Sunday, April 28, 2013

What's next? Historic Wintersburg's future

A vintage postcard promotes the rich soil of Orange County's peatlands, this photo likely taken in the Wintersburg / Smeltzer area where celery was king.

   In 1902, Presbyterian clergy went out into the celery fields of Wintersburg and Smeltzer, talking to the Japanese bachelors about building their new lives in America.  Charles Furuta had arrived in the United States in 1900 and was hard at work in Wintersburg.  

   By then, Furuta had met Episcopalian minister Hisakichi Terasawa, a mentor who advised he should work hard, stay on the straight path and buy land.   The Westminster Presbyterian community had enlisted the Cambridge-educated Rev. Terasawa to help establish a mission in Wintersburg, due to his knowledge of both Japanese and American culture and language.  Holding meetings in a Wintersburg barn, Charles Furuta was the first to be baptized in the mission effort, founded in 1904.

   Their close friendship led to the joint effort to buy land between 1904 and 1909 for the Furuta farm and for the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission.   

The Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission effort in north Orange County included support for Japanese schools and community centers in Garden Grove, Talbert (Fountain Valley, not shown on map), Costa Mesa, and in south Orange County, Laguna Beach. (Image,

   The Mission's reach in Orange County grew as their congregation grew, with Japanese schools--gakuens--and community centers in Garden Grove, Talbert (Fountain Valley), Costa Mesa and Laguna Beach (Crystal Cove).  The Talbert school, located near present-day Bushard Street and Talbert Avenue, opened in 1912, the same year Charles and Yukiko Furuta built their new home on Wintersburg Avenue.

Crystal Cove Cottage #34 once served as the Laguna Beach Language School (Japanese school and community center) supported by the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Church. (Photo courtesy of Flikr, murraycdm photostream)

   By the 1920s--while the Furuta Gold Fish Farm was flourishing in Wintersburg Village--some of the Japanese truck farmers who got their start in north Orange County moved further south.
Left: an excerpt from the California State Parks brochure for Crystal Cove State Park,
   The original Japanese school / community center supported by the Wintersburg church for those living on and farming Irvine Company land is now Cottage #34, the cultural center at the Crystal Cove State Park.  

   The Historic District of Crystal Cove was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

The original building for the Japanese school and community center supported by the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Church now serves as the public cultural center, Cottage #34 at Crystal Cove State Park. (Image,

Excerpt from 1930 history of the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission, written by Reverend Kenji Kikuchi, referencing the church's work in Laguna Beach.  (Image courtesy of Wintersburg Presbyterian Church)  

   The County-wide legacy of the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission effort of 100 years ago is evident today, but the original Mission complex with the Furuta farm remain in jeopardy, under review for a zone change to commercial/industrial and an application for demolition.

Historic designation
   A recent Historic Context Survey conducted by Galvin Preservation Associates, Inc., recommended four of the six buildings on the Historic Wintersburg property as eligible for the National Register of Historic Places: the 1912 Furuta bungalow, the 1910 Mission, the 1910 Manse (clergy home) and the 1934 Depression-era Church.

Left: An aerial of the Furuta farm and Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission complex from the draft Environmental Impact Report. There is a residential neighborhood to the west, across Emerald Lane, and an elementary school to the south, across Belsito Drive.  (Image, City of Huntington Beach)

  There are hopes to add historic landmark designation for the century-old pioneer heritage barn built by the Furuta family for their goldfish and flower farm.  The barn appears to be the only remaining heritage barn in Huntington Beach and one of the rare few in Orange County.

   The Furuta farm and Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission complex is a rare, extant Japanese pioneer heritage property.  Over the arch of 100 years, the history associated with this property tells of the settlement and development of Orange County and California.

Planning Commission
   The Huntington Beach Planning Commission held a public hearing on the environmental impact report for Historic Wintersburg (Warner-Nichols) at their April 23, 2013 meeting.  The Commission will again discuss the fate of Historic Wintersburg at their May 28, 2013 meeting.

   Two actions were directed by the Planning Commission: 1) Add the Furuta barn as a City historic landmark, 2) provide more documentation regarding the draft Environmental Impact Report's "Statement of Overriding Consideration" which states the historic buildings are a public safety concern, justifying demolition.

   The Commission debated the pros and cons of designating the property as a historic district, uncertain about its effect.  The City staff recommendation--to certify the draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and approve the Statement of Overriding Consideration (which allows the demolition to proceed) is acknowledged in the draft EIR as inconsistent with the City of Huntington Beach General Plan.  

   The demolition permit would fall under a "ministerial" action by staff, as opposed to a discretionary action by an elected or appointed body.  However, ministerial actions must be fully consistent with the General Plan per City policy.  State law considers the demolition of historic resources a significant impact that cannot be fully mitigated.  Once they are gone, they are gone.

