A century ago, the new year in 1914 brought both promise and uncertainty for Japanese pioneers in California. It was a time of global social and technological change--affecting state politics--while at the same time generating excitement about what opportunities lay ahead.
In Wintersburg, Charles Furuta and his new wife, Yukiko, had completed construction on their white-trimmed bungalow and settled in to their life as newlyweds. Photos from 1913 show a clothes line with wooden pins behind the house, a lush tree line surrounding the Furuta farm, a stack of wood nearby for future projects, and the Wintersburg Mission and Terahata house among the trees in the northwest corner of the farm.
During her 1982 oral history interview, Yukiko described her home: “It was originally about half the size of the present house, because only two people lived in it. It had a living room, a kitchen, and two bedrooms...There was no electricity, no city gas, and...an outdoor bathroom." In 2014, the Furuta bungalow remains one of the few Japanese pioneer homes left in Southern California.
LEFT: Yukiko Furuta holding her first child, Raymond, in 1914. This photograph is thought to be inside the Cole Ranch house in Wintersburg Village. The Cole Ranch was located where Ocean View High School is today at Warner Avenue and Gothard Street in Huntington Beach. (Photo courtesy of the Furuta family)
By 1914, Charles and Yukiko had been married well over a year and were busy establishing themselves in Wintersburg Village. Yukiko's expression in photographs from that year is less nervous, more content, now that she had seen more of what her new life in America would be like. She had already seen the bustling cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles, walked the beaches of Long Beach and Huntington Beach, shopped at the Tashima Market and attended services at the Wintersburg Mission.
Yukiko had arrived in Orange County in time to witness the 1913 flight from the Dominguez Hills airfield in Los Angeles County to a farm field in Wintersburg by Japanese pioneer aviator Koha Takeishi . Supported financially by farmers in Smeltzer and Wintersburg, Takeishi would again receive their support in 1914 to participate at the
Osaka Asahi airshow in Japan. This would be the airshow at which he lost his life.
The Pacific Electric Railway's "Red Car" had been humming back and forth between Huntington Beach and Los Angeles for a decade, bringing Angelenos to the beach and making it easier for Orange County's Japanese community to visit Little Tokyo. As planned, the railroad had prompted more growth in nearby Huntington Beach.
Charles had already constructed an earthen tennis court on the farm for Yukiko, and he gamely learned to play the sport she had enjoyed in Japan. Also, the year 1914 brought the joyful arrival of the Furuta's first child, Raymond.
RIGHT: A close-up image snipped from a larger photo of the earthen tennis court at the Furuta farm, circa 1913. Charles Furuta, far right, constructed the court for his new wife, Yukiko. The Terahata house which had been temporarily moved to the farm is in the background. (Photo snip courtesy of the Furuta family)
Yet, 1914 also ushered in changes that caused anxiety for the growing Japanese community in California. The state legislature had passed the Alien Land Law of 1913 which meant Japanese Issei could no longer buy property. This was the result of a decade of lobbying by labor organizations, like the San Francisco-based Asiatic Exclusion League. In general, there was opposition or ambivalence to exclusion and segregation laws in the southern part of the state. Two U.S. presidents--Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson--had tried unsuccessfully to dissuade discriminatory action by California legislators.
The Great White Fleet parked off Huntington Beach in 1908 before sailing to Yokohama Harbor, in a show of friendship between the United States and Japan. Afterwards, Northern California legislators introduced a series of bills to segregate Japanese immigrant children from the public school system. President Theodore Roosevelt wired California Governor James Gillett to protest the actions as counter to national policy. (Photo, April 18, 1908, City of Huntington Beach archives)
President Woodrow Wilson had sent a friendly message to Japan in 1913, while dispatching Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan to California to plead against passage of the Alien Land Law. He argued it obstructed the treaty obligations of the United States. Juichi Soyeda with the Associated Chambers of Commerce of Japan visited the United States and urged the Japanese and American cultures to attempt to understand each other.
Despite these efforts, California Governor Hiram Johnson signed the Alien Land Law of 1913 on May 19 of that year. Directed at the Japanese, the law also affected Chinese, Indian and Korean immigrants, while not affecting other non citizen immigrants.
