Chinese Temples in San Francisco

Unfinished History

A circa 1890 photograph by I.W. Taber of a Taoist temple in San Francisco's Chinatown.


The Tin How Temple in Chinatown

Photo: Brett Reierson

Tin How Temple. 125 Waverly Place between Washington and Clay Streets, just west of Grant Avenue. Top floor. Open every day, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Voluntary donation requested. If it's true that spiritual power accumulates over time, then the Tin How Temple may be one of the "power spots" of San Francisco; Chinese sages have been communing with the deities here since the 1850's. The temple is consecrated to the goddess T’ien Hou (also known as Mazu), revered as the guardian angel of fishermen, seafarers, and women in distress. The Temple's atmosphere, with its clouds of incense-smoke, spirit-inhabited carvings, and altars with fruit offerings, hasn't changed much since earliest Chinese immigrants worshipped here in the days of the Gold Rush.

Photograph by I. W. Taber of the altar of the Lung Gong Taoist temple in San Francisco's Chinatown in 1887.
Vintage postcard circa 1940 showing the interior of the Tin How Temple, Chinatown, San Francisco.

Noras Temple 109 Waverly Place, between Washington and Clay Streets. Open daily, 9 a.m.- 3 p.m. Free admission. An excellent place to commune with the Chinese spirits. On alternate Sundays, monks perform their religious observances, and those who maintain a respectful attitude are welcome to attend.

The Place to Research Esoteric Chinese Lore

Buddha's Universal Church, 720 Washington Street at Kearny. This church, the largest Buddhist church in the United States, has a historical library available for researchers interested in Chinese philosophy. The library is rumored to contain books harboring esoteric secrets known only to a few initiated adepts.

A Feast for the Gods: Where Deities are Fed by Taoists--Lotus Garden Temple, 532 Grant Avenue (upstairs), in the Lotus Garden Restaurant. Open Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Free admission. One of this mean ole planet's gentler religious philosophies is Taoism (pronounced dow-ism), a Chinese-based teaching which seeks to harmonize human activity with the inscrutable flow of nature:

Tao abides in non-action,

Yet nothing is left undone.

If kings and lords observed this,

The ten thousand things would develop naturally.

If they still desired to act,

They would return to the simplicity of formless substance.

Without form there is no desire.

Without desire there is tranquility.

And in this way all things would be at peace.

(verse 37 of Lao Tsu's Tao Te Ching, translated by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English. NY: Vintage, 1972.)

Apparently some Taoist spirits still have an appetite for earthly things, for, in the Lotus Garden Temple, sumptuous culinary offerings are left on altars for the deities to enjoy.

--Dr. Weirde

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