Saturday, September 5, 2015

In support of the Tuna Canyon Coalition; Tuna Canyon's connection with Historic Wintersburg

The Tuna Canyon Coalition's event was held to raise matching funds for a grant received by the National Park Service for a museum-quality traveling exhibit. The historic and cultural monument at Tuna Canyon--approved by the Los Angeles City Council in 2013--has been in limbo, due to litigation by the property owner. (Photo, M. Urashima, August 29, 2015) © All rights reserved.

  Historic Wintersburg was part of the Tuna Canyon Coalition's August fundraising event at the Nishii Hongwanji Buddhist Temple in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles. There is a shared history.

   The Tuna Canyon Detention Station was a former Civilian Conservation Corps camp taken over by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Immigration and Naturalization Service on December 8, 1941, following the attack by Japan at Pearl Harbor.  A hastily established prison camp, guards were garnered from the U.S. Border Patrol and U.S. Army. By December 18, 1941, there were 70 Americans of Japanese descent detained at Tuna Canyon, which would also receive those of German and Italian descent, and Peruvians of Japanese descent. Hundreds would follow, eventually transferred to military detention centers in Missoula, Montana and Lordsburg, New Mexico.

LEFT: A meditation garden at the Nishii Hongwanji Buddhist Temple in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, where the Tuna Canyon Coalition event was held. (Photo, M. Urashima, August 29, 2015) © All rights reserved.

   On August 29, 2015, a thousand came to raise funds for a traveling exhibit, remembering those imprisoned at the Tuna Canyon Detention Station. Accused on the basis of their ethnicity, many of those incarcerated were Buddhist priests, teachers, business owners, civic leaders, and Christian clergy. 

   The connection to Historic Wintersburg? Charles Furuta was confined at Tuna Canyon, before he was incarcerated at a military detention center in Lordsburg, New Mexico. Driving to Tajunga from Huntington Beach, his family was only able to talk to him through a fence.

RIGHT: The sculpture, "Endure" by Ernie Jane Nishii, was displayed at the event. Nishii "grew up in Tule Lake Segregation Center during WWII, where she had nightmares." (Photo, M. Urashima, August 29, 2015) © All rights reserved.

   During an oral history conducted in 2013 for Historic Wintersburg, Etsuko Furuta Fukushima recalled visiting her father at Tuna Canyon. Driving from Huntington Beach to Tuna Canyon today might take at least two hours, depending on Southern California traffic. In 1942, it would have been an all-day effort to get there and back before curfew.

   "I remember the fence, the wire fence," recalled Etsuko, an alumni of Huntington Beach High School and age 92 when speaking with Professor Emeritus Arthur Hansen, on behalf of Historic Wintersburg. "And I don't remember we were able to talk to him through the fence, but I don't think we were able to get inside."

   "He was expecting the FBI to take him, because he was a leader of the community, he was president of the Japanese Association," Yukiko Furuta recalled of her husband, Charles, during her oral history interview in 1982. "So, he had already packed a suitcase with warm clothing, and was ready."

LEFT: David Ono, anchorman for KABC Channel 7 in Los Angeles, California, acted as master of ceremonies. (Photo, M. Urashima, August 29, 2015) © All rights reserved.

   Charles Furuta was taken to Tuna Canyon several months after Pearl Harbor. Yukiko Furuta recalled it was around February 22 or 23 of 1942.  They were expecting the FBI and both were "in fear", she explained during her interview.  

   The FBI arrived a few days after President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, mandating the forced removal of Japanese Americans from the West Coast.  Charles Furuta was interrogated by the FBI in the sun porch of the 1912 bungalow he had built for his bride, Yukiko, one of the six structures that remain at Historic Wintersburg.  He was first taken to the Huntington Beach jail and then to Tuna Canyon.

   "How do you feel about the whole thing of seeing your father on the other side of the fence?" asked Historic Wintersburg's interviewer Hansen of Etsuko Furuta Fukushima.

   "I thought, 'For heaven's sake, he couldn't be a spy,' but then the FBI were wrong," explained Etsuko

RIGHT: Photograph taken backstage by Historic Wintersburg author, Mary Adams Urashima, while waiting to be introduced by David Ono (at left). Ernie Nishii (at right) remarked on his family's personal connection to Tuna Canyon. (Photo, M. Urashima, August 29, 2015) © All rights reserved.

   Like other Japanese Americans, Charles Furuta was never found to have committed any act against the United States.  The majority of those incarcerated were American cititzens and had known no other country. The Issei--like Charles Furuta, who had arrived in 1900--were prevented citizenship, but had put down roots in America, established businesses, raised children.

   Charles Furuta was identified first due to his ancestry, then as a possible leader by the FBI due to his land ownership, his activity with the Wintersburg Japanese Church, and his civic involvement with the Smeltzer Japanese Association, which met in Wintersburg Village above the Tashima Market. A 1912 photograph shows Charles Furuta with a group of Huntington Beach mayors and other local leaders, at a meeting to raise funds to rebuild the Huntington Beach pier. The very actions he had taken over the prior four decades to become American worked against him in 1942.

   Yukiko Furuta recalled that Reverend Sohei Kowta was interrogated by the FBI at the Wintersburg Japanese Church (also one of the six structures remaining at Historic Wintersburg), but managed to delay his removal so he could accompany his congregation.

   "The FBI came to the church to take Reverend Kowta, but then the minister said that all the husbands had been taken and the wives were having trouble. If he would be taken, no one would take care of them," said Yukiko in 1982. "So the FBI agent called the office and talked to the people at the office. Then they decided not to take him. So he could stay in the Japanese community."

