Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Giving Thanks: Opening doors during hard times


ABOVE: The Wintersburg Japanese Church building is the third of the Wintersburg Japanese Mission buildings, following construction of the 1910 Mission building and 1910 manse (parsonage). It was constructed during the Great Depression, funded by small donations from around Orange County. This photograph was taken for the official dedication in December 1934. At this time, the mission effort had been official recognized as a church by the Presbyterian USA. (Photo: Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Church, December 10, 1934. Courtesy Wintersburg Church.)

   Thirty years after the founding of the Wintersburg Mission in 1904, the third of the Mission buildings was planned for completion by Thanksgiving 1934. It had not been easy. Fundraising for the new mission building had begun before "Black Friday" shocked the nation in October 1930, shutting down banks and freezing funds. The Church fund lost over $500, its initial seed money for the project.

   "We collected donations little by little. First, we deposited the money in the Huntington Beach Bank, a state bank. But in the prime of the Depression, the deposits were frozen," remembers Rev. Kikuchi.  "Charlie's (Ishii) father and I ran to the Huntington Beach Bank but the bank was closed. We almost felt like crying. But, later, when we fixed pews in the church, we could draw our deposit from the bank after the arrangement by the government. In this way, we collected small amounts of money little by little."

RIGHT: The Huntington Beach Bank at Main and Walnut streets in Huntington Beach, circa 1910. The bank was established in 1904, the same year the Wintersburg Mission effort was founded. It eventually became the First National Bank of Huntington Beach and the Savings Bank of Huntington Beach. (Photo courtesy of City of Huntington Beach archives)

   As construction neared completion in 1934, the Santa Ana Register noted, "the building plans of the congregation were set back several years ago when the closing of a bank wiped out more than $500. Through contributions from Japanese of Orange county and members of other county Presbyterian churches, the fund has been replenished". The Santa Ana Register also noted the building would open on the 30th anniversary of "one of the oldest Japanese missions in California".

   The cost of the 1934 Church building was $5,500. The main sanctuary space was set to seat 300 people, initially divided by a folding partition to provide quarters for the Christian Endeavor and Sunday school groups. The Santa Ana Register reported the Church also was "fitted up" with a kitchen, a pastor's study, restrooms and a cloak room, and would be finished with a white stucco exterior. 

RIGHT: A sugar beet wagon races down an unpaved and dusty Wintersburg Road in front of the Furuta farm, circa 1914. The road was still unpaved when the Church building opened in 1934 and wooden planks were placed on the ground as walkways. (Photograph courtesy of the Furuta family)

   In order to construct the 1934 Church building in a prominent location in Wintersburg Village fronting Wintersburg Road (Warner Avenue) and Southern Street (Nichols Lane), the 1910 wooden Mission building was moved back from the main road. The three mission buildings were constructed on a parcel of land donated to the mission by Charles Mitsuji Furuta, who owned the entire five-acre goldfish farm now known as Historic Wintersburg. The 1910 Mission building would be used as a social hall, for Sunday school, and as a boys club, once the new, larger Church building opened.

   Orange County architect Everett E. Parks designed the 1934 Wintersburg Japanese Church. Parks architecture office was in Santa Ana, which he shared with his partner, Irene McFaul, one of the few women licensed to practice architecture in the state of California at the time. 

LEFT: An advertisement placed by architect Everett E. Parks is on the upper right of a full-page feature with congratulatory messages in the Santa Ana Register for the opening of a new, larger venue for Tony's Cafe in Santa Ana. Parks designed the new cafe in the Spanish Revival style popular during the 1930s in southern California. (Santa Ana Register, August 6, 1937)

   Parks is noted as the architect for the Automobile Club of Southern California office in Anaheim and the second building for the First Baptist Church of Santa Ana in 1953.  He also designed Tony's Cafe on Bush Street in Santa Ana for longtime, popular Orange County restaurateur Tony Barrio in 1937. Parks was president of the American Institute of Architects Orange County chapter in 1952, bringing national affiliation for the former Orange County Architects organization. 

