeeded to get $100,000 from the C.C.H.E. A second grant of $141,000 was granted by the same C.C.H.E., but at that time, they only had $100,000 to give for the stabilization phase, Mr. Hasz said.
Then, a stroke of luck happened when a man who was supposed to get a grant of $100,000 was in the bathroom during the crucial meeting when his name was called and lost out on the grant. “So they gave it to us,” said Mr. Hasz. So now they had a deal of matching funds of $141,000 promised to them by the city of Isleton in Redevelopment funds before 2011. “Then Governor Jerry Brown recalled the funds to balance the state’s budget,”
“That’s when I called Supervisor Don Nottoli,” Mr. Hasz continued. “Don really bailed me out. He asked, “You’re going to lose $140,000 over $40,000?’ Send me the stuff.’”
“So I sent his staff the ‘stuff.’ Then all of a sudden, a group called Sacramento Housing & Redevelopment Agency gave me a jingle and said ‘Don said to call you. I guess you have a financial problem.’”
Mr. Hasz said the bid to do the work on the building came in at $454,000. The next key guy was Geoffrey Ross, Redevelopment Manager for Sacramento Housing & Redevelopment Agency. But he didn’t return Mr. Hasz’s calls for about two weeks. Turned out Mr. Ross was caring for his very sick father, who died during this time. Finally, though, Mr. Hasz got the return call and got enough money to start Phase 1 “stabilization” construction, “which is really a joy.”
Sacramento County District 5 Supervisor Don Nottoli said, “As people of this great country, we are able to reach into our (taxpayer) pockets to do it for the reasons we know how important it is to know our history and tell our story. “
“The Delta is a place of great wonder and marvel,” Mr. Nottoli said. “One of the ways we are able to carry on the vibrancy of the communities is to make the investment up and down the rivers.”
LaShelle Dozier, executive director for the Sacramento Housing & Redevelopment Agency, said it wasn’t just a building to be rehabbed — “It was the connection to the community.” She said they figured out a way to use community development block grant funds that helped make up the $340,000 difference needed.
Mimi Morris, now executive officer of the California Cultural Historical Endowment fund, another major star in helping to obtain $140,000 of the grants to date, said most people don’t know much about her organization. She said it has provided $122 million throughout the state for 150 buildings to preserve California’s cultural heritage.
“California’s story is really diverse. It is made up of tiny stories of different people with these very unique buildings,” Ms. Morris said, noting that California tourism brings in about $102 billion annually and “cultural tourism is huge.”
“Keeping heritage sites like this alive is really important to distinguish California from any other place in the nation,” she said.
When the Bing Kong Tong building rehabilitation is completed, it will be used as a museum and community space for the city.

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