Friday, May 25, 2012

The Kannos: Orange County pioneers, Talbert, and the creation of Fountain Valley, California

LEFT: Superintendents Willis Warner (in car), C.M. Feather and William Hirstein, with Mayor A.A. Hall of Santa Ana and Mayor James Kanno of Fountain Valley at a Warner (former Wintersburg) Avenue bridge dedication in 1961.  Kanno and his family were congregants at the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Church.  (Photo, Los Angeles Herald Examiner)

~Updated July 2017

     Among the congregants of national note of the Wintersburg Japanese Mission, is James Kanno, the first Nisei mayor in California and the first mayor of Fountain Valley (the former Talbert), California.*

   Maki Kanno, mother of James Kanno, was interviewed in 1983 for the Honorable Stephen K. Tamura Orange County Japanese American Oral History Project, jointly with the Japanese American Project of California State University - Fullerton (CSUF) Oral History Program.

Maki and Shuji Kanno
   Maki Kanno's family was from the village of Toyano, Japan, now part of present-day Fukushima.  Born in 1898, Maki Kanno's family was Samurai and her father was a large landholder, growing rice and silkworms.  As a young woman, Maki went to nursing school in Fukushima, then later studied midwifery in Tokyo.  During her time as a midwife, Maki helped deliver children of some of Japan's nobility. 

   Her future husband, Shuji Kanno, arrived in the United States in 1904.  When he returned to Japan in 1923 to get his wife, Maki, he was 34.  They had never met.

   Maki recalls Shuji had "came back to his village, Akaza (close to Toyano)...and it's a very small village, so everybody knew a man thirty-four years old, single, a man is here," laughed Maki, "and a twenty-five year old 'old maid' is in this village."

   Describing herself as a "liberated woman," Maki borrowed a wedding kimono for the Japanese country wedding ceremony, but skipped the traditional elaborate wig to simplify things.  Maki's new husband, Shuji, liked her style.

LEFT: A young Shuji Kanno, a charter member, elder and clerk of the Wintersburg Mission. (Photo, courtesy of Wintersburg Church) © All rights reserved.

   The Kannos made the two-week journey by sea on the Taiheiyo Maru.   Maki told her interviewer that her husband "was very sweet. Because she was afraid of being seasick, he chose a big ship and paid second-class fare for her."

   When she arrived in the United States, it was Easter, 1924.  Shuji was already Christian and upon their arrival in San Francisco, Maki was baptized.  Like many new Japanese wives, she arrived in a kimono and immediately went shopping for Western clothes.  She remembered the outfit during her interview almost sixty years later, "a blouse and a gathered light brown skirt."

  Maki was impressed with her new husband.  

   "A lot of the Japanese men told many lies in front of the brides-to-be, so they dreamed a big dream," she explained in her 1983 interview, "but when they arrived here, they found a tiny house awaiting them. Mr. Kanno, though, didn't tell her anything false."

   The Kannos traveled by train from San Francisco to Orange County, to Shuji's ranch in Greenville, now part of present-day Santa AnaShuji Kanno leased acreage from German American Antone Borchard, and grew asparagus.  The Kannos lived on the Greenville ranch for fifteen years, and their sons, George (1924) and James (1925) were born there.

RIGHT: Reverend Junzo Nakamura and congregants of the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Church near the manse / social hall, circa 1924. (Photo, courtesy of California State University - Fullerton, Center for Oral and Public History)
© All rights reserved.

Memories of Wintersburg Japanese Mission
   Maki Kanno remembered the Smeltzer Japanese Association in present-day Huntington Beach, but said she preferred her involvement with the Wintersburg Mission.  Traveling from his asparagus farm in Greenville (Santa Ana), Shuji attended night school at the Wintersburg Japanese Mission before getting married in order to learn English.  He eventually became an elder with the Mission, and taught in the Saturday Japanese Language School in Costa Mesa supported by the Mission. 

