Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Rebuilding the pier in 1914

ABOVE: Huntington Beach's wooden pier, 1906, a few years before Pacific storms damaged it.  A fixture on the coast since the late 1800s, the community rallied to rebuild and reopen the pier in June 1914. (Photo, City of Huntington Beach archives)

   From their first arrival in Wintersburg Village and Huntington Beach township, the pioneer community gravitated toward the beach for fishing and recreation.  The wide, open stretches of sandy beach were open to everyone.  
LEFT: One of several beach scenes included in the 1933 publication, Echo, produced with the assistance of the Smeltzer Japanese Association, which met above the Tashima Market in Wintersburg Village.  (Photo, Orange County Young Men's Association publication, Echo, 1933) © All rights reserved.

   For the Japanese community in the early 1900s, the beach was a place were there were no restrictions or discrimination as was found in movie theaters in Garden Grove and the Walker's and Yost theaters in Santa Ana* where rope lines separated the Japanese and Mexican community from Caucasian theater goers.  The beach and pier were open and free.

RIGHT: Beach goers identified as Mr. Noguchi, Henry Kiyomi Akiyama (Charles Furuta's brother-in-law and fellow goldfish farmer), and Mr. Andow, at Huntington Beach circa 1915.  (Photo snip, University of California - Fullerton, Center for Oral and Public History, PJA 520) © All rights reserved

   "The most common beach which was used by the Japanese groups was Santiago Beach, which was on the terminal end of Bushard Street in Huntington Beach," recalled Clarence Nishizu during his 1982 oral history interview.**  "Another beach frequented was called the Jetty near the outlet of Santa Ana River between Huntington Beach and Newport." 

LEFT: Leonard Miyawaki with a leopard shark caught at Huntington Beach, circa 1924.  Leonard's father, Yatsumatsu Miyawaki, was a signer on the 1904 founding document for the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission.  Miyawaki also opened the first Japanese market in 1907 at 217 Main Street in the Talbert-Leatherman building, today the Longboard Restaurant and Pub. (Photo, University of California - Fullerton, Center for Oral and Public History, PJA 027) © All rights reserved.

   Nishizu said Japanese American groups "like the Japanese Language School, Orange County Young Mens' Association, judo groups, church groups" gathered at the beach for picnics, clamming, swimming and sunbathing, experiencing  no formal segregation, "no discrimination."  The beach then, as today, was one of the free public spaces for which there were no restrictions based on ethnicity.

   Journalist Neeta Marquis had written about the atmosphere in Orange County in 1913, observing the working relationships and friendships among the Japanese pioneer community and others in Orange CountyMarquis had come to interview the first clergy of the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Church, Reverend Joseph K. Inazawa and his wife, Kate Goodman.  While their marriage made headlines around the world, it was simply accepted in Wintersburg.  Marquis noted there were many multi cultural ventures and civic events.

   “…others all over Southern California are having similar experiences in both the business and the social world—very especially among the agricultural classes owning and working the great celery fields of Orange County," wrote Marquis.  "...The entire countryside accepted the invitation of the Japanese to join them in their celebration of the Emperor’s last birthday."

ABOVE: Clamming at Huntington Beach, circa 1935. (Photo, University of California - Fullerton, Center for Oral and Public History, PJA 355) © All rights reserved.

   Marquis was writing about events in 1912 that brought Orange Countians together.  At that time, much of the Huntington Beach pier had fallen into the sea after fierce Pacific storms.  

   The Huntington Beach board of trustees (predecessor to the city council), approved Ordinance No. 91 on May 13, 1912, regarding the issuance of a $70,000 bond for the "construction and completion of a municipal wharf for the water front."  Two weeks later, Huntington Beach leaders would meet with the growing Japanese community from Wintersburg Village and the surrounding area.  If Huntington Beach was going to rebuild its pier, the township would need help from around the County.

ABOVE: A gathering on the steps of the Huntington Inn, May 31, 1912, thought to be about fundraising support for the pier.  The crowd includes Huntington Beach's first mayor, Ed Manning (second row, far right in light-color suit),   another Huntington Beach mayor, Orange County supervisor, and pioneer realtor, Thomas Talbert (second row on step, fourth from left with hat in hand), Wintersburg Mission clergy, Reverend Hisakichi Terasawa (front row, fourth from right), Charles Mitsuji Furuta (front row below step, second from left), and at center next to Rev. Terasawa, a two-time Huntington Beach mayor (1914-1916 and 1918-1919) Eugene French. (Photo, Wintersburg Presbyterian Church) © All rights reserved

   Relationships among Huntington Beach leaders and those in Wintersburg Village had already been established.  When the Wintersburg Mission sought donations for the 1910 Mission building, contributions came from around the County and from Huntington Beach businesses and individuals.  Among the names recorded as contributing to the Wintersburg Mission are some of Huntington Beach township's founding families.

Left: From the archives of the present-day Wintersburg Presbyterian Church, a report listing the donors for the 1910 Mission in Wintersburg Village. (Image, Wintersburg Presbyterian Church)

   Asking for community help was a pioneer farming country practice, everyone helped each other.  Instead of raising a barn, this time the community raised a pier.

   When the pier was finally ready to re-open in 1914---one hundred years ago this month---the community held a party the likes of which had not been seen before.  A reported total of 20,000 people attended the two-day festivities, many riding Henry Huntington's Pacific Electric Railway to town.  There would be music and baseball (the team from Garden Grove vs. the Pacific Electric team), swimming and diving competitions, and a sack race.  

