~Update August 2016~
For the Okuda family, the Bolsa Chica Gun Club was home for over two decades. Harry Okuda maintained the landscaping and kitchen gardens, including the yard of chickens being readied for club members' dinners. Harry arrived at the Gun Club circa 1910 or 1913--coinciding with his arrival in the United States (note: family memories which place arrival at 1910 and information written by the census taker differ, not that unusual for the time).
RIGHT: Jimmie Shigero Okuda was one of two Japanese American students to win a Huntington Beach essay contest about "the harmful effects of liquor, tobacco and narcotics" in 1932, the other being Haruka Oka. The Oka Elementary School on Yorktown Avenue in Huntington Beach is named after pioneer Isojiro Oka. The article notes, "Superintendent Baldwin commented on the fact that two Japanese students were among the prize winners." (Santa Ana Register, April 23, 1932)
The 1930 census for Wintersburg Village included the Bolsa Chica in its enumeration and listed Harry "Okuta" (age 53) as a "Bolsa Chica Gun Club gardener," his wife, Aekeno (age 40), Bill (age 11), Jimmie (age 9), and Irma (age 6).
Seventy-five years later in 2005, Dave Carlberg--author of Bolsa Chica-Its History from Prehistoric Times To The Present--sat down with then 84-year-old Jimmie to talk about his life at the Gun Club. Carlberg wrote about Okuda in the Amigos de Bolsa Chica's summer 2005 newsletter, Tern Tide.
RIGHT: News about the Bolsa Chica Gun Club regularly made the local papers, particularly when there were manly exploits to report. (Santa Ana Register, June 29, 1916)
LEFT: More than one Japanese American worked the Bolsa Chica Gun Club. The death of K. Hirashiba was reported in the Los Angeles Times, discovered in the barns of the Gun Club. Hirashiba was working under for J.H. Cole, a local ranch owner and "club detective" who helped the Gun Club fend off the fights with local farmers. Hirashiba had ridden from the Bolsa Chica wetlands to Smeltzer, where the present-day Bella Terra shopping center is located, near Edinger Avenue and Beach Boulevard. (Los Angeles Times, August 22,1905)
Early morning hunts
Okuda talked with Carlberg about the hunters being taken out in the early morning "to the fresh water ponds that covered much of the Bolsa Chica. Instead of using dogs to retrieve downed ducks, local boys in hip boots were hired to do the work." Okuda told Carlberg he was "too young to play bird dog, but he sometimes tagged along. Okuda remembered "the awesome sight and sound of several thousand ducks suddenly taking flight when startled by gunfire."
Members of the Club
RIGHT: A headline from 1903 gives a hint of the clash between the wealthy Gun Club members and the celery farmers and ranchers in the peatlands. The standoff was described as "guns have been cocked and pointed between the gun club guards and the farmers, when a word or a breath would have brought on a tragedy." (Los Angeles Times, December 19, 1903)
Some of the 3,400-acre Bolsa Chica Gun Club members were staggeringly wealthy for the time, valued for their sporty quality, or for the fact that they were conveniently well connected. This worked in the Gun Club's favor when they battled "the Peatlanders."
LEFT: Bolsa Chica Gun Club member Hulett C. Merritt planned a "great skyscraper" in downtown Los Angeles. If approved, it was to be the tallest fireproof building in the country west of New York and hinged on the Los Angeles city council approving an ordinance change. The city council balked, fearing the building would alter the landscape of Los Angeles. Merritt called the city council position "arbitrary" and threatened a petition. Opponents told the city council the building would block sunlight and make downtown Los Angeles "damp, dark, dreary, dismal, drafy defiles of dim depths with denizens dying of dread disease". The Los Angeles city council upheld the height ordinance. ("Skyscraper Plans Hinge on Council, Los Angeles Herald, Dec. 7, 1910)
- Hulett C. Merritt, described by the Dec. 11, 1910 Los Angeles Herald as a "millionaire and financier" in an article about the planned Merritt Building in downtown Los Angeles. At the time, Merritt was pushing city leaders to waive building height restrictions from 180 feet to 233 feet. Merritt is reported as saying he would scrap plans for the Italian Renaissance-style monument to his family unless he was allowed the height variance, otherwise "it's beauty will be marred and I want to build for the artistic value more than for any profit I may get out of it." Originally from Minnesota, Merritt had sold his interests in the Merritt - Rockefeller syndicate in 1891 for more than $81 million.
- William Bayly, a colleague of H.E. Huntington, Bayly helped develop the West Coast's version of Naples. The Bayly's European travels, soirees, and "delightfully appointed" luncheons at 10 Chester Place were regular features of the Los Angeles' society pages.
- Dr. G. MacGowan, a Los Angeles physician, once attacked by a Mrs. Robertson with a horse whip. As reported in the April 18, 1896 San Francisco Call, "The doctor today received a note from the woman...'I warn you not to say anything further about the insanity theory' intimating there would be more horse-whipping if he attempted to prove her insane."
- Gail B. Johnson, a board member of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, Vice President of Pacific Mutual Life Insurance Company, a director of the Sinaloa Land Corporation, and director of German American Savings Bank (later First National Bank).
- J. S. Torrance, multi millionaire Pasadena resident and director of the Pacific Steel Company. Brokering deals for Home Telephone Company, Torrance was questioned by the San Francisco grand jury in 1907 for a fund of $300,000 "for use in bribing the supervisors to grant the Home Company the competitive franchise." In California In Our Time (Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1947), Robert Glass Cleland writes, "under the state's promise of immunity, eighteen of the supervisors confessed the wholesale acceptance of bribes, not only from the organized activities of the underworld but on a still larger scale from public utilities and other corporations doing business in the city."
- C.P. Moorehouse, a Pasadena sportsman, he is reported by The Herald, July 12, 1896, to have taken a 137-pound tuna in Catalina Island's Avalon bay "after a four hour fight."
- J.D. Thomson of Pasadena, Premier and Mascot Oil Companies, Hidalgo Oil Company, and Boca del Cobre and Sierra Pinta mining companies.
- Isaac Milbank, member of the Dominguez Field aviation committee, a director of the Sinaloa Land Corporation, and a director of the Pacific Mutual Life Insurance Company. Milbank was involved with the aerial duck hunt over Bolsa Chica by French aviator Hubert Latham, Dec. 23, 1910, (see http://historicwintersburg.blogspot.com/2012/03/part-two-of-our-interview-series-with.html) and was present four days later when American aviator Arch Hoxsey broke the world record for altitude in a Wright biplane, 11,474 feet. Latham crashed his Antoinette monoplane at a windy Dominguez field that day and set the remains on fire.
- James Slauson, a member of the Southwest Society of the Archaeological Institute of America and the Los Angeles Municipal Music Commission.
- H.L. Story, of Story & Clark in Chicago, vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers, president of the Railroad Men's Railway Company, and member of the Pasadena Audubon Society.
- M.J. Connell, president of the California Fish and Game in 1910. This presented an awkward situation when the commission considered banning aerial duck hunting after the December 1910 aerial duck hunt over the Bolsa Chica by aviator Hubert Latham.
In August 1907--after years of fighting and legal actions--the over 40-member Bolsa Chica Gun Club offered a $500 reward "for the arrest of the persons who scuttled its dredger in Fremont Creek last week...trouble between the farmers in the vicinity and the club members arose after the dam was built..." It was a dispute that continued for a century.
RIGHT: Two years after the War Department ruling, four hundred ranchers in the peatlands petitioned President Theodore Roosevelt regarding the dams installed by the Bolsa Chica Gun Club. Two years later, the Gun Club reported that as they were preparing to dredge out ponds "some one in the dead of night obtained access to the dredger and bored an auger hole in its bottom" and sank it. The Gun Club offered a $500 reward to identify the culprit and stated they spent $1500 retrieving and fixing the dredger. ("Gun Club Arouses Wrath of Farmers," San Francisco Call, Dec. 12, 1905)
It would not be until August 2006--ninety-nine years after the Bolsa Chica Gun Club complained about farmers destroying one of their earthen dams--that a wetlands restoration project re-opened the tidal inlet. A two-year $147 million dollar project cleared the wetlands channel once again. In the darkness of dawn--the time when early 20th Century duck hunters tromped out to the man-made ponds--local environmentalists and activists fulfilled the long-ago wish of the peatlands ranchers and cheered the return of saltwater to the wetlands.
Update: As of August 2016--ten years after the tidal inlet was opened--wetlands stewards worry about funding to continue the regular dredging of sand to keep the saltwater flowing and maintain the natural wildlife habitat.
A childhood on the Bolsa Chica
LEFT: Another accidental death at the Bolsa Chica Gun Club was reported in the Santa Ana Register. The death of Kamino Senzo would have occurred at the time the Okuda family were living on the grounds of the Club. (Santa Ana Register, October 19, 1915)
"The family was desperate. These were depression years and there was no work," writes Carlberg. "Then Okuda's mother realized that the experience the family gained raising chickens at the gun club would get them through hard times." The Okudas bought a small farm near present-day Brookhurst Avenue and the 22 Freeway, and by 1941 "their chicken farm was operating in the black."
Then, World War II. Like most of Wintersburg's and Orange County's Japanese Americans, the Okudas were forcibly removed from California and confined during WWII. The Okudas were sent to the Colorado River Relocation Center at Poston, Arizona.
RIGHT: The Bolsa Chica Wetlands, looking south toward downtown Huntington Beach. A boardwalk and hiking trails through the wetlands can be accessed off both Pacific Coast Highway and Warner (Wintersburg) Avenue. The Bolsa Chica Gun Club was included in the early census reports for Wintersburg Village. (Photo, M. Urashima, May 2012)
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