   California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) law states "where a project involves an approval that contains elements of both a ministerial action and a discretionary action, the project will be deemed to be discretionary and will be subject to the requirements of CEQA." 

Tadashi Kowta, son of Reverend Sohei Kowta, recently revisited Historic Wintersburg after more than 50 years.  The Kowta family lived in the Manse on the property between 1938 and 1942, until they were forced to evacuate to the Colorado River Relocation Center.  Kowta recalled his last visit was about a decade after World War II. (April 19, 2013)

The History of Southern California
   The concern for preservation of  Historic Wintersburg echoes in concurrent discussions about the historic China House in Rancho CucamongaThe two-story China House, built in 1919, once housed a Chinese market and was home to the Chinese laborers who dug tunnels bringing water from the mountains to the valley.  It is the last remaining Chinese pioneer structure in an Inland Empire Chinatown.

   Designated as a City historic landmark in 1985, the City staff report questioned the historical significance of the China House and, in familiar fashion, deemed the building a public safety concern.  The day following the Historic Wintersburg public hearing, Rancho Cucamonga's planning commission rejected the staff report, delayed demolition, and directed full environmental review.

Left: Academy Award®- winning and Emmy®- nominated actor and director Chris Tashima toured Historic Wintersburg as a representative of the Little Tokyo Historical Society.  Tashima's award-winning film and stage work has included subjects about Japanese and Japanese American history and culture. (April 19, 2013)

   Asian Americans were an integral part of the settlement, farming and development of Southern California, yet evidence of this history has almost entirely been erased.  The last remaining tangible pieces are jeopardized, the history often discounted, and the structures--after surviving a century--considered somehow unsafe to preserve.
   At the public hearing in Huntington Beach, Kanji Sahara with the Japanese American Citizens League called the preservation of Historic Wintersburg a civil rights issue.  Sahara, 79, explained no one should be denied their cultural heritage. 

   Huntington Beach Independent Reporter Anthony Carpio writes (Future of historical site still in question, April 24, 2013), "Sahara compared Wintersburg to Manzanar, the relocation camp in California where thousands of Japanese Americans were sent during World War II.   He said Manzanar was registered as a national historic site because it told the history of what had happened there and it would have lost historical value had it been moved."

"Manzanar tells the story of what happened 70 years ago." said Sahara.  "These buildings at Wintersburg tell the story of what happened 100 years ago."


What is next?
The Huntington Beach Planning Commission will meet to discuss Historic Wintersburg at 7 p.m., Tuesday, May 28, at Huntington Beach City Hall, 2000 Main Street (corner of Yorktown Avenue and Main Street).

A half-day workshop on Historic Wintersburg will be conducted for the California Preservation Foundation on Friday, May 3.

In February 2013, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced--in conjunction with the National Park Service--the Asian American Pacific Islander Theme Study to investigate the stories, places and people of Asian American and Pacific Island heritage.  The theme study will guide future nominations of National Historic Landmarks and National Register properties.  Per the Department of the Interior, less than eight percent of National Register properties can be identified as representing the stories associated with African Americans, American Latinos, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, American Indians, Native Alaskans and Native Hawaiians, or women.  Asian American history experts from around the country meet May 9 in Washington D.C. to discuss implementation of the initiative.

Historic Wintersburg will be included on a panel discussion at the National Historic Trust Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana, at the end of October 2013.

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.        

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Saving Historic Wintersburg

Charles and Yukiko Furuta, with baby Ray, in the farmland of Wintersburg Village, circa 1915.  (Photo courtesy of the Furuta family) © All rights reserved.
"We are only the caretakers of these houses...They contain the wood from the old-growth forests, they are monuments to the skill of those who labored to build them, they represent our cultural heritage. To destroy them, or allow them to be destroyed by neglect, to remove their original fabric in the pointless pursuit of "no maintenance" is profoundly disrespectful both to the trees that gave their lives and to the labor and skill of those who built the houses-with hand tools..."       ~Jane Powell, author

~Updated March 2015~

     One hundred years ago, Charles Mitsuji and Yukiko Yajima Furuta, had settled into their new house on Wintersburg Avenue.  A classic California bungalow, it was washed with red iron oxide paint--matching the barn behind it--and trimmed in crisp white.   The home and the nearby Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission were prominent features on the flat farmland surrounding Wintersburg Village.

   Within a few years, the Furuta home was surrounded by a garden, flowers and fruit trees, and an earthen tennis court built by Charles for Yukiko.  Behind the house, an ofuro (traditional Japanese bath), heated with wood from the grove of gum trees on the property.  

A game of tennis on the Furuta farm, shaded by the lush grove of gum trees that surrounded the property.  (Photo courtesy of the Furuta family) © All rights reserved.

