Statements of Support for Wintersburg Preservation Sought

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The C.M. Furuta Gold Fish Farm off Wintersburg Avenue in Wintersburg Village, circa 1920s. The barn still stands today. (Photo courtesy of the Furuta family)

HUNTINGTON BEACH — In its report to the Huntington Beach Planning Commission for the Tuesday, April 23, meeting, the city’s planning staff has recommended approval of a proposed project to re-zone and demolish the historic buildings on the Historic Wintersburg property. 

Historic Wintersburg is a century-old Japanese pioneer farm and mission site in Huntington Beach. It is the sole remaining Japanese-owned, pre-Alien Land Law property and one of the rare Japanese American historic properties left in Orange County.  A recent Historic Context Survey determined at least four of the half-dozen buildings on the site are eligible for the National Register.

Mary Urashima, head of the Historic Wintersburg Preservation Task Force, is urging concerned individuals and groups to give statements of support in writing or in person at the commission meeting, which will start at 7 p.m. at the Huntington Beach Civic Center, 2000 Main St.

Urashima said in a statement, “Staff recommendation goes against overwhelming public input supporting preservation. Of the 17 letters received by the city, 15 declared the draft EIR (environmental impact report) inadequate and supported preservation, one acknowledged receipt (Governor’s Office of Planning and Research), and one supported the draft EIR (Huntington Beach Environmental Board). 

“Letters supporting preservation were received from the California Office of Historic Preservation, Department of Parks and Recreation; California Preservation Foundation;   California Native Heritage Commission;  Chinese Historical Society of Southern California; Preserving California’s Japