SAVING HISTORIC WINTERSBURG:
ONE OF AMERICA’S 11 MOST ENDANGERED
On June 24, 2014, Huntington Beach received an honor never before bestowed on an Orange County historical site. Historic Wintersburg—home to the Furuta Gold Fish Farm and the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission complex—was named one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Historic Wintersburg is the only historical place in the western continental United States to be named to the list, the majority being in the eastern part of the country. This national recognition by our country’s premier historical experts is an indication of the significance of the Historic Wintersburg property.
Historic Wintersburg documents three generations of the Japanese American experience in the United States, from immigration in the late 19th century to the return from incarceration in internment camps following World War II. The site contains six extant pioneer structures and open farmland, and is one of the only surviving Japanese-owned properties acquired prior to California’s anti-Japanese “alien” land laws of 1913 and 1920. In contrast to Japanese American confinement sites from the World War II era, Historic Wintersburg captures the daily community life and spiritual institutions of Japanese settlers as they established a new life in America.
“Historic Wintersburg is a unique cultural site that tells the important story of early Japanese American immigrants as they sought to make a new life and build a community in Southern California,” said Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, “We strongly support a collaborative effort that preserves Wintersburg’s historic landscape while building upon its longstanding role as an educational and supportive space for the Huntington Beach community.”
SAVING HUNTINGTON BEACH HISTORY
For the past several years, there has been an increasingly organized effort to save more of Huntington Beach’s unique history. The effort to save from redevelopment and list the Main Street Library on the National Register of Historic Places, the personal efforts of local residents to save the businesses and homes of Huntington Beach’s first mayors, and the growing interest in the fate of the Main Street Post Office are all part of an awareness that our community is losing more of its historic resources every year. In fact, Huntington Beach has lost half its historical properties since 1986.
Included in preservation efforts is the property known as “Historic Wintersburg” in the former Wintersburg Village now part of north Huntington Beach. Unlike any other historical property in California, Historic Wintersburg represents the span of history of Japanese pioneers who arrived in the late 1800s through the rebuilding of their lives after World War II.
If you ever wondered why many Huntington Beach homes have koi ponds, why the now-gone mural in the Art Center parking lot showed a family surrounded by leaping goldfish, or why the rededication of the pier 100 years ago in June 1914 included Japanese sword dancers, the clues are in the story of Historic Wintersburg.
Historic Wintersburg’s 4 ½ -acre farm property contains six intact structures: the 1910 Japanese Presbyterian Mission (founded in 1904), 1910 manse (parsonage), 1934 Depression-era Japanese Presbyterian Church, 1912 Furuta family bungalow, the Furuta barn (1908-1912), and the 1947 post-World War II Furuta family ranch house.
Once a goldfish and flower farm, the property pre-dates California’s Alien Land Law of 1913—prohibiting Japanese immigrants from owning property—and includes one of the oldest Japanese Missions in Southern California. Historic Wintersburg is part of California’s unrecognized Japanese Mission Trail, beginning less than six decades after the last Spanish Mission. Pastors at the Mission traveled a 225-mile circuit by horseback to reach Japanese pioneers around Orange County.
The Mission also supported language schools in Garden Grove, Fountain Valley, Costa Mesa and Laguna Beach in the early 1900s. The Wintersburg Mission is the fifth on the Japanese Mission Trail (after San Francisco, Salinas, Watsonville and Los Angeles). The Wintersburg Village became the heart of the Japanese pioneer community in Orange County.
The property was designated as a “local landmark” in the mid-1970s in the Huntington Beach General Plan. The Orange County Japanese American Council identified the Wintersburg property as having primary historical value in a 1986 survey of 33 pre‐1940 Japanese‐related sites. Three decades later, nearly all the buildings on the county-wide survey have been demolished, except Historic Wintersburg.
PEOPLE OF NOTE:
Historic Wintersburg’s history includes: James Kanno, the first Japanese American mayor in the United States; Justice Stephen Tamura, first Japanese American attorney in Orange County and California’s first Japanese American supreme court justice; the Masuda family, cited by President Reagan when signing American Civil Liberties Act of 1988 (he remembered meeting them as a young Army captain visiting Orange County); Clarence Nishizu, the first Japanese American Orange County Grand Jury appointee who joined President Reagan at the Civil Liberties Act signing; Reverend Joseph Inazawa and Kate Goodman, Mission clergy making international headlines in 1910; Reverend Sohei Kowta, a unifier of religious organizations at the Colorado River Relocation Center; Yasumatsu Miyawaki, owner of the first Japanese market on Main Street before 1911 (now the Longboard Restaurant and Pub); Japanese aviator Koha Takeishi; and World War II Congressional Medal of Honor nominees.
Historic Wintersburg represents the spirit and ingenuity of Huntington Beach pioneers. It also represents a tragic civil liberties chapter in American history. The Mission served pioneers who faced exclusion, discrimination, and who were unable to become citizens or land owners. Historic Wintersburg’s Charles Furuta and Reverend Sohei Kowta both were interrogated on the property by the F.B.I. following Pearl Harbor, four decades after making their home in the United States. The Mission clergy followed their entire congregation into forced evacuation and confinement during World War II, and helped those returning to California after World War II, providing shelter and guidance as lives were rebuilt.
Historic Wintersburg is iconic of the little-recognized contributions of Japanese pioneers in America, Southern California’s agricultural roots, Huntington Beach’s mission era, and the struggle of for civil liberties. One of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places, the property has been recognized by the U.S. National Park Service and the National Trust for Historic Preservation as potentially eligible for the National Register of Historic Places (for which the application is underway). The National Park Service noted after their inspection of the property in 2013, that the buildings retain a “remarkable integrity” and can be restored.
HOW TO HELP
Click on these links to learn more:
Historic Wintersburg Preservation Task Force PRESERVATION FUND
Historic Wintersburg Preservation Task Force FACEBOOK
Historic Wintersburg BLOG
No other city in California has a historical property like this. Community support has saved some of Huntington Beach’s pioneer history. Your support, small and large, is needed to save Historic Wintersburg.