   Maki recalled Rev. Junzo Nakamura visiting "house after house...when Reverend Nakamura saw somebody working on their farm, he just walked over and talked with them. He didn't mind if his shoes became dirty." 

   "Mrs. Nakamura was a very, very nice person," said Maki, "She didn't have her own children, but she would baby-sit the other people's children. When there was a problem she was ready to help them. Both Reverend and Mrs. Nakamura were the center of the Japanese community. In that way, the church expanded."

   Maki explained the importance of the Wintersburg Japanese Mission to her family.  Shuji "was a Christian and he had a family, and he thought that to educate their sons in that Christian atmosphere was very important, so the Kanno boys were sent to the Sunday school classes at the church."  

   In addition to regular school during the week and Sunday at the Wintersburg Japanese Mission, the Kanno boys also attended the Saturday Japanese Language School where their father taught.  During her 1983 interview, Maki told the interviewer, laughing, that her sons "are still very nice boys."  By then, George was 59 and James, 58, had already served as mayor of Fountain Valley.

LEFT: Both George and James Kanno attended Santa Ana High School, while attending the Mission and Sunday school in Wintersburg Village. (Photo, Santa Ana Public Library)

Forced removal and confinement
   Both George and James Kanno were interviewed as part of the CSUF Oral History Program Japanese American Project.  They revealed in their interviews that it was probably their father's part time teaching work at the Japanese Language School that led to him being picked up as part of an early sweep of Japanese community leaders by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) after the attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan.  

   Japanese Language School teachers, landowners, judo club owners and members of local Japanese associations were among the first taken by the FBI.  Among those picked up in Wintersburg Village were Gunjiro Tashima, owner of the Tashima market, and landowners Charles Furuta and Tsurumatsu "T.M." Asari, both crop and goldfish farmers on Wintersburg Avenue.  Both of whom had lived in the United States for close to 40 years.

   Shuji Kanno was first taken to the Orange County Jail, then to the U.S. Army's Lordsburg Alien Enemy Internment Center in New Mexico, while his family was taken to the Colorado River Relocation Center, Poston, Arizona.  By then, Shuji Kanno had been in the U.S. for 38 years.  In a Los Angeles Times interview in 1988, Shuji Kanno told reporter Santiago O'Donnell he was "plowing land on May 12, 1942, when FBI agents and sheriff's deputies pulled up in a car and made the arrests." James Kanno was 16 years old at the time.

RIGHT: There were two internment camps in New Mexico, Lordsburg and Santa Fe.  The 2002 plaque above at the former Santa Fe camp notes, "no person of Japanese ancestry in the U.S. was ever charged or convicted of espionage throughout the course of the war."  (New Mexico Office of the State Historian)

   While there is no mention of it in the Kanno oral history interviews, the conditions at and the management of the Lordsburg camp were troubling.  The New Mexico Office of the State Historian explains, ".... a protecting third power, in this case Spain, enforced the provisions (of the Geneva Convention at the camp). During their tenure at Lordsburg, Japanese prisoners appealed to Spain saying that they were being mistreated."  

   Escalating tensions led to a camp guard shooting two men in July, 1942, during the time when Shuji Kanno (as well as Charles Furuta and Gunjiro Tashima, both of Wintersburg Village) would have been at Lordsburg.

   When Maki, George and James Kanno departed Orange County for Poston, they were taken to Huntington Beach with other local Japanese Americans and then, by bus, to Poston, Camp I.  They leased their asparagus farm to a neighbor, who returned their farm when the Kannos came back to Orange County.

   Shuji Kanno was confined at Lordsburg for one year, before being transferred to join his family in Poston.   Maki told the oral history interviewer that she called upon her Samurai resolve to get through that period, telling herself "this is a war" and that "as long as both of them were healthy, they would just have to wait and see...she believed in the government of the United States; the government would not do anything bad to them." 

 George Kanno
   During World War II incarceration, seventeen-year-old George Kanno took a work furlough thinning sugar beets in Colorado.  During his oral history interview--conducted over 45 years ago in 1966 for the CSUF Japanese American Program--he describes the predominantly German farming community of Fort Morgan as welcoming the Japanese.
LEFT: John Fukushima and Masayaki Tashima, a Wintersburg Village resident on work furlough from Poston, thinning beets in Milliken, Colorado, circa November 1942.  (Photo, University of California - Berkeley, Bancroft Library)

   "...they understood our position because they were in Colorado during World War I, you see," explained George.  "The Germans were treated pretty rough during that war, and they were real understanding of our predicament, and we got along fine. They had four churches in Fort Morgan that conducted services in the German language.  They conducted services in German, and also in English for the younger generation who was raised there. (laughter) So in several respects, they were similar to the Japanese. Certain things fit, you see, so they were better able to understand our position." 

   George Kanno later enlisted in the U.S. Army, sustaining a gunshot wound in his leg while guarding a supply train in Europe.  When the Kannos sold their farm land, George became part owner of the Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas and the Sierra Produce Company,  the largest produce supplier for hotels and casinos in Las Vegas.   

   "Remembering Dad: The Life of George Kanno," a 2010 memorial by his son, John, with early Orange County photographs, can be viewed at

RIGHT: James Kanno, first mayor of Fountain Valley (formerly Talbert) and first Nisei mayor in the mainland United States.

 James Kanno
   James Kanno was still in high school prior to World War II incarceration.  By then, the family was farming in Talbert (present day Fountain Valley).  Interviewed by the Huntington Beach Independent in 1999, he recalled "debating in his high school civics class that the Japanese evacuation would never take place because of America's democratic values."  Three months later, Kanno and his family left for incarceration at the Colorado River Relocation Center, Poston, Arizona.

   Kanno graduated from the high school in Poston--although hospitalized for a year with "valley fever"--and then was allowed to go to Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  When the family returned to Orange County, James attended Santa Ana College and then UCLA, while helping with the family's farm in Talbert.

LEFT: Teachers for the Poston Camp II High School 1942 - 1943, including Orange County teacher George Day Robertson (center front row in hat).  Robertson's book, based on her experience at Poston, was published when she was 100 years old. Read more about Robertson at   (Photo,
   Interviewed in 1971 for the CSUF Oral History Program Japanese American Project, James Kanno described his reaction when asked about the family's incarceration.

   " idea was that there were many people on the outside that realized that the evacuation was wrong, and because of the war and hysteria, through economic pressures and some other things, this evacuation came about," commented Kanno.  "But a good example was The (Orange County) Register, the newspaper in Santa Ana. Editorially the owner, Mr. R. C. Hoiles, indicated that this evacuation was wrong."**

RIGHT: Painting of R.C. Hoiles, owner of the Santa Ana Register, now Orange County Register.  (Image, Orange County Register)

   James continued, "for a person right in the middle of the war to come out with this type of editorial was quite admirable. I probably wouldn't have had the nerve or the guts to do what he did. So when you see somebody like this on the outside, you realize that the good people, or the thinking people, those that are sophisticated, who thought about it, would realize that this was wrong. So I felt that this was a mistake. Like anybody, the country made a mistake."

LEFT: Shuji Kanno, home again in Orange County after returning from internment at the Lordsburg Alien Enemy Internment Center and Poston Arizona Relocation Center, Sept. 12, 1945. (Photo, University of California - Berkeley, Bancroft Library)
Creating a city
   In 1956---after receiving an engineering degree from UCLA while continuing to help the family's growing farm holdings---James was asked to serve on the committee to incorporate the Talbert area farmland into a new city.

   He recalls, "people were starting to come into that area, and trying to develop it: buying up some of the property and putting it into housing, commercial and industrial uses. Several of the farmers got together and decided that for our own protection it might be a good idea to incorporate that area and form a city."

   James Kanno was urged on by his wife, Fran, "I attended several of their meetings, prompted by my wife, who kept insisting, 'Gee, we've got property here, so you better attend those meetings.'

   The incorporation of Fountain Valley became a reality in 1957.  James explained during his oral history interview, "the two questions that were asked on the ballot: 1. Do you want to form a city, yes or no? 2. If so, who would you want as councilmen for the city? There were nine people running for the five council positions. I don't know what happened, but I ended up with the most votes." 

   With that vote, James Kanno became the first Nisei mayor in the mainland United States and the first mayor of the newly incorporated Fountain Valley.

RIGHT: Dedication of Fountain Valley's first supermarket, Alpha Beta, at Magnolia Street and Warner (former Wintersburg) Avenue, May 18, 1964.  James Kanno is in the front row, third from the left. (Photo, Orange County Register)

   Jim Kanno's election and subsequent appointment as mayor made news around the world.  Voice of America, U.S. News and World Report, and Japanese media were among the news outlets that descended on the once quiet farming community.

   "...the 'Voice of America' radio show heard about this and they came over to see me," recalled James.  "In fact, they asked me to cut a tape interview with them, and I said, 'Well, gee, this is just a small farming community, and it's really nothing.' But they said, 'We're not asking you whether you will or not; we're more or less telling you to do so.' I said, "Well, gee, how come?

   The 1995 Orange County Almanac noted that "one Tokyo magazine pointed out that Kanno was elected despite the city's modest Japanese American population.  The magazine said Kanno's election 'proves that there is still room for success in America.' "
   With Kanno's assistance, the young community of Fountain Valley developed zoning standards and built the infrastructure that made farming land more valuable for investors.  Having increased the family's land holdings, the Kannos--like many of Orange County's farm families--eventually sold or traded land for other investments.  

LEFT: Buffums Department Store at the Westminster Mall, circa 1975. The large goldfish farm of Wintersburg's Akiyama family was originally at the mall site. The Akiyamas traded the property for land and a retail center in Vista. (Photo,

   The Los Angeles Times reported in 1987 that James Kanno had acquired the Buffum's Department Store in the Westminster Mall, a Ferrell's Jr. ice cream parlor, a Bank of America branch building and a Carl's Jr. restaurant.  James Kanno continued to manage his real estate investments, a result of his family's farming efforts, through retirement. 

Looking back
   James Kanno was philosophical about the experience of California's Japanese Americans during his oral history interview in 1971, understanding the position taken by his father and other Issei.  

   Shuji Kanno had advised others incarcerated at Lordsburg who were preparing for their interrogations, " matter what happens, America is where we came to and this is where we want to raise our children. So in spite of what happened, I feel that during this interview you better not say anything damaging, because we cast our lot. We came to America; this is where we want to raise our family; this is where we want to stay."

ABOVE: James Kanno was interviewed by the Los Angeles Times in 1984 and earlier by California State University Fullerton for the Japanese American oral history program. (Image: Los Angeles Times, September 2, 1984)

Looking forward
  James Kanno also relayed during his 1971 interview, a moment when his young son showed him the difference a generation makes.  His son, David, planned to run for student body president at his high school.

   "Why are you going to run for president instead of athletic commissioner or something like that?" James asked him.  "He said, 'Well, there are only three running for student body president, and the odds are better.' So then I proceeded to tell him, 'Well, David, we just moved into this area, and people really don't know you. Some of the kids went all through grammar school together, so they're well known."

   "Besides, you have to remember, you're Japanese American and it might be a little tough to get in.' Of course, I was the overly concerned parent; I was sort of preparing him for the defeat," explained James, "But he said, 'Well, Dad, you know because I am Japanese American, it's helpful.' I said, 'How's that?' And he said, 'Because everybody notices me. I stick out. So that's how come I'm going to get elected and become president.' So I said, 'Okay.' "

   "Well, to make a long story short, he was elected student body president and was well accepted. So I guess sometimes we worry too much about the racial issue." 

   UPDATE JULY 18, 2017:  James Kanno--instrumental in the creation of present-day Orange County--passed on July 15, 2017.  

Read the Orange County Register obituary at

Read the Los Angeles Times obiturary at

*The first reported Japanese American mayor in the United States is thought to be Kinjiro Matsudaira in Edmonston, Maryland, in 1927. 

**Excerpt from Opinion written by R.C. Hoiles, then owner of the Santa Ana Register, October 14, 1942:
   "The question we should consider is whether or not this evacuation will in the long run really help us win the war. If it will not, we should make every effort possible to correct the error as rapidly as possible. It would seem that convicting people of disloyalty to our country without having specific evidence against them is too foreign to our way of life and too close akin to the kind of government we are fighting. We need all the manpower we can obtain. To remove the Japanese from the place where they could serve our country by helping us furnish food and doing useful services weakens us in our defense by that amount. We must realize, as Henry Emerson Fosdick so wisely said, 'Liberty is always dangerous but it is the safest thing we have.' That, also, in reality, means that true democracy is always dangerous but it is the safest thing we have. If we are not willing to run any risks and cannot have faith in humanity and regard people innocent until they are proved guilty, we are on the road to losing our democracy."

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.  

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Wintersburg's Okuda family and memories of life on the Bolsa Chica Gun Club

An aerial view of the Bolsa Chica Gun Club, circa 1930s. The area where the Gun Club buildings once stood is now behind a chain link fence. (

~Update January 2018~

    The divide between the "haves" and those with less was never more evident in the peatlands than when the gun clubs arrived.  Past the western edge of Wintersburg Village's farmland, the Bolsa Chica Gun Club was among the most prominent, boasting a wealthy, eclectic membership.

   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.

   "Okuda's family was one of the few clubhouse staff who actually lived on the gun club property," explains Carlberg.  The Okudas lived in a house below the clubhouse.  Jimmie was born in 1921 and spent his early childhood years on the Bolsa Chica.

   "When not attending school in Huntington Beach," Okuda told Carlberg, he spent his days "fishing and swimming in the lagoon, helping tend his mother's chickens or enjoying sunsets from the beach."

LEFT: Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth after a hard day purported to be  at the Bolsa Chica Gun Club, circa 1925.  The Bolsa Chica Land Trust describes this photo as being "a gift from Huntington Beach lifeguard, Wade Womack. Wade, in turn, had received it from Grace Bixby more than 25 years ago. The photo was taken at the Gun Club 'about the year 1925' according to the notation on the back." (

   "At times he would help his father care for the landscaping around the clubhouse, including a nine-hole golf course.  Young Okuda watched as lines of chauffeur driven Duesenbergs, Cadillacs and Buicks dropped off bankers, industry leaders, sports figures, Hollywood stars, members of the 1932 Los Angeles Olympic Committee, and even royalty.  One slim, ordinary looking gentleman Okuda observed entering the clubhouse, the eleven-year-old was later to learn, was the Prince of Wales, two years later to be known as King Edward VIII of Great Britain."

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)

An exodus of khaki-clad men
   By 1905, it is reported there were 23 shooting clubs in Los Angeles and Orange counties devoted to duck hunting, the Bolsa Chica being one of the wealthiest.  The Oct. 15, 1905, Los Angeles Herald reported the opening of hunting season: "There was an exodus of khaki-clad men from Los Angeles last night.  Trolley cars and trains took them away by hundreds, and automobiles and livery rigs conveyed scores to the chaparral and the club houses by the shores."

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)

   "Down at the club houses last night," continued the Herald, "there were merry crowds of sportsmen who burned good tobacco and drew the long bow until the momentous hour when the dice were rolled for the first choice of blind and first gun."  (For our 21st Century readers, "drawing the long bow" means they were telling a few tall tales or heavily embellished stories about their exploits.)

RIGHT: Bolsa Chica Gun Club, incorporated in 1899 "for the purpose of promoting hunting and fishing." (Photo,

   During the start of the 1908 hunting season, the Los Angeles Herald reported, "On most of the preserves the club houses and lodges are comfortably--some even luxuriantly--arranged with kitchens, snug sleeping quarters and elegant dining rooms." The previous year, the Sept. 29, 1907, Herald had noted "quantities of food supplies have been laid in, to say nothing of liquid refreshments, the latter to prevent members of taking cold when they get wet.  Needless to say, all hunters will be very cautious not to fall into the water or get their feet wet." 

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
   Memberships in the Bolsa Chica Gun Club initially started at $1,000, then later rose to $75,000, making the club more exclusive.  

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 and the Merritt Building, 761 South Broadway, was constructed in 1915 with nine stories, not twenty-two. Constructed of white Colorado Yule marble, the Merritt Building was purchased a century later in 2016 and is being restored as one of Los Angeles prized historic structures . ("Skyscraper Plans Hinge on Council, Los Angeles Herald, Dec. 7, 1910)

Among the members of the Bolsa Chica Gun Club were: 

  • 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.
RIGHT: Bolsa Chica Gun Club member William Bayly arrived in California in 1898 and was described as "one of the foremost mining men of the southwest". (Los Angeles Herald, April 27, 1906) 
  • 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, for whom the City of Torrance, California, was named.  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." In 1910, Torrance deeded over 2,500 acres in north Orange County to the Union Oil Company.
  • 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.
LEFT: "Millionaires Perry Weidner, Isaac Milbank, and M.C. Neuner," members of the Dominguez Field Aviation Committee, carried Hoxsey "along the cheering, hat waving stands" of a reported 75,000 spectators. (Los Angeles Herald, Dec. 27, 1910)
  • 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 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.
RIGHT: On the mesa near the Bolsa Chica Gun Club's former location. (Photo, May 2012) © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

100 Dam Years
   As glamorous as the Bolsa Chica Gun Club may have been, not all were happy with its presence.  In order to create bigger duck ponds, the Gun Club blocked the natural tidal flow, quickly incurring the wrath of peatland ranchers and farmers.

   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.

LEFT: The powerful Bolsa Chica Gun Club won this round of the dispute with residents in the peatlands when the War Department decided in favor of the Gun Club. Ranchers and farmers had protested Gun Club dams in the wetlands as an obstruction of navigable waters. The Gun Club had installed earthen dams in the Bolsa Chica in 1899 to create ponds to attract more ducks for hunting. (San Francisco Chronicle, March 20, 1903)

    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. The Associated Press reported "environmentalists who had worked for 30 years to restore the massive Bolsa Chica area cheered and sipped champagne as the salty water poured into the fragile ecosystem" of the 387-acre wetland basin.

   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.

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)

  Ten years after the tidal inlet was opened--wetlands stewards work to continue the regular dredging of sand to keep the saltwater flowing and maintain the natural wildlife habitat.

A childhood on the Bolsa Chica
   It's not likely a young Jimmie Okuda was aware of the going's on in the lives of the Gun Club members or of the politics regarding the dammed tidal inlet.  He was living an ideal child's life with wetlands and fields to explore.  Okuda's family worked and lived on the Gun Club property until 1935, when his father, Harry Okuda, lost his job due to an injury.  Jimmie was then 14 years old.

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.

     Okuda told Carlberg the family turned the farm over to their chicken feed supplier.  Fortunately, the Okudas were able to regain the farm when they returned to Orange County.  They moved the farm to the area of Hazard Avenue and Bushard Street--due to the construction of the 22 Freeway--before retiring it to urbanization.

   In 2005, Okuda told Carlberg he had taken up a game favored by the gun club members--golf--and had become a world traveler.  Jim Shigeru Okuda passed away in 2007 in nearby Westminster, with funeral services held at the Wintersburg Presbyterian Church (the former Wintersburg Japanese Mission).

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)

Special thanks to Huntington Beach resident Dave Carlberg, author of Bolsa Chica--Its History from Prehistoric Times To The Present, for providing information about Jim Shigero Okuda.

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