   Nearby neighbors included the Nichols family, who had moved their house from Huntington Beach to Wintersburg.  Like most rural families, the Nichols shared what they had, bringing warm goat's milk to the preachers and their families living in the Manse at the Japanese Mission.

   Across Wintersburg Avenue was the Tashima Market, where farmers bought seed and feed, and traded stories.  Housewives came to buy flour or rice, and take a moment away from cooking , cleaning, and laundry to talk with other women from the scattered farms.
A wagon filled with sugar beets races down a dusty Wintersburg Avenue toward the Southern Pacific Railroad line, circa 1914.  (Photo courtesy of the Furuta family) © All rights reserved.

    The Furuta home was beautifully decorated with cloth wall covering, upholstered wooden chairs, lace curtains, and a piano in the front room.  The furnishings were simple and elegant.  Since arriving in America in 1900, Charles had worked hard and saved his money to buy land and provide a beautiful home for his new bride.  In a 1914 photograph taken by Charles, a young Yukiko gazes at a flower-filled vase on the spool-legged dining room table, covered with a floral, fringed tablecloth. 

   At the time the photograph was taken, the local Japanese community was helping Huntington Beach celebrate the dedication of its new concrete pier, sword dancers performing alongside musicians and surfers.  
A glimpse of the "clouds and flowers" wallpaper is revealed underneath wallboard inside the Furuta family's 1912 bungalow.  (Photo courtesy of Planning Commissioner Mark D. Bixby, taken during his due diligence tour of the property in 2013.) © All rights reserved.

   At the state capitol---far from Wintersburg Village---there were other political forces at work.  California had just passed the Alien Land Law of 1913, preventing Japanese from owning land.  It would be almost four decades before the law was overturned.

   The Furutas were one of two Japanese families in present-day Huntington Beach to have bought land before the law---the other, fellow goldfish farmer, Tsurumatsu Asari.  The Furuta land is the sole surviving pre-Alien Land Law property, a five-acre goldfish and flower farm. 

   By the 1920s, gold fish ponds filled with fantails, shubunkins and comets shimmered in the fields of the five-acre Furuta farm.   Automobiles could be heard as often as the clip clop of horses on Wintersburg Avenue, still a dirt road that became a muddy mess when it rained.  Nearby, Huntington Beach was busy building its new civic center, paving roads, and struggling to keep up with new arrivals lured by the oil boom.   

The Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission and Manse at Wintersburg Avenue and Nichols Lane, circa 1911-1912.  (Photo courtesy of Wintersburg Presbyterian Church) © All rights reserved.

   On the northwest corner of the Furuta farm, the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission had become an established community center, its members involving themselves in civic activities in Wintersburg Village, Smeltzer, Huntington Beach and around Orange County.  After meeting in a Wintersburg barn for six years, the rectangular wooden Mission building opened its doors in 1910.   The Mission construction began in 1909, the same year Huntington Beach incorporated and five years after the Pacific Electric Railway arrived.

   The Mission was an iconic country church, with tall windows to let in the breeze and double doors at the front opening into a simple sanctuary.  Horses would be tied up in back, under the grove of trees.  Its easy to imagine a quiet Sunday, everyone dressed in their best, children fidgeting, and conversations outside in the gardens after the services.

  For the Japanese community in Orange County, it was more than a building.  The Mission was a meeting place, a school, and a very human support system for the immigrant community.  The Mission building was a physical and symbolic achievement, a testimonial to the farmers who gave the few dollars they had for its construction.  Together--with new American friends--they had begun to put down roots.

   In the "Resolution of 1910," early supporters of the Mission resolved their purpose was "spiritual and intellectual improvement."  Signing on to the Resolution are the names of those who helped shape Orange County and Southern California.

Left: The May 29, 1910 Resolution of the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission, provided a simple statement of purpose and set the election date for their new board of trustees(Image courtesy of Wintersburg Presbyterian Church) © All rights reserved.

   Charles Mitsuji Furuta's name is found second on the list, below the name of Reverend Junzo Nakamura.  Also on the list:

~Yasuo Goto, a sugar beet farmer working about 180 acres for the Holly Sugar Company in Huntington Beach and father of a well-known doctor in Los Angeles' "Little Osaka" district (now Sawtelle Japantown), James Goto.
~Shuji Kanno, father of Fountain Valley's first mayor James Kanno, the first Japanese American mayor in the continental United States.  

~Henry Kiyomi Akiyama, Charles Furuta's brother-in-law and later one of Orange County's wealthiest residents as owner of the Pacific Goldfish Farm. 

~Tsuneji Chino, who ran a labor camp off present-day Springdale Avenue for landowner Ray Moore, and a relative of Henry Akiyama from Nagano-ken in Japan.

Left: One of four signature pages for the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission's Resolution of 1910, filled with the names of Orange County's Japanese pioneers.  Charles Mitsuji Furuta's name is second from the top. (Image courtesy of Wintersburg Presbyterian Church) © All rights reserved.

