Saturday, February 11, 2012

Goldfish on Wintersburg Avenue

*Updated May 2016*

    One of the 1982 oral histories recalling Wintersburg Village’s past was conducted with Clarence Iwao Nishizu (by Professor Emeritus Arthur A. Hansen as part of the Honorable Stephen K. Tamura Orange County Japanese American Oral History Project). 

    Clarence Nishizu's accounts of Wintersburg Village are remarkably detailed and revealing of his gentle sense of humor. He recalls an incident involving the Asari Goldfish Hatchery, which was located at 8741 Wintersburg Avenue (now Warner Avenue).

    Nishizu remembers Tsurumatsu "T.M." Asari opened a goldfish hatchery in Wintersburg Village in 1924, after World War I.  Asari was a successful farmer, who also farmed acres of sugar beets and alfalfa. He was both a founder of the Wintersburg Mission---signing the founding "prospectus" document in 1904---as well as Orange County's first Buddhist Church, which once met above the Tashima market in Wintersburg Village.

RIGHT: An image of the Tashima Co. market on the north side of Wintersburg Avenue, near the Southern Pacific Railroad line in Wintersburg Village, circa 1910s.  The market was first opened by goldfish and sugar beet farmer Tsurumatsu Asari, documented as the first Japanese Issei to arrive in what is now Huntington Beach, California. (Photograph courtesy of Eugene Tashima) © All rights reserved.

    Asari had "...made enough money to purchase forty acres in Wintersburg Village, where he started farming vegetables. His son Harley has told me that at the time his family moved to Wintersburg, the area was full of tules and open fields."
    Asari had opened one of two markets in Wintersburg Village in the first decade of 1900 (the other being the McIntosh meat market off Nichols Lane). Asari's market was a feed-and-seed market with pool hall, later owned by the Tashima family, on the north side of Wintersburg Avenue, near the Southern Pacific Railroad line.

   He famously brandished a pistol in September, 1910, sending five shots after "bandits" who stole ten dollars from the market's pool hall, making the news in the Los Angeles HeraldTsurumatsu's son, Harley, worked with him at the goldfish hatchery.

Something lively jumping up and down
    "I recall an incident that occurred years ago that involved the Asari fish. One evening I was driving on Stanton Boulevard, now Beach Boulevard. About a mile south of Stanton, where there was a bend in the highway, I noticed that many cars had stopped on the road. Soon I could see thousands of something lively jumping up and down on the pavement," relays Nishizu. "The cars had stopped because nobody wanted to run over the beautiful goldfish strewn all over the road. I stopped my car and went to find out what happened."

   "Apparently Harley Asari was hauling the goldfish on his Dodge pickup truck, whose rear loading space was covered on the top and screened on the side, when he was involved in an accident," continues Nishizu. "Harley was a young lad then who was conscientiously helping his father, and I felt very sorry that the accident had happened to him. I wanted to pick up the goldfish and retrieve them for him, but the fish were too elusive..."

LEFT: Flooding in 1938 at the Asari goldfish hatchery---located off Wintersburg Avenue (now Warner Avenue)---made the news in Huntington Beach. Once again, passersby tried to capture "elusive" goldfish. The photograph provides a glimpse of rural Wintersburg Village. (Huntington Beach News, March 10, 1938)

    The Asari Goldfish Hatchery survived more than one upheaval. Huntington Beach historian Jerry Person recalls in in his 2003 Huntington Beach Independent column, Water, water everywhere, that "Harley Asari's goldfish hatchery lost several thousand valuable goldfish" when the Santa Ana River flooded in 1938.

And then, World War II
    There is a photograph in the University of California Berkley Bancroft Library collection of Harley Asari--who, like all Wintersburg Village and Huntington Beach residents of Japanese ancestry--was incarcerated during WWII. The Asari family was evacuated to the Colorado River Relocation Center, known as Poston, in Arizona, living in the same barrack camp as the Furuta, Kowta, Tashima, and Akiyama families. 

   The photograph shows Harley working with another man at a Denver, Colorado foundry for the war effort in 1944. This photograph also was used in the War Relocation Authority's, New Neighbors Among Us, a propaganda-style publication which reported on the progress of "relocated" Japanese Americans.

