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Chinese Characters in the Collections of Jimmy’s Oriental Gardens

by Laina Malm-Levine

Things are moving right along with the collections inventory project at Jimmy’s Oriental Gardens. So far, over one thousand objects have been photographed, cataloged and logged into the database. These objects include plates, woks, martini glasses, silverware, artwork, furniture, and much more. While some of these objects are more utilitarian in nature, for example, the 100+ sets of generic wooden chopsticks, there are several items that tell a more interesting story.

Several objects I’ve come across have beautiful Chinese characters incorporated into their design.  There are over ten thousand characters in the Chinese language, and while I myself do not speak Chinese, I enlisted a friend that works at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art to help with the translation of several of these characters.

I’ve selected four objects found in the collection that include Chinese characters:

Photo by Laina Malm-Levine.

This symbol, which is located on an east-facing window in Jimmy’s bar, means ‘Double Happiness’.  This double character is usually associated with happy couples on their wedding day, however it is also used in many other social customs.

Photo by Laina Malm-Levine.

The following symbols are painted on one of Jimmy’s ceramic teapots. One reads the strokes of these Chinese characters from right to left. The loose translation reads, ‘Beautiful Person As Jade’.

Photo by Laina Malm-Levine

Here we find a top to one of the ceramic teapots. When viewing these characters, one reads them in a diagonal line. Start by looking at the upper left symbol and then lead your eyes to the lower right. These two characters mean ‘Auspicious’. Then you see the lower left symbol and make your eyes travel to the upper right. These two characters mean ‘As You Wish’.

Photo by Laina Malm-Levine

Jimmy’s has many of these brightly colored serving platters. Again, the viewer should read these symbols from right to left. The symbol second from the right means ‘Longevity’. Coupled with the other three, the four symbols together mean ‘10,000 Years of Longevity’ or ‘Limitless Longevity’.

Jimmy’s Oriental Gardens was a cultural and social gathering place for the community for over 50 years. The Chinese characters visible throughout the restaurant and its service items remind us of the significance of the Chung’s family business to Santa Barbara’s New Chinatown.

Laina Malm-Levine is working with SBTHP to evaluate and catalog the objects associated with the Jimmy’s Oriental Gardens property, which SBTHP acquired in 2007. As a result of this project, a core collection will be developed that will aid future researchers and help SBTHP interpret this important local business. At the time of its closing in 2006, Jimmy’s was the last Chinese-run business in Santa Barbara’s “New” Chinatown.



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