   By 1930, Reverend Kenji Kikuchi writes there are over 2,000 Japanese in Orange County, "most of them, chili peppers, vegetables," and over 60 percent of the children attend some type of Sunday school.  The previous year, fifty new Japanese families had relocated to the area from Moneta and Compton to farm strawberries.  Several celery farmers moved near the Mission, from Venice in Los Angeles County.

   The reach of the Mission was much larger than Wintersburg Village.  The Mission was involved with several language schools, including Talbert (Fountain Vally) and Costa Mesa, and had begun an additional Sunday school in Laguna BeachReverend Kikuchi reported some people traveled "10 or 15 miles on Sunday" to attend services in Wintersburg, with multiple services on Sunday, language school on Saturday, and prayer meetings on Wednesday nights.

An excerpt from Reverend Kikuchi's 1930 history of the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission mentions "three (big) gold fish farms owned by our church members," which would have been the C.M. Furuta Gold Fish Farm, the Asari Goldfish Farm, and the Pacific Goldfish Farm of Henry Akiyama.  (Image courtesy of Wintersburg Presbyterian Church) © All rights reserved.

   Reverend Kikuchi's history notes the growing congregation but makes no mention of the stock market crash, harbinger of the Great Depression that caused the Huntington Beach Bank to freeze the funds of the church, along with everyone else's money.  The congregants had been putting aside money in the Bank to build a larger church.

Left: A parade near Pacific Coast Highway and Main Street in Huntington Beach, circa 1930, the beginning of the Great Depression. (Photo, City of Huntington Beach archives)

   In his 1981 oral history for the Japanese American Project with California State University - Fullerton (Arthur Hansen), Reverend Kikuchi describes running to the bank with church elder Charles Ishii to find out what happened to their money.  Later, little by little, they were allowed to withdraw small amounts and started to build.   The new church building opened in 1934, one year prior to the opening of Huntington Beach's "New Deal" Post Office on Main Street and four years before the groundbreaking of the Pavalon at the Huntington Beach pier.

   The church would continue to serve its congregants at the Wintersburg site, until they moved to a larger plot of land in 1965---six decades after its founding in the peatlands.

The Depression-era 1934 church building, the lawn and walkway later encroached upon by the widening of Wintersburg (Warner) Avenue.  This building, and the Mission and Manse buildings behind it, were used by congregants through 1965. (Photo courtesy of Wintersburg Presbyterian Church) © All rights reserved.

   The life of the Furuta farm and the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission might not have happened.  

   Charles Furuta focused on work and managed by 1909 to put enough money aside to buy land before California's Alien Land Law.  His land provided a home for the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission, which in turn played a significant role in the lives of those who helped develop Orange CountyA few years later, the land purchase would not have been possible.

   As though surviving early discrimination, exclusion, celery blight, and the Great Depression weren't enough, World War II evacuation also could have dismantled what the Issei created for their Nisei children.  

   If not for a handful of neighbors who watched over farms, if not for the Ocean View Grammar School children and the ladies of the Baptist Church in Huntington Beach who came to say goodbye, if not for the Presbyteri who safeguarded the Mission site, if not for the Santa Ana Register publisher who fiercely criticized Japanese evacuation---and if not for their own faith and sheer determination---those with the Furuta farm and Wintersburg Mission may not have returned or recovered.

   Historic Wintersburg is more than a collection of old buildings. 

A mural of Charles and Yukiko Furuta---featuring their family, the 1934 church building, goldfish, water lilies and the much-loved Golden Bear---once graced the Huntington Beach Art Center.  (Image courtesy of the Furuta family) © All rights reserved.

Saving Historic Wintersburg
“There is a need in every generation to study the past, to absorb its spirit, to preserve its’s a collaboration of ourselves and our ancestors...a broader culture for the nation.”       
                                                                        ~ Christopher Tunnard

   On Tuesday, April 23, the Huntington Beach Planning Commission will hold a 7 p.m. public hearing on the draft Environmental Impact Report regarding the proposal to re-zone the Furuta farm and Mission complex property to commercial /industrial, with an application to demolish the buildings of Historic Wintersburg.  

   Four of the buildings are documented as being eligible for the National Register of Historic Places: the 1912 Furuta home, the 1910 Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission, 1910 Manse, and the 1934 Church.  There are hopes to add the pre-1912 barn to this list.

   After surviving a century of triumphs and roadblocks, the Furuta farm and the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission are either on their last breath or about to begin a new life through historic preservation. 

   The public is welcome to speak during the public comments portion of the meeting, or email comments to the Planning Commission via the City of Huntington Beach "pipeline,"

The City of Huntington Beach city hall is located at 2000 Main Street, Huntington Beach, California 92648.  The Planning Commission,, meets in the Council Chambers, lower level. 

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.