Sunday, March 30, 2014

Historic Wintersburg nominated for the National Trust for Historic Places' annual list: "America's 11 Most Endangered!"

Yukiko Furuta stands on the porch of her new home in Wintersburg Village in 1913.  Within months, California passed the Alien Land Law of 1913 making the Furuta home one of the rare Japanese-owned properties in Orange County and in California.  The Furuta bungalow is one of six structures at the Historic Wintersburg property, representing the daily life of Japanese pioneers in Southern California. (Photo courtesy of the Furuta family) © All rights reserved. 

   Historic Wintersburg is officially nominated for "America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places," the annual list produced by the National Trust for Historic Places.  For more than 25 years, the National Trust has been helping rescue historic places and bring them "back from the brink."

   Learn more about "America's 11 Most Endangered" list at

   How does this help Historic Wintersburg?  Being on the list is an action alert for the nation to help save a precious American heritage site.  It can bring new voices, more support and financial aid to the preservation effort.

   Below are a handful of the letters sent to the National Trust for Historic Places, urging they include Historic Wintersburg on this year's list, announced in June 2014.  

   We ask you to add your voice and send an email in support of Historic Wintersburg to:

Letter from Huntington Beach Historic Resources Board:

Dear National Trust for Historic Preservation “America’s “11 Most Endangered” Selection Committee,

The Historic Wintersburg property in Huntington Beach, California, is a rare example of the daily life of California’s Japanese pioneers. The Furuta farm—once a working goldfish and flower farm, with ponds, lilies and sweet peas—along with the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission buildings, are among the rare surviving examples of historic Japanese-owned property acquired before California’s Alien Land Law of 1913.

On this almost 5-acre property are six historical structures, representing the history of the Mission founding in 1904, to the property’s acquisition in 1908, through the return after forced confinement during World War II.

One of the structures, the barn, is the last known barn of its significance in Orange County—the only known goldfish farm barn—and the last remaining pioneer barn in Huntington Beach. The Furuta farm and Wintersburg Mission buildings are a rare example of the early 1900s Japanese pioneer community’s daily life in Orange County. Facing exclusion, Alien Land Laws, and the forced evacuation and confinement of World War II, it is a miracle the structures on this property survived into the 21st Century. To lose these buildings and this history would be a tragedy.

The U.S. National Park Service has inspected the property, and has stated that the buildings have retained “remarkable integrity” and can be restored. The farmland is relatively untouched and can be returned as a beautiful asset to a predominantly immigrant neighborhood that needs green open space and civic pride. It is a remarkable opportunity to preserve history and transform a neighborhood and community.

To restore the Wintersburg Village saves important American history, and ensures future generations understand more about the full story of Japanese settlement in the American West.

The Huntington Beach Historic Resources Board strongly supports including this rare and unique historical site to America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list. The inclusion of Historic Wintersburg can bring the type of support and expertise needed to save and recreate the Wintersburg Village.

Please don’t let this history die. It needs to be revived and cherished forever. Thank you in advance for your consideration.

Gloria Alvarez, Chair, Huntington Beach Historic Resources Board

Letter from Kanji Sahara, Japanese American Citizen's League:

Dear National Trust,

Historic Wintersburg Village contains four structures built before California’s 1913 Alien Land Law. The structures are the 1910 Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Church, the 1910 Manse, the 1912 Furuta house and the 1912 barn.

The 1913 Alien Land Law prohibited ‘aliens ineligible for citizenship’ from buying land in California or signing leases longer than 3 years. At that time, immigrants from Japan could not become naturalized citizens of the United States and thus were ‘aliens ineligible for citizenship’. Also, about half the immigrants from Japan worked on, or leased or owned farms.

California Attorney General Ulysses S. Webb, co-author of the 1913 Alien Land Law said:  “The fundamental basis of all legislation upon this subject, State and Federal, has been, and is, race undesirability . . . It seeks to limit their presence by curtailing their privileges which they may enjoy here; for they will not come in large numbers and long abide with us if they may not acquire land.”

In 1906, the San Francisco School Board directed Japanese children to attend the segregated Chinese school. The 1908 Gentleman’s Agreement restricted immigration from Japan. In 1909, 17 anti-Japanese bills were introduced in the California legislature but President Theodore Roosevelt was able to keep any from becoming law.

