Saturday, May 04, 2013

Visiting historic Wintersburg

Standing in front of the Furuta family home, built circa 1912.
Yesterday I served as a volunteer docent on a tour of the historic Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Church/Furuta Family Farm complex in Huntington Beach. This site, which is in immediate danger of destruction, is probably the most important Asian-American historic site in Orange County, and among the most important in Southern California. The tour was led by Mary Adams Urashima, and was held in conjunction with the California Preservation Foundation's annual conference, which is being held in Orange County for the first time in about 30 years.
Me, standing in front of the Church's manse (parsonage), built around 1910.
I have posted about Wintersburg many times before, and I won't rehash the site's whole history here. It's at the corner of Warner Avenue and Nichols St. in north Huntington Beach. If you want to learn a lot more about it, I strongly recommend a visit to the blog, Historic Wintersburg. Mainly I'm posting today to share a few of the photos from our tour. Normally, one can't access the property, but we had special (and much appreciated) dispensation from the current landowners, Rainbow Environmental Services (until recently known as Rainbow Disposal).
Original mission building of the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Church (1910)
Most good historians will tell you, there's no substitute for actually visiting the site you're studying and interacting with it. Even if the physical environment has changed over the years, a visit provides you with a sense of place and a picture in your head that help make sense of everything you read or hear about the site. It's hard to imagine writing much meaningful history about a place you've never been.
The Furuta family's barn (ca 1910) -- Likely the last agricultural barn left in the city.
One of the high points of our tour was walking through the Furuta family's barn, which includes several additions representing the various eras of history at the site. Lots of interesting details are visible, including a vintage walk-in refrigerator, exposed knob-and-tube wiring, cloth-insulated wire, original hardware, and wire racks for drying flowers.
Inside the Furuta barn, Carey casts a wary eye toward the ceiling.
The tour was a great experience, and I'm glad we had a bunch of locals in the group as well as all the folks who came to the conference from elsewhere. It would be too bad if all this effort was expended on people who feel no personal investment in Orange County. Not that dissemination of knowledge is ever a waste of time, but in this case the most important thing is to educate and inspire local people, who can make a difference to this preservation effort. Mission accomplished, I think.
A photo I took earlier of the newer church building (1934).
After the tour, we went over to the Huntington Beach Central Library, where we heard more about the history of the local Japanese community from Dennis Masuda, who grew up attending the church, and  from Dr. Art Hansen, a Professor Emeritus from CSUF who has studied and recorded the community's history for decades. Mr. Masuda gave us some excellent perspective and brought all this highfalutin' history talk back to a relatable human scale. And Art was both an inspiring teacher and a fire-and-brimstone evangelist for preservation and history.
Mary Adams Urashima, Dennis Masuda and Dr. Art Hansen at our panel discussion.

But most of the day came down to Mary, who did a fantastic job. Her enthusiasm for historic Wintersburg is contagious, and she is bubbling over with more stories about the site, (and the people who lived and worshiped there,) than she has time to tell. Every threatened historic site should have friends like her. My thanks to Mary and to all others involved in yesterday's event.


Suzi C said...

So glad you posted this. I've always even intrigued by that property.

Chris Jepsen said...

More photos at

CoxPilot said...

I grew up in South Santa Ana, and we would ride our bikes out to Mile Square to fly our model planes, and then cruse around the area. I remember how nice it was to see all the farming.

Connie Moreno said...

I am always amazed at how much history is all around us waiting to be rediscovered.

Tony Koss said...

JEEZ! Im so jealous! Ive always dreamed of being able to venture onto the other side of the "big black fence". LOL. Very cool to see pics, epecially of the inside of the barn.

Anonymous said...

Had the good fortune...of spending time as tenant of property in early 70s...we could never figure out in 1972 how it had survived...we dubbed it "Country Huntington " and knew what we was in great shape with original wallpaper and clawfoot bathtub still intact.We were in our early 20s and Huntington local surfers. We built surfboards in the barn!...and had huge parties under the "Pepper Trees"HB in 73 was OG..may the Santa Ana winds always follow you! Daddy G