By KEVIN SANADA
Along a suburban road in Huntington Beach, Historic Wintersburg is easy to miss. Shrouded behind a fence and closed to the public, most of the property is hidden from view.
Near the corner stands what was once the 1934 Wintersburg Presbyterian Church, its doors and windows boarded shut. Behind it, beneath a tree, is the first Japanese American mission in Orange County. The modest Furuta family bungalow barely peeks above the fence line, and little else is visible from outside.
But upon stepping into the site, I immediately realize the unique rarity of this place and the incredible stories it has to tell. While Huntington Beach evolved from rural farmsteads, to an oil town, to suburban Surf City USA, Historic Wintersburg has remained frozen in time, a tangible link to more than a century of history. While the modest buildings certainly need care after years of neglect, they are virtually untouched — a rare place amid the sprawl of Southern California.
As the descendant of Japanese American farmers, I know the story very well — coming to the U.S.; building a community and an identity; enduring the war, mass hysteria, incarceration, and confinement; returning home from camp — but I have never felt the full story so clearly in a single place.
To me, Historic Wintersburg tells the story of generations – my great-grandparents (the Issei), my grandparents (Nisei), my mother and father (Sansei), and how their collective sacrifices have made everything possible for my generation. In this place, I see the life that the Furutas built and rebuilt at Wintersburg for family and their community, and I am humbled by their perseverance, grit, and grace.
But then I quickly realize that this is an American immigrant story, and that this place honors the brave sacrifices that thousands of families made — and continue to make — for future generations. It’s part of our story, which continues today. New immigrant communities across the country are establishing roots, building community, and creating opportunity. Yet like the Historic Wintersburg site itself, these incredible stories are not always beautiful or pleasant, and often exist just beyond public view.
I realize that as preservationists, it’s our privilege and responsibility to bring these stories and places to light, and to recognize their place in our nation’s history. We still have plenty of work to do at Historic Wintersburg, but we have a great team and amazing partners who have already elevated its story to the national conscience.
In the coming months, I very much look forward to working collaboratively toward re-imagining Historic Wintersburg to once again benefit the community, and will continue to work toward honoring the important yet oft-overlooked contributions of immigrant communities to our collective history, hiding just beneath the surface.
Kevin Sanada is a Los Angeles-based field officer for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This article originally appeared on the National Trust website savingplaces.org. Reprinted by permission.