A 6 1/2-foot tall bronze sculpture will be the focal point of the Chinese Heritage Park planned for a site at Ninth and Astor streets, along Astoria's riverfront. The sculpture, which features a man holding up a huge incense burner with one hand while calming a naughty dragon with the other hand, will be mounted on top of a stone base nearly 2-feet tall.
Valued at $48,000, the sculpture is a gift to the city of Astoria and the Chinese Park Committee from Huo Bao Zhu, a Chinese businessman who believes he owes a debt of gratitude to the United State after a Portland physician treated him for a rare form of leukemia nearly 12 years ago.
Huo had been given just two years to live by his Chinese doctor, when an American friend urged him to seek treatment here. He has already exceeded the Portland doctor's prediction of just eight more years to live.
"He pulled me back from death," Huo said during a visit to Astoria Friday, with Suenn Ho, senior designer at Mulvanny G2 Architecture in Portland, translating his remarks. "To thank the United States for giving me my second life, for the friendship I received from the United States," Huo said he wanted to donate some sculpture to the Chinese Park. He has already donated a lifesize bronze elephant to Portland's Chinese Park.
During his visit, Huo viewed the site of the future Chinese Park and met with Mayor Willis Van Dusen and Blair Henningsgaard, president of the Astoria City Council, and members of Astoria's Chinese Park Committee. Traveling with Huo in addition to Ho were other members of the park's design team, including the project manager, Dan Foeller from Mulvanny G2, and Rick Amodeo, principal of AAI Engineering in Portland.
Ho was first approached about the Chinese Park Project in 2005 and has been working on it ever since. For the most part, she and the other members of the design team are donating their time. "This is a 'shovel-ready' project," she told the group Friday, pointing to a stack of drawings. Cost of the project is $856,000, she said, and that figure includes $33,276 for the artistic aspects of the park.
The Committee now has a full set of building plans and a list of construction items, Henningsgaard said, but they still need to raise about $700,000. A $147,000 federal grant was secured earlier with help from U.S. Rep. David Wu, but the city's application for a $600,000 grant from the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department was not successful. Other funding will come from in-kind labor and donations of cash, material and equipment.
Chinese Park Committee members at the meeting included Duncan Law, his son Ron Law, Felix Chow, Debby Chan Robertson, Agnes Brown (Wong) and Cal Brown (Wong), the committee's chairman.
Huo told the group he has begun to understand the "uniqueness" of Astoria and to appreciate the effort put toward the park by the community." I have a personal respect for you," Huo told Van Dusen.
Huo also showed his respect for Duncan Law, the Chinese community's elder statesman. "Today I got to meet you, Professor Law," Huo said. "It's cold and rainy and you are here, in a wheelchair, participating. That spirit is very valuable."
But Huo later expressed some misgivings about the park's location. He said after driving by the park site he had "conflicted feelings." "It's so small," he said. "Why put so much effort into such a small place?"
But Robertson explained that the small piece of land is in the part of Astoria that was known as Chinatown. "It was the center for our culture," she said. "It was Cal's (Brown's) playground as a child."
The location of the park is small, Van Dusen agreed, but it's a very important place to have this park, he said. He said it's been a weakness of the city of Astoria not to have told the story to the children of the contributions of all citizens, including the Chinese, who made the city what it is. And he noted that the park is across the street from the former location of his family's soda pop business. "I grew up there. I played with all my Chinese friends there," Van Dusen said.
Chow said the committee would be honored if Huo would come up with a Chinese name for the park. Huo agreed to think about it. And it was a question from Cal Brown (Wong) that led to the dragon sculpture being chosen for the park. Noting that Huo had donated an elephant sculpture to Portland, Brown asked Huo whether he had any special animal in mind for Astoria. Huo said it should probably be an animal associated with the ocean and suggested the dragon sculpture.
The sculpture is a replica of one from the Western Han Dynasty, which spanned the years from 206 B.C. to 24 A.D. Huo's foundry in Xi'an, China, called Sanxxi Five Rings Sculptural Arts Co. Ltd., is licensed by the Chinese government to reproduce antiquities.
Ho said the park project had slowed a bit with the departure of Kevin Beck, formerly director of the the city's Parks and Community Services Department. "He was one of the main pushers of the program. We very dearly miss him," Ho said.
But she now sees the project picking up speed again. "I am really excited about making sure it all goes right. Mr. Huo's donation fits into the program very well," she said.