You can imagine the Japanese immigrants in Orange County buying land and building the four structures at Historic Wintersburg before the 1913 Alien Land Law came to pass. To close loopholes the 1920 Alien Land Law was approved by the voter, then the 1924 Immigration Act completely stopped immigration from Japan and in 1942 we have the Evacuation and Incarceration of Japanese and Japanese Americans in “Relocation Camps”.

While the Japanese People were behind barb wires in the Camps, California Attorney General Earl Warren continued escheat proceedings against them. Because California was an “exclusion zone”, they could not come to defend themselves in court. After the war when the Japanese People came back to California, now Governor Warren was ready with more escheat proceedings.

In 1948 the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a part of the Alien Land Law, in 1952 the California Supreme Court overturned the Alien Land Laws, in 1952 Congress allowed Japanese aliens to become U.S. Citizens and in 1956 the California voters repealed the Alien Land Laws.

This is not just a story of the Japanese who came to America. It is an American story. It is a story of how a small minority overcame discriminatory laws. This story can be told by the four historic buildings in Wintersburg Village. These historic buildings should be one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

Thank you,
Kanji Sahara

Charles Furuta (front row, second from left) stands with Huntington Beach's first mayor, Ed Manning (seond row, far right in light-color suit) on the steps of the Huntington Inn in 1912.  It's believed this community meeting was about fundraising to rebuild the Huntington Beach pier, rededicated 100 years ago in 1914. (Photo courtesy of Wintersburg Presbyterian Church) © All rights reserved. 

Letter from Dave Wentworth, great grandson of Huntington Beach's first mayor in 1909, Ed Manning:

My letter is in support of Historic Wintersburg in Huntington Beach, California. I believe this rare Japanese American-owned property which began with a mission, manse and barn in 1910, should be NUMBER ONE on the list of the eleven, for many reasons.

This 4.5 ac property contains six historical structures, the three previously mentioned structures, and a 1934 Japanese Presbyterian Church, a 1912 bungalow, and a 1947 post World War ll ranch house. All six of these structures individually would qualify on their own merits as historical.

The Historic Wintersburg property was purchased prior to the California Alien Land Law of 1913, and includes one of the oldest Japanese Missions in Southern California.

The Furuta family farm was famous for it's goldfish and Lilly farming. The barn which exhibits early Japanese architecture, is the last remaining pioneer heritage barn in Orange County, California.

In 1912 it was the Wintersburg immigrants who assembled with the City of Huntington Beach officials to help in fund raising to rebuild the Huntington Beach Pier. My Great Grandfather Ed Manning, First Mayor of Huntington Beach presided over this meeting and together with the assistance of the Wintersburg Community, were able to dedicate a new pier in 1914, reviving pier fishing for the growing Japanese American population.

Historic Wintersburg is a rare jewel, a pioneer site representing the daily lives of the West Coast Japanese pioneers, both pre and post war.

All six of the Historic Wintersburg's historic structures are in danger of being demolished for commercial development. That would destroy any archaeological treasures of this era.

Historic Wintersburg is historically valuable and deserves National recognition, but also needs, and deserves for vote of support to help "Save Wintersburg."

Thank You for your consideration,
David E. Wentworth SR., Huntington Beach Historic Resources Board Member, Task Force Committee Member to help "Save Wintersburg"

Letter from David Lessard, Friend of Historic Wintersburg:

There are few moments in life when one can make a true difference in their community. We as a whole come together in such times to find those things worth saving. We all need to preserve those things that have made a difference in one’s community, and the site at the Furuta property, and the Japanese Presbyterian Church located in Huntington Beach should be included in the list.

The site is the last true bastion of a rich and diverse history that shaped a great portion of our community, including the involvement of the Japanese Americans whose efforts and commitment to the area was as important a contribution as any that have come before or after.

I urge you to please take the time to read the pleas of a community and bring forth a consideration for preserving this site of 4.5 acres of significance. Such consideration, will also allow those of the present and future generations to have that all-important link to our founding, successes, and an attachment unto the past history of where our community came from.

I am sure there have been many who have written to you about this issue, and I am just a small portion of that plea. With that said though, one of many comes in mass to bring upon you the strong desires for that consideration, and allow us to remain connected to those things important long into the years ahead. Any community needs to have a remnant focus upon where they came from, and to preserve the memory and efforts of those who brought us to the successes we now may take for granted.

We thank you for any consideration and for your address to our cause. To lose this last original area of our community would be a shame, for as we go onward and forward, we must still be connected to those pioneers and events that shaped us all who now remain.

David Lessard

Letter from Barbara Haynes, Huntington Beach Historic Resources Board and Historic Wintersburg Task Force:

Dear National Trust for Historic Preservation “America’s “11 Most Endangered” Selection Committee, 

Historic Wintersburg Village is like stepping back in time. When you close your eyes and envision the Japanese immigrants…planting, harvesting, building, sharing, watching out for each other, and working for their future.

Fortunately, Mr. Furuta was able to purchase this land before the 1913 Alien Land Law existed. The Furuta’s house and farm, also once thriving with goldfish and lily ponds, along with the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission buildings, are among the rare surviving examples of historic Japanese owned property.

On this 4.5 acre property sits six historical structures, of which one of the structures, the barn, is the last known barn of its significance in Orange County and the last remaining pioneer barn in Huntington Beach. These historical buildings need to be preserved!

In 2004 the property was sold to Rainbow Environmental Services, which since has proposed demolition of these wonderful structures. Please don’t let this happen!

The history is never ending about this village. Historic details are being uncovered almost every day. Tying the Furuta family and historic Wintersburg to different families and scenarios in Huntington Beach and in the context of America’s settlement, has been a delight to discover, and will be a never ending story for future generations.

Please don’t let the future take away from the past…let’s preserve this small “pocket of charm.”

Thank you for your consideration.
Barbara Haynes
Past Chair of The Huntington Beach Historic Resources Board
Member of the Historic Wintersburg Preservation Task Force

Letter from Rebecca Nehez, Historic Wintersburg volunteer:

I am writing today to request that Historic Wintersburg, a rare Japanese American owned pioneer property in Huntington Beach California, be nominated for one of America's 11 Most Endangered Places. I speak not only for the residents who have come before me but for the future of our community.

When I moved to north Huntington Beach several years ago, I longed to know the history of this enchanting city. I found much publicized information on the Newland family, Henry Huntington and the Tongva people. I found pictures of the saltwater plunge and surfers who made boards from solid, 9 foot chunks of Bolsa. I mistakenly assumed the city was founded by the Spanish and then white settlers from the east. It wasn't until I inadvertently came upon Mary Urashima's Historic Wintersburg blog that I realized how richly diverse this area is.

Historic Wintersburg is comprised of 4.5 acres and six historical structures, deemed to be in good enough condition to restore. The structures include the 1910 Japanese Presbyterian Mission, 1910 Manse, 1934 Depression-era Japanese Presbyterian Church, 1912 Furuta bungalow, Furuta barn and 1947 post WWII Furuta ranch house. The Furuta farm, part of Historic Wintersburg, is a former goldfish and flower farm founded by a Japanese immigrant family. It represents a unique enterprise from Orange County's agricultural era. There are no other remaining properties in Huntington Beach that share this history.

Driving down Warner avenue, you can find strip malls full of Starbucks and frozen yogurt but there is nothing to confirm the existence of Japanese pioneers except the remaining buildings that stand on the Historic Wintersburg property. At this moment, the property is in jeopardy of all six historic structures being demolished for development. Not only will we lose this important piece of Huntington Beach history for future generations but it will also destroy any archaeological findings at the site.

Historic Wintersburg is worthy of national recognition and needs support to acquire the property and fund its preservation. Listing on America's Most Endangered can help us save this precious part of American history.  Thank you for your time.

Rebecca E. Nehez

   Thank to all supporters of the preservation of Historic Wintersburg!  With your continued support, we can save this important American history for future generations.  Send your email to the National Trust today!

The Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission and manse, with congregation, in 1910, the year these buildings were completed.  The Mission and manse are one of the six historic structures that remain in place at Historic Wintersburg. (Photo courtesy of Wintersburg Presbyterian Church) © All rights reserved. 

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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.