VIDEO: The Thousand Cranes dance by Nancy Hayata, accompanied by June Kuramoto of Hiroshima. Nancy Hayata is holding orizuru, origami crane, a symbol of peace and related to the real-life story of Sadako, an atomic bomb survivor (known as hibakusha). A poem about Sadako has her saying, "I shall write peace upon your wings, and you shall fly around the world..." (Video, M. Urashima, August 29, 2015) © All rights reserved.

   The charismatic Reverend Kowta would deliver a sermon prior to his congregation's forced removal, invoking Abraham, "the great migration leader."

    "Every crisis is a testing time of one's character," said Kowta in 1942, prior to joining his entire congregation as they left California for confinement in Arizona. "Selfish people, during a crisis, show their selfishness to a greater measure than they do in ordinary times.  Generous people reveal their generosity to a greater degree than they do at other times."

   "Give us a desert. We shall make it a beautiful garden; give us a wasted land, we shall change it into a productive field; give us a wilderness, we shall convert it into a fruitful orchard," said Kowta, who would unify many of the religious groups at Poston. "Provide for our children competent teachers, regardless of the buildings we shall have, we shall make ours one of the finest schools in the country."

LEFT: Families who were confined at the Tuna Canyon Detention Station gather for a group photograph at the end of the event. In front, Dr. Lloyd Hitt of Little Landers Historical Society, and Minoru Tanai, UCLA Japanese American Studies Chair Committee, both leaders in the Tuna Canyon preservation effort. In the top row, Nancy Oda, chair of the Tuna Canyon Coalition, with her family, descendants of the Reverend Guzei Nishii, a respected Buddhist minister from San Diego who was confined at Tuna Canyon. (Photo, M. Urashima, August 29, 2015) © All rights reserved.

   Yukiko Furuta explained that in the evening they "pulled the blind and shade and turned out the light and went to bed early," following the curfew instructions to everyone on the West Coast. After Charles Furuta was taken to Tuna Canyon, their son, Raymond--engaged to Martha at the time--thought he should get married quickly "because otherwise they might not be able to get married."

   Raymond and Martha were married in the Wintersburg Church by Reverend Kowta.  Later when the Furuta family arrived at the Colorado River Relocation Center at Poston, Arizona--a bleak desert, as described in the sermon by Reverend Kowta--the Wintersburg pastor would marry Etsuko Furuta to her fiance, Dan Fukushima, in one of the Poston barracks.

RIGHT: What remains of the Tuna Canyon Detention Station, now a golf course recently purchased by a home developer, Snowball West. Tuna Canyon was designated a historic site by the City of Los Angeles City Council in a unanimous vote. The one-acre cultural monument under the oak trees at Tuna Canyon has been delayed due to Snowball West's lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles alleging illegal historic-cultural monument status. Their writ was denied as of mid August 2015, allowing the Tuna Canyon historic-cultural monument effort to continue. (Photo, M. Urashima, June 2015) © All rights reserved.

   During Etsuko Furuta Fukushima's oral history interview in 2013, she was asked, "you had your life to look forward to, and they had their life very abruptly interrupted. How did your parents get affected by--I'm sure you thought about this -- how did it affect them?"

   "Well, after working...and building up what they had to have it all torn down and then start all over again," Etsuko replied, "That was just terrible."

LEFT: The iron oxide red siding of the 1912 Furuta bungalow at Historic Wintersburg, where Charles Furuta was interrogated by the FBI before he was taken to Tuna Canyon. A charming California cottage, with monumental civil liberties history, the Furuta home is one of six important structures at Historic Wintersburg. (Photo, M. Urashima, 2014) © All rights reserved.

   Charles Furuta would stay at Tuna Canyon three weeks before he was taken to a military confinement center in Lordsburg, New Mexico.  It would be one year before he was reunited with his family at Poston.

   Yukiko visited Charles two times at Tuna Canyon, each time traveling first to Santa Ana (seat of Orange County government) for permission from officials to visit her husband.  After the long drive to Tajunga from Huntington Beach, Yukiko was only allowed to talk to her husband for ten minutes, speaking to each other through the fence. It was enough time for Charles to tell her to keep the family together and leave California with the others, per the federal order.

ABOVE: The whispering oak trees at the former Tuna Canyon Detention Station. (Photo, M. Urashima, 2015) © All rights reserved.

   By 1960, Tuna Canyon Detention Station buildings were torn down, erasing evidence of the prison camp.  It became the Verdugo Hills Golf Course (before the sale to Snowball West), retaining the stately oak trees that were present during WWII and are a prominent feature at the property today.

RIGHT: From the Call Leader newspaper in Elwood, Indiana, an account that was shared around the country of the whispering trees of Los Tunas Canyon (Tuna Canyon).  The article notes, "the noise made by one leaf was so slight that it could not be heard a foot away, but the thousands grating continuously together kept the sound vibrations in such constant motion that their sigh was heard above the ordinary rustling of the leaves of the chaparral."  It is the many thousand whispers of yesterday and today that can bring voice to the story of Tuna Canyon. (Image: The Elwood Call Leader, Elwood, Indiana, January 16, 1918)

   There is something about the trees in Tuna Canyon.  Between 1917 and 1918, a news report circulated around the country in which a hiker reported "whispering trees" in "Los Tunas canyon" (one example, the Arizona Republican, "Finds Trees that Seem to Whisper", November 10, 1918).  Tuna Canyon's trees continue to communicate to those who plan the historic-cultural monument. Their theme for the planned traveling exhibit: Only the Oaks Remain.

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.

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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.