RIGHT: Geraldine Farrar's performance as Madame Butterfly in the Giacomo Puccini opera is featured in a Victrola advertisement in 1914. She had first performed as Madame Butterfly in 1907 with the New York's Metropolitan Opera. Much of the country was enamored with Japanese art and imagery, which influenced popular culture in America. (Image, Wikicommons)
Attorney and journalist Carey McWilliams--a graduate of the University of Southern California law school--later observed that the country failed to recognize California was part of the emerging Pacific Rim and the failure to forcefully address the prejudices led to failed foreign policy. McWilliams also noted “the southern part of the state and the rural areas generally were not favorable to the agitation.”
In Orange County
As McWilliams described--although there were instances of discrimination--the intensity of exclusion politics was not felt to the same degree in Wintersburg. In farm country and along the Pacific shore in Southern California, people were working to establish new communities, put in roads, water and drainage systems, and develop new businesses to keep up with services needed by the growing population. In other words, they were busy.
LEFT: Orange County's Japanese community in the Armistice Day parade in 1926, with parade-watchers along the street and on the rooftops. (Photograph snip courtesy of Center for Public and Oral History, California State University Fullerton, PJA 056)
The Japanese community had been a regular part of the County's Armistice Day parades and July 4 celebrations in Huntington Beach, and had contributed to the fundraising effort to rebuild the Huntington Beach pier. They also would be part of the re-dedication of the pier in 1914, with Japanese fencing and sword-dancing listed on the program right before the surfing demonstration by George Freeth. Members of the Japanese community served on the Orange County Farm Board and had worked with Caucasian and European immigrant farmers battling celery blight. With post office boxes in downtown Huntington Beach, Japanese farmers from around the countryside were part of the community.
Despite this, in 1914 northern California congressman John Raker introduced a bill to exclude Japanese from the United States. The U.S. House of Representatives rejected the bill as not being in the national interest. While there were land use covenants restricting where people of color could live in Anaheim and in Los Angeles County during this time, there were none in the Wintersburg Village and Huntington Beach communities.
RIGHT: Road grading with horse-drawn equipment in the area of present-day Farquhar Park, Lake Park and 13th Street in Huntington Beach, circa 1912. In 1914, much of Huntington Beach and all of Wintersburg Village was unpaved, country roads; grading was a welcome improvement. (Photo, City of Huntington Beach archives)
Beverly Bowen Moeller, the granddaughter of one of Huntington Beach's first mayors, Samuel R. Bowen, recalled in some hand-typed historical notes*, "...I would walk along the high-crowned oil road past the chili pepper drying houses, past an old wooden derrick with the fields of the small farms belonging to German, Japanese and Italian neighbors," wrote Bowen Moeller. "Across the street from our house was my favorite place in my small world, the nearly self-sufficient farm of the Armenian neighbors..."
Bowen Moeller describes a predominantly immigrant community, integrated and distinct. For the farm country, the politics of 1914 were known, but a world away from the reality of their daily life.
The dawn of a new year, unrest and change
A tremendous social shift was occurring as the world marched toward globalization. In Europe, 1914 would bring the beginning of World War I with the outbreak of conflict and declarations of war. Some from Wintersburg Village and Huntington Beach would later leave the peatlands for military service. Japan would join the allies and later declare war on Germany, invading their settlement in China.
In South Africa in 1914, Mahatma Gandhi would be arrested campaigning for Indian rights. In Latin America, the Panama Canal opened, providing easier steamship travel between the Pacific and Atlantic, and creating excitement in California ports about the "Panama ditch."
LEFT: Mexico's revolutionary general Pancho Villa was front page news at the end of 1913. U.S. troops were sent to occupy Veracruz in 1914, leading to a fallout in diplomatic relations between Mexico and the United States. (Image, San Francisco Call newspaper, December 12, 1913)
U.S. Marines were sent to Mexico by President Woodrow Wilson after an attack on on Americans at the port of Tampico, and America occupied Veracruz. The California national guard and naval militia were sent to the border. Mexico ended diplomatic relations with the United States.
In Wintersburg, the events in Mexico meant the welcome arrival of the Escalante Brothers Circus. Traveling north by oxen cart to escape the fighting, the troop hoisted their tents in Talbert near present-day Bushard Street and Talbert Avenue, undoubtedly attracting scores of excited farm children.