   Designed in the Spanish Revival style, the Wintersburg Japanese Church kept with a simple aesthetic. The interior structure is comprised of old growth redwood, which has retained an almost new appearance today when viewed through the open ceiling. Additional investment was made for two features of the Church building: the front entrance door and the tall windows running down each side of the rectangular shaped sanctuary space. The front door, when viewed from the interior is carved walnut. 

RIGHT: Fragments of the original amber-color glass from the 1934 Wintersburg Japanese Church building. It was intended to fill the sanctuary space with light and energy. (Photo, M. Urashima, 2016)

   The windows were amber-colored glass. The ancient Greek word for amber is "elektron" meaning sun. Ancient Greeks knew that amber, when rubbed, produces an electric charge. The use of the color amber in ancient religious settings is a reference to spiritual energy and light, the sun or fire, including its use in Zoroastrian temples. The symbolism of the color amber as relates to a Christian house of worship is referenced in the Bible (Ezekial 1:27) as representing a bright and overwhelming presence. When it came time to choose the glass for the windows of the 1934 Church building---which was washed with white paint on the interior and exterior---the color amber was chosen to fill the space with light and energy.

   The goal of completing construction by Thanksgiving was accomplished, with the official dedication of the Church building on December 10, 1934. Over 700 people attended the dedication event in Wintersburg Village, contributing that day an additional reported $667.29 toward the $5,500 budget to help with interior furnishings. 

LEFT: The program for the dedication ceremony of the Wintersburg Japanese Church on December 10, 1934. Charles Mitsuji Furuta, an elder with the mission and the first Japanese to be baptized as Christian in Orange County, spoke at the dedication which featured a violin solo, "Romance" by composer Johan Svendsen, by Furuta's niece, Sumi Akiyama. Sumi would marry Judge John Aiso, who directed the Military Intelligence Language School and was the highest ranking Japanese American in the U.S. Army during WWII. Listen to a version of "Romance." (Image courtesy of the Furuta family)

Reverend Kenji Kikuchi, who had been with the mission throughout the planning and building process said during his address that "Go Forward" had been the congregation's slogan as they continued fundraising and building through the Great Depression. Earlier clergy for the mission were at the dedication, including founder Reverend Barnabus H. Terasawa of San Francisco, Reverend Paul Nakamura of Los Angeles, and Reverend Watanabe of San Diego. 

   Another featured speaker was Hisamatsu Tamura on behalf of the Smeltzer Japanese Association in Wintersburg Village. Hisamatsu Tamura is the father of Stephen Kosaku Tamura for whom the West Justice Center in Westminster, California, was renamed on November 6, 2020. Historical background on Stephen Tamura provided by Historic Wintersburg was used in the renaming application that went before the California Judicial Council.

  The Santa Ana Register reported on December 10, 1934, that congratulatory telegrams were received from around California and that there were speakers and well-wishers from other Orange County and Los Angeles churches. The dedication program included official photographs and "motion pictures" were planned to have been filmed*, after which there was a reception serving "Japanese dainties and tea." 

     In its life, the 1934 Church would be witness to the upbringing of Fountain Valley's first mayor James Kanno, Orange County's first Japanese American attorney Stephen Tamura, community carnivals, marriages, funerals, and the interrogation of clergy and congregation by the FBI in 1942. The Church would be shuttered during the forced removal and incarceration of Orange County's Japanese American community during WWII, reopening in 1945. In 1948, the memorial services for SSgt. Kazuo Masuda, a hero of the "Go For Broke" 442nd Regimental Combat Team recognized in 1945 and again in 1988 by President Ronald Reagan, were held inside the Church with military honor guard. There are multiple Congressional Medal of Honor recipients among the congregants.

   Conceived prior to the Great Depression, the 1934 Wintersburg Japanese Church building--one of six historic structures on the endangered National Treasure Historic Wintersburg property--was born during hard times, and achieved through the perseverance and "go forward" mindset that would see the community through the years ahead.

ABOVE: An image from the Santa Ana Register, reporting on the dedication of the 1934 Church building of the Wintersburg Japanese Mission. (Santa Ana Register, December 10, 1934)

*Motion pictures referred to in the program for the December 10, 1934, dedication have to-date not been found. Please contact Historic Wintersburg if you have information.

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