Thursday, May 1, 2014

Moved to paint: An Arizona woman's artful tribute to Historic Wintersburg

ABOVE: Painting by Julie Cox of Phoenix, Arizona, of the Furuta bungalow at Historic Wintersburg. This painting is inspired by a photograph taken by Charles Mitsuji Furuta in March 1913. (Image courtesy of Julie Cox, 2014) © All rights reserved.

   The month of May 2014 is both Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month 2014 and national Preservation MonthHistoric Wintersburg embodies both national initiatives in our pursuit for the preservation of a rare Japanese pioneer property.

   The recognition of Asian American history, as part of the national story of who we are, touches many across the country and from around the world.  We thank the American and international community---hello United Kingdom, Poland, Ukraine, Spain and Germany, to name a few!---for reading the Historic Wintersburg blog and supporting our preservation effort.

RIGHT: A photograph taken in March, 1913, by Charles Mitsuji Furuta of his wife, Yukiko, on the porch of their new home in Wintersburg Village. (Photo courtesy of the Furuta family) © All rights reserved.

   Julie Cox of Phoenix, Arizona, became aware through a Huntington Beach friend of the nomination of Huntington Beach's Triangle Park and Main Street Library for the National Register of Historic Places.*  It was that introduction to local history that led her to Historic Wintersburg.  

   "My dad was a mid-century modern architect,  so I followed some of the nomination process.  I remember the night the Wintersburg houses first came up in a Huntington Beach city council agenda, and thought it so interesting that a beach city had an agricultural history like that," explains Julie.  "Recently I tuned in to see the presentation regarding Wintersburg being put on the list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.  I decided it was time to paint a couple of the buildings in case they were lost." 

  Like many Americans, Julie did not learn about the experience of Japanese Americans during her childhood.  She recalls coming to Laguna Beach in the summer with her family, but did not know about the legacy of Orange County's Japanese pioneers.

   "In 1976, I happened to catch the Hallmark Hall of Fame production, 'Farewell to Manzanar.'  I was then twenty six years old, had graduated college with honors and had taken plenty of American history classes---yet, I had no idea that Japanese Americans had been forced into internment camps during World War II," Julie writes.  "That film  was a revelation."

LEFT: Julie Cox started painting "in kindergarten. I took lessons on Saturday at a local art school, and then took all art electives in high school.   In college I majored in Art Education- and had paintings in some local galleries. When I taught kids, we literally painted our socks off.  It was a great job." (Photo courtesy of Julie Cox)

   Julie recalls her aunt in Santa Monica "had always pointed out the home of her Japanese friend as being the most beautifully landscaped home on the block, and the two of them had them attended many art and cultural events together, yet even my aunt had  remained close-mouthed about that time period.  I know extraordinary events may take place during the years when we are at war, but I have always felt bad that it took thirty years for me to find out about them."

   It was another revelation for Julie to learn about the confinement centers in Arizona, both the Colorado River Relocation Center at Poston and the Gila River Relocation Center.  The history became more personal when she learned of two Japanese American families in the Phoenix area who had been confined at Poston.

   "I recently learned that the two major families responsible for the flower fields and the garden industry,  the Kishiyamas and the Nakagawas, were (at) Poston Internment camp, just as the Furutas were," Julie says, "They returned to face starting over, as the Wintersburg families did, due to land that had been ill cared for and neglected during their years away."

RIGHT: Raymond Furuta---son of Charles and Yukiko Furuta and a 1932 graduate of Huntington Beach High School---standing between the rows of sweet peas at the Furuta farm in Historic Wintersburg, circa 1958.  The Furuta family moved away from goldfish farming and focused on flower farming after their return from World War II confinement at the Colorado River Relocation Center, Poston, Arizona.  (Photo courtesy of the Furuta family) © All rights reserved.

   The South Mountain Flower Gardens and Baseline Flower Shop in the Phoenix area are remembered as part of Maricopa County history at

   "The Japanese flower gardens were a Phoenix institution, stretching  for miles along Baseline Road at the foot of South Mountain.  In the springtime, my friends and I would roll down our windows and cruise that stretch of highway just to smell the flowers," recalls Julie.  

LEFT: Lily bulbs planted next to the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission years ago return each spring. (Photo, February 2013)

   "When I was attending ASU the gardens were very close by, and  I used to take my pastels, a drawing board, and lunch, and sketch them. Sometimes Japanese women in kimonos and brightly decorated parasols would be in the fields.  They made great subjects," she continues. "My family always took relatives and out of town guests to see the flower gardens, and I bought flowers for my rehearsal dinner at  the flower stand on the property."

   "I pretty much took for granted that they were a beautiful part of our Valley of the Sun---and then, one day they just weren't there anymore," says Julie.  "They were lost to what was termed 'progress,' but Baseline Road is now just another housing development  and not the riot of colors, scents, and Japanese culture that I  once remembered."

   It's this personal connection to history and the emotional impact of an American story that made Julie take to her paints.  An artful act that reflects what is being honored during the month of May with Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and Preservation Month.  History---the story of all of us---has a place in our hearts and our communities. It's worth saving.

ABOVE: The Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission and manse, painted by Julie Cox, with the lush yard and lily flowers that have been found growing next to the Mission. (Image courtesy of Julie Cox, 2014) © All rights reserved.

ABOVE: One of the photographs that inspired Julie Cox's vision is of Riyo Kowta, wife of Reverend Sohei Kowta, with Hiroko (standing), Tadashi and Makoto, near the manse at Historic Wintersburg, circa 1938-1942.  (Photograph courtesy of the Kowta family) © All rights reserved.

*Read about the National Register listing of the Huntington Beach Main Street Library and Triangle Park at

DONATE to the Historic Wintersburg Preservation Fund and help us save a precious historical site!  Go to  

"Generations of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders have helped make this country what it is today." Read the Presidential Proclamation for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month at

"Embark, Inspire, Engage." Read about Preservation Month at

© 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.