By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
HUNTINGTON BEACH — A fountain and courtyard commemorating Wintersburg Village, which for decades was the center of the Japanese American community in Orange County, was dedicated on March 16 at Lucé Apartments in Huntington Beach.
On hand for the event were descendants of Charles Mitsuji Furuta and Yukiko Yajima Furuta, who established a goldfish farm at Wintersburg. The farm was one of the few properties owned by Japanese immigrants, having been purchased prior to the 1913 and 1920 Alien Land Laws, which barred Issei from owning land.
The courtyard, designed by artist Michael Davis, has a fountain featuring goldfish reliefs, blue granite symbolizing water, and lily pattern glass representing Wintersburg’s agricultural history. The fountain also suggests the flow of a rural irrigation system.
The program was emceed by Mary Urashima of the Historic Wintersburg Preservation Task Force, which is working to preserve the remaining Wintersburg structures. She explained that the apartment complex is in the area once known as Smeltzer and is along the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks, where farmers, including Charles Furuta, brought produce. The site is about 4 minutes north of the Furuta farm by car.
Huntington Beach Mayor Pro Tem Lyn Semeta, speaking on behalf of Mayor Erik Peterson and the City Council, said the artwork is part of the city’s new public art master plan. “We are very excited to see this come to fruition … Public art is something that I’m very passionate about … To think that we can have more beautiful projects like this in our city is very exciting to me. Public art is something that really creates meaningful connections between the people and the place …
“The Furuta family and the history of their lily farm, which was the largest provider of lilies on the West Coast at one time, is a very important part of our history here in Huntington Beach.”
Semeta presented Davis with a commendation from the city.
Consul Shigeru Kikuma, representing the Consulate General of Japan in Los Angeles, said, “I am greatly moved to see the Furuta family being honored with this new special artwork, fish pond and fountain … I hope all who encounter this installation will experience deep appreciation for the Furuta family’s legacy and the contributions of all Japanese Americans.”
He added, “Next year, your city’s sport, surfing, will make its first debut at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. So I look forward to working together with you on further development of our relations.”
Michael Furuta, great-grandson of Charles and Yukiko Furuta, spoke on behalf of the family members present, who included Carol Yamashiro and her husband Alan, Ron Shiraishi and his wife Judy, and Dave and Jan Furuta. Norman Furuta, grandson of Charles and Yukiko, was unable to attend.
“I’d like to thank Mary Urashima and the Historic Wintersburg group for raising awareness of our family history,” said Michael Furuta. “I would also like to thank the City of Huntington Beach for its encouragement of public art … and Michael Davis for transforming our memories of our family history …
“This is really special for me because even though I didn’t grow up on the farm, I went to visit a lot and my grandparents lived on one side and my great-grandmother lived on the other side … They had several ponds and sweet peas and so it was really great going there …
“My great-grandfather, Charles Furuta, purchased five acres of farmland in what was then known as Wintersburg at the corner of present-day Warner Avenue and Nicholas Street, in 1910. He introduced goldfish ponds in the 1920s and sold tropical fish commercially until the removal and internment of Japanese Americans in April of 1942. When the family returned in 1945, it began to cultivate water lilies and sweet peas for the Los Angeles flower market for the next 50 years.
“We thought that when the family stopped farming in the late 20th century, the flowers and goldfish ponds of Wintersburg would become a forgotten aspect of old Huntington Beach, like much of the past here in the fast-changing landscape of Orange County. But we really appreciate it and feel honored that this courtyard will forever share our family history.”
Art consultant Lesley Elwood of Elwood & Associates acknowledged some key people, including Kate Hoffman of the Huntington Beach Arts Center; Ken Keefe (who was unable to attend) and Richard Lamprecht, the two developers who originally started the project; and Sue Davis, the artist’s wife, “who was always a strong and important inspiration.”
Elwood said of the artist, “Michael in many ways is an observant and thoughtful storyteller. Michael has created public works throughout the United States, including San Francisco, Oregon, San Diego, Kansas City, Houston and Los Angeles … He’s lectured and taught at numerous art institutions in Southern California and continues to pursue a thriving studio practice, making objects and two-dimensional works for exhibition in Southern California galleries.
“I’ve always found Michael to be a person who looks deeper into the identity of a place [through]his extensive research and exhaustive work and attention to detail … You can always see them in the final design.”
Davis acknowledged others who contributed to the project, including Judson Studios (art glass fabrication), Berman Glass, BMG Installations (stone installations), and Paramount Metals (interior metal support fabrication). He also thanked his wife, “who is my confidante, my proofreader, my incredible graphic artist … She did a lot of work as we went through the entire process.”
Of Elwood, Davis said, “As artists we get to work with a lot of people, but she is really the best in the business. What she does is so different than a lot of other people I’ve worked with. She stays with a project right up until the last.”
In additon to crediting Urashima for “sending me her lovely book on Wintersburg, which really traces the history and talks about … the contributions the Japanese immigrants made to this community as well as the internment,” Davis thanked Mark Stirdivant of the Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition, which is working to memorialize a World War II confinement site.
Explaining his latest installation, collectively titled “Dedication of Elements,” Davis said, “It’s very important to feel that connection from the ground up, so that’s why these pieces represent, in a symbolic way, some of the elements of the Furuta family farm as well as … Japanese aesthetics. This envisioned a series of artworks that are influenced by these characteristics, inherent in these practices — reduction, simplification and appreciation of nature like air, water, soil and the natural elements.”
He noted that an adjoining courtyard contains the Rain/Double Fall, which incorporates water, shell stone, granite, light and corrugated glass.
Urashima pointed out that there is a connection between Wintersburg and Tuna Canyon, located in Tujunga. “Charles Furuta … was first taken to Tuna Canyon Detention Station in 1942 before he was sent to Lordsburg in New Mexico for confinement during World War II.”
Before performing a Japanese classical dance, Nancy Hayata said, “I enter this courtyard and see the artwork, feeling the energy in the air. I’m moved to emotions that I can’t quite explain … The artwork today by Michael Davis … is meaningful not just to us, to Wintersburg, but it will bring future generations to know our history, the history of the Furuta family.”
She explained that her dance is “choreographed for a very, very special someone. It’s called ‘Nada Sou Sou’ and it kind of translates to ‘big tears are falling.’ I look through the photo albums at the pictures of the past and I do look up to the stars at night and know that we will one day be together.”
The program closed with a sake toast.
Special guests included City Councilmember Kim Carr; Gina Clayton-Tarvin, vice president of the Ocean View School District Board of Trustees; H. Ernie Nishii, board president of the ABC Unified School District; Kelly Rivers and Darrell Rivers of the Huntington Beach Historical Society; Frank Nakabayashi and Maureen Anzivino, co-chairs of the OC Cherry Blossom Festival.
Lucé Apartments is located at 7290 Edinger Ave. Anyone from the general public who wants to see the artwork should park along Edinger Avenue. The entrance to the courtyards is at the northeast corner of the complex, facing Edinger. The public gate is open from dawn to dusk. For more information on Lucé, call (714) 465-2337 or visit http://liveluce.com.
For more information on Wintersburg, visit http://historicwintersburg.blogspot.com.
Photos by J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo