Monday, August 18, 2014

The history of Wintersburg Village, the future of Oak View: Preservation and adaptive reuse

   The inclusion of Historic Wintersburg on the National Trust for Historic Preservation's "11 Most Endangered Historic Places" list is a national call to action.  In one truly remarkable property, the nation has the opportunity to save American history while investing in the rebirth of the Wintersburg Village and Oak View neighborhood.

   Why did it make the list?
  • Historic Wintersburg is a rare Japanese-owned pioneer property, predating California's Alien Land Laws of 1913 and 1920 which prohibited Japanese immigrants from owning property. In contrast with other immigrants, Japanese also were prohibited from becoming citizens.
  • Unlike other Japanese American historical properties which relate to World War II confinement, Historic Wintersburg reveals the daily life of the pioneers who settled Orange County.  The mission property--Orange County's oldest Japanese church of any denomination--was the heart of activity for the Japanese community.
  • Despite exclusion, alien land laws, World War II forced evacuation and confinement, and modern urbanization, Historic Wintersburg's goldfish farm and mission survived.  Intact.  All six structures telling the story of California pioneer history. 
  • Part of the "Japanese Mission Trail," the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission is representative  of the migration and settlement pattern of Japanese immigrants in California following increased Pacific Rim interaction.  The Wintersburg Mission was the fifth mission established through the efforts of the national Presbyterian Church, working with a multi-faith group including Buddhists, Episcopalians, and Methodists.
  • Of the handful of noted Japanese properties documented in a 1986 survey of Orange County, the majority have been lost to demolition and development.  The evidence of a significant population of pioneers has almost been erased.

The Furuta bungalow, circa 1914.  The property was lush, planted with gum trees, and fronted the country road of Wintersburg Avenue (now Warner Avenue).  Later, a manicured hedgerow surrounded the front lawn and acres of goldfish ponds filled the farm site. (Photo, Furuta family collection) © All rights reserved.

How does preservation benefit the community?

   Historic Wintersburg is located in a neighborhood of Huntington Beach known as "Oak View," one of the city's lowest economic zones and predominantly Spanish speaking.  Like 100 years ago, the neighborhood has remained diverse.  

   Approximately 10,000 people live in the one-square mile of the former Wintersburg Village and Oak View, with an elementary school immediately adjacent to the Historic Wintersburg property.  As reported in an Orange County Register article in 2013, "the Oak View neighborhood has a higher level of poverty than much of the rest of Huntington Beach, and most residents there are Latinos. Nearly 1,000 children attend the school sites – Oak View Elementary School and Oak View Preschool – and nearly 100 teachers and staff members work at the two schools."

The Oak View Preschool and Elementary School, adjacent to the south end of the Furuta farm at Historic Wintersburg. (Photo, August 2014)

   Some of the issues facing the Oak View neighborhood are diminishing open space, access to fresh foods, access to health care in the neighborhood, job creation and training for advancement, and access to community meeting space for adult and child programs.

   Would demolition of historic features and elimination of open space for commercial / industrial use in Oak View help the neighborhood?  Or, would working with Oak View to on historic preservation combined with adaptive reuse better meet the needs of the neighborhood?

Gunjiro, Hal and Nori Tashima outside the Tashima Market, circa 1920s.  The Tashima Market was located across Wintersburg Avenue from the Wintersburg Mission, in the area of present-day Warner Avenue and Lyndon Lane.  An open field next to the market was home to the first Japanese baseball league in Orange County.  Next to the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks, at a site that now hosts an automobile repair shop, was a blacksmith.  (Photo courtesy of Eugene Tashima) © All rights reserved.

The History of Wintersburg Village, the Future of Oak View

   The modern, outside-the-box preservation approach supported by the National Trust for Historic Preservation considers the history of a property with the present-day community.  Stand alone house museums are not always sustainable and history can coexist with the modern world.  With creative historic preservation, something remarkable can happen.  Neighborhoods can be transformed.

   Imagine entering the property off Warner Avenue, greeted by a scene reminiscent of Wintersburg Village, lush and green, a water feature with goldfish and water lilies, the historic buildings open to the public.  Now add a re-creation of the Tashima Market, providing farm fresh produce and staples at the first floor, with community meeting room space on the second floor (exactly what the Tashima Market provided in the early 1900s).  A walkable market and community center for those living in the neighborhood.

Left: Raymond Furuta on a Caterpillar tractor at the Historic Wintersburg property, circa 1960.  Once highly productive, the property has never been used for anything other than a goldfish and flower farm.  During Rainbow Environmental's ownership, there has been a pumpkin patch and nopale cactus. (Photo, Furuta family collection) © All rights reserved.

   Imagine part of the property returned to farming, providing farm-to-table herbs, specialty vegetables or foods to the chefs of Huntington Beach.  The result: locally produced food, neighborhood jobs of a variety of skill sets, relationships with chefs and restaurants, and a professionally guided path into Huntington Beach's resort and hospitality industry with room to advance.  

   Imagine a neighborhood health clinic, upstairs in the Tashima Market, or as part of the 1947 ranch house (one of the six historic structures on the property).  A walkable place for parents with children and health services for the adjacent preschool and elementary school.

   Jobs, revenue, needed services, beautification, and preservation of community history.  This is just a glimpse of what can be achieved through a modern and creative approach to historic preservation and adaptive reuse.  Preservationists are committed to working with Oak View, the surrounding neighborhood, and the community to achieve a mutually beneficial vision for Historic Wintersburg.

How to help transform a neighborhood

   The Historic Wintersburg Preservation Task Force needs financial support and partnerships to acquire the property.  It's that simple.  This unique and irreplaceable history can be lost to demolition and potentially replaced with a strip mall and additional industrial use in the neighborhood.  Or, with support, we can recognize the history of Wintersburg Village while creating a new future for Oak View.

The wish list:
  • URBAN LAND INSTITUTE: Funding in the amount of $35,000 is needed for the Urban Land Institute (ULI) technical advisory program (TAP), a critical path priority.  The TAP is a two-day intensive evaluation by a team of land use, preservation, financial and development experts incorporating the input of community stakeholders---those living and working in the neighborhood, the current property owner, the adjacent school and preservationists.  The final report is a nuts-and-bolts tool with practical visions for the ultimate preservation and development of the property. 
  • OUTREACH: Funds for outreach materials and exhibits.  Historic Wintersburg has been offered many opportunities to share the history with educational materials and photography exhibits, including an upcoming exhibit at an Orange County museum.  Donations can help support this important outreach effort which can bring more support for Historic Wintersburg's preservation.
  • STABILIZATION: Funding or pro bono professional services are needed for the stabilization of historic structures.  Some immediate actions can be taken to prevent degradation of the historic structures until their ultimate restoration.  This includes removal of tree branches or other items that can place stress on the buildings.
  • PROPERTY PURCHASE: Donations of all amounts are needed to support the ultimate property purchase and restoration.  The property's current value will be part of the ULI process, however, it is known the approximately 4 1/2 acre parcel was purchased for over $4 million.  There are creative partnerships and development incentives, with the assistance and guidance of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
WINTERSBURG VILLAGE: A glimpse of the diverse community that founded the Wintersburg Mission in 1904 and, in this photo, the Wintersburg Church in 1934.  Congregants and founders stood in front of the Church building along Wintersburg Avenue, then a dusty country road.  The roof line of the Furuta bungalow can be seen in the background.  At that time, there was room to breath in Wintersburg and Oak View. (Photo courtesy of Wintersburg Presbyterian Church) © All rights reserved.

   Help support the preservation of Historic Wintersburg, before pioneer history is lost, and, be part of the future of Oak View.

DONATION INFORMATION: Donations may be as a charitable donation per IRS code 26 U.S.C. 170(c)(1) and are used solely for the Historic Wintersburg project.  Online and mail donation information at 

Donations to the Historic Wintersburg Preservation Fund are solely for the purpose of historic preservation for the Wintersburg project. Donations may be deductible as a charitable donation, per IRS Code, 26 U.S.C.170(c)(1). - See more at:
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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.