New technologies like the telephone were becoming more available; 1914 was the year the final pole was set for the first telephone line that crossed north America, east to west. The innovation of the automobile assembly line in 1913 made road travel more affordable, prompting the romance of the American road trip and, locally, beach camping in greater numbers. Americans began to communicate and interact at a faster pace.
RIGHT: The Hamilton Illustrated Auto Road Map for California in 1914 included an explanation about how to read the map. The maps included pictures of landmarks, like barns and trees, to help drivers find their way. As noted on the description at right, "unimportant places without hotels or garages, are not indicated because they only confuse."
It was the time of pioneer aviation. Self-promoting stunts like French aviator Hubert Latham's infamous 1910 duck-hunting flight over the Bolsa Chica Wetlands took an ominous turn in 1914 when another French aviator, Roland Garros, attached the first machine gun to the front of his airplane, taking war into the air.
By 1914, the celery blight had led to increased growing of chili peppers and the innovation of chili pepper dehydrators by the Japanese community. Shaving a couple weeks off the time it took to dry chilis, local growers and cooperatives attracted attention from buyers from around the country, just as they had with celery.
Orange County's first tofu manufacturer began in 1914, with deliveries by horse and wagon. The tofu business almost was lost that year when the young entrepreneur died after being thrown from his horse and wagon. The tofu business was taken up the same year by Kikumatsu and Kumi Ida, who established their business next to the Wintersburg Mission-supported Japanese language school in Garden Grove.
Wintersburg's Charles Furuta and Henry Akiyama had been farming a plot of land at the Cole Ranch since 1912 as a separate enterprise, while working for the Cole family. Their first crops were hurt by blight and they incurred significant debt. However, what seemed like a major setback was turned around by global events.
Henry Akiyama remembered the impact on local farmers of the start of World War I in Europe, during his 1982 oral history interview.
ABOVE: Newly-married Masuko Yajima Akiyama in Wintersburg circa 1915, likely near the Wintersburg Mission. What appears to be a telephone line crossses the field in the background. (Photo snip, Center for Oral and Public History, California State University Fullerton, PJA 302)
"At that time in 1914 the first World War started. And because of the war, the cost of food went up and the prices for agricultural products became favorable," recalled Akiyama. He explained that he and Charles Furuta had a very good crop that year and the higher prices meant they were able to make a profit, enabling them to pay off all their debts.
Being debt-free meant Henry Akiyama was in a position to marry Yukiko Furuta's sister, Masuko Yajima, who he had seen in a photograph at the Furuta home. Yukiko happily arranged for the marriage that would bring her sister to America.
In 1914, Masuko Yajima arrived in San Francisco by steamship and was married to Henry Akiyama by Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission founder Reverend Hisakichi Terasawa. He also had performed the Furuta's marriage and had baptized Charles Furuta, making him the first Japanese baptized Christian in Orange County. The Akiyamas would become one of the three goldfish farmers of Wintersburg Village, along with Charles and Yukiko Furuta.
At the time Henry and Masuko Akiyama married, San Francisco was busy preparing for its debut as the host of the Panama Pacific International Exposition in 1915, the official celebration of the opening of the Panama Canal. Newspapers of the time forecast an economic boon to California ports when the Canal opened traffic between the Atlantic and the Pacific Rim.
Through it all--while seemingly in a constant state of hyper-dramatic change in 1914, negative and positive--California displayed its characteristic love for innovation and its sense of optimism about the future. Those who live with earthquakes learn how to pick themselves up and keep going.
The Historic Wintersburg property remains a touchstone of the settlement of California and a witness to the events that shaped the state. To walk inside the old-growth redwood Mission, wide-plank barn, and Depression-era Church is a rare experience that cannot be duplicated once lost.
This week, the news media is abuzz with cautions about and comparisons of 2014 to 1914. There are lessons to be gained from those who faced in 1914 what must have seemed like a world struggling to keep up with social change, volatile politics, and new technology. We've done this before. It's why historic preservation matters.
Join us as we continue our work to save a piece of old California. There are good things ahead in 2014.
*Beverly Bowen Moeller, Fifty years ago in Huntington Beach, 1984, Orange County Archives.
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