   One of the exciting highlights of the pier re-dedication was the surfing demonstration by Hawaiian-Irish surfer George Freeth, considered the first surfer in Southern California and the first to surf the pier.  He would forever set the tone for future generations: surfing the Huntington Beach pier means you're a pro.

ABOVE: A group from the Garden Grove Japanese Language School at an outing at Huntington Beach, circa 1927.  The Garden Grove school was located at 10771 Sherman Street near Garden Grove Boulevard and was demolished to make way for a Costco shopping center, despite its historic status. (Photo snip, University of California - Fullerton, Center for Oral and Public History, PJA 204) © All rights reserved.

   There was another featured event that day that demonstrated the support and community involvement of the Japanese pioneer community.  After George Freeth's "surf board riding" and before the grand finale of the concert band and pier illumination, thousands of visitors witnessed a "Japanese fencing and sword dance" demonstration, most likely a kembu performance.  Like all the day's events, the performance represented the community and those who had supported the rebuilding of the pier.

Right: The June 12, 1914, Huntington Beach News lists events planned for June 20 to mark the dedication of the new concrete pier.  The Huntington Beach News reported 20,000 visitors came for the pier dedication and provides the events calendar with Japanese fencing and sword dance at 4:30 p.m., just before the band concert and pier "illumination."  Reverend Kenji Kikuchi of the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission belonged to one of the many Japanese fencing clubs

   The Japanese sword dance also was an indicator of Samurai origins for some.  Reverend Terasawa and Reverend Kenji Kikuchi of the Wintersburg Mission, Yukiko Yajima Furuta, Masako Tashima of Wintersburg's Tashima Market, Clarence Nishizu, and Maki Kanno (mother of Fountain Valley's first mayor, James Kanno), among others, had Samurai ancestry.  Community involvement and civic responsibility was second nature.

   "We were indoctrinated with the spirit of bushido..." explained Clarence Nishizu in his oral history interview.**  "There are countless stories in Japanese history of a Samurai giving his life to prove the avowed sense of ethical code of loyalty to one's lord. This is synonymous to the spirit of Americanism as written in the American creed to love one's country and to support its Constitution and defend it against all enemies."

   Performed in feudal times as an exercise in courage or mental concentration, it is performed by women and men.  A video of a sword dance performed in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ste5UCxKqMs  

ABOVE: A generation after the Issei, or Japanese immigrants arrived in Orange County, the American-born Nisei had fully adopted the Southern California beach lifestyle.  An account of the Japanese baseball league that practiced across the street from the Mission in Wintersburg Village notes the coach had trouble getting players to practice, as they preferred the beach. (Photo, A humorously titled image of a gathering at Huntington Beach from the Orange County Young Men's Association publication, Echo, from 1933) © All rights reserved.
   Imagine the hushed crowd at the pier in 1914 as they watched, the ocean waves crashing in the background.  Undoubtedly, few in the crowd had seen a sword dance before that day. 

   The sword dance also was a signal that Huntington Beach was inviting the world to take a look at the growing beach town.  The pioneer community already spoke a half dozen languages in addition to English and Japanese, including Spanish, Italian, German, Armenian and Tagalog.  California was gearing up for the Panama Pacific International Exposition in 1915, marking the opening of the Atlantic to the Pacific via the Panama Canal.  There was an enthusiasm in California for all things new, inventive, and international.  On June 20, 1914, the town was bubbling over with civic pride, thousands of people, and a reported 1500 automobiles parked up and down the coastline. 

ABOVE: A beach party at Huntington Beach, circa 1933-1935.  The Japanese Language Schools, Mission and Japanese Association regularly held events at the beach and in Huntington Beach's downtown parks. (Photo, University of California - Fullerton, Center for Oral and Public History, PJA 357) © All rights reserved.

One hundred years of gratitude
   The Huntington Beach pier has battled Pacific storms more than once, with the community rebuilding it each time.  In 1988, the ocean again took parts of the pier out to sea.  

   Among those who contributed to rebuild the pier for its 1992 re-opening, was Huntington Beach's Sister City of Anjo, Japan, with a contribution of $92,000.00---more than the total cost of the pier in 1914.  The design replicated the architectural structure of the 1914 pier.

   On June 21 and 22 this year, special events will remember Huntington Beach's "100 Years of Surfing."  There again will be surfing demonstrations, music, speeches (see information at http://www.huntingtonbeachca.gov/announcements/attachments/100Years_Postcard-may%2028%20%283%29.jpg

   As the community marks the 100-year anniversary  of surfing at the"longest pier on the coast," we also remember and extend gratitude to the Japanese pioneers in 1912 and, in more recent times, our friends in Anjo, Japan, who helped build it. 

*Walker's Theater in Santa Ana originally opened as the Temple Theater in 1909.  It was demolished in the early 1960s.  The Yost Theater still exists as a historic music and event venue on Spurgeon Street in Santa Ana.
** Clarence Nishizu's oral history interview was conducted in 1982 for the Honorable Stephen K. Tamura Orange County Japanese American Oral History Project by Professor Emeritus Arthur A. Hansen.
 ***We continue to identify the people in this photograph.  If you spot someone you know (and can document the identity), please contact Historic Wintersburg via SurfCityWriter@yahoo.com 

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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.