RIGHT: Harley Asari (left) on work furlough from the Colorado River Relocation Center, Arizona, working at the Denver, Colorado foundry in 1944 during World War II. An Ocean View Grammar School alumni and Huntington Beach High School graduate, native Californian, and American citizen, Harley---like many faced with incarceration---decided to pursue a work furlough instead of living in confinement. Work furlough still required permission from the U.S. government, and working and living conditions were still restricted, but income potential was better. (Photo, War Relocation Authority, University of California Berkeley, Bancroft Library)

After the war
    Wintersburg Village ultimately was annexed into the City of Huntington Beach in 1957. The Huntington Beach City Council minutes of March 7, 1960, record a business license approval for the Asari Goldfish Hatchery, Inc., 8741 Wintersburg Avenue, "for the business of Raising Tropical Fish, Goldfish and Distributing Pet Supplies."

    The Japanese American National Museum's collection includes a photograph of "Mr. Asari and son inspecting their fish", see

    There were three Japanese American goldfish farmers in Wintersburg Village, including Tsurumatsu Asari, Charles Furuta (whose C.M. Furuta Gold Fish Farm included the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission complex at Warner Avenue and Nichols Lane), and the goldfish ponds of Henry Kiyomi Akiyama. Akiyama started the first goldfish pond with his brother-in-law Charles Furuta at the Furuta farm, then tried ponds at the Cole Ranch (in the location of the present-day Ocean View High School).

LEFT: The Cole Ranch, where today's Ocean View High School is located, off Warner Avenue and Gothard Street in north Huntington Beach. Charles Furuta and Henry Akiyama stand near the ranch house. They both had worked for the Cole family and leased farm land from them, living on the ranch for a while.  The Cole Ranch property also is documented as the location of a Tongva village.  The "universe effigy", a Tongva right-of-passage artifact on display in the Bowers Museum, was found while plowing the land at the Cole Ranch, possibly at the time Charles Furuta and Henry Akiyama worked on the ranch. (Photograph, October 13, 1914. Courtesy of the Furuta family) © All rights reserved.

    Akiyama arrived in Southern California in 1904 at the age of 16 and by the 1920s was raising fish full time, starting first on the Furuta farm. He became Charles and Yukiko Furuta's brother-in-law, marrying Yukiko's sister, Masuko.

    Joseph Akiyama---Henry Akiyama's son---recalls in an 1989 Los Angeles Times' article, Koi's Town: County's Akiyamas Have Been Raising 'Living Jewels' Since the 1920s, seeing his father "loading an old pickup truck with barrels of goldfish and driving up to Los Angeles to sell his swimming rainbows door to door at pet shops."

    The Akiyamas last goldfish hatchery was the Pacific Goldfish Farm on Golden West Street in Westminster. At one time, the Akiyamas owned the West's largest goldfish farm at the site of the present-day Westminster Mall (off the 405 Freeway, near Golden West Street and Bolsa Avenue).

   Goldfish farmer Charles Furuta arrived in the United States in 1900 and purchased his property in Wintersburg Village in 1908, with the assistance of Reverend Barnabus Terasawa, donating a portion of the land to the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission.

   The Furuta family left their goldfish ponds in someones' care when they were evacuated to the Colorado River Relocation Center during World War II. By the time they returned home from incarceration in 1945, the goldfish ponds were filled with silt. The Furuta family transitioned to flower farming, focusing on reviving the water lilies from the goldfish ponds, along with sweet peas, both popular with local wholesale florists. 

   The Furuta farm---known today as Historic Wintersburg---is the sole remaining pre-Alien Land Law of 1913, Japanese-owned property in the region, designated a National Treasure at the end of 2015.

    More of the history of the goldfish farmers of Wintersburg Village is included in Historic Wintersburg in Huntington Beach (History Press, 2014).

Editor's note: Readers may be interested in Goldfish on Wintersburg Avenue Part 2: The Living Jewels of the Furuta Gold Fish Farm,

The oral history of Clarence Iwao Nishizu was jointly sponsored by the Japanese American Council of the Bowers Museum Foundation- Historical and Cultural Foundation of Orange County, and the Japanese American Project of the California State University, Fullerton, Oral History Program). 

All rights reserved. No part of the Historic Wintersburg blog may be reproduced or duplicated without prior written permission from the author and publisher, M. Adams Urashima.

No comments:

Post a Comment

The Historic Wintersburg blog focuses on an overlooked history in Huntington Beach, Orange County, California, in the interest of saving a historic property from demolition. The author and publisher reserves the right not to publish comments. Please no promotional or political commentary. Zero tolerance for hate rhetoric. Comments with embedded commercial / advertising links or promoting other projects, books, or publications may not be published. If you have an interesting anecdote, question or comment about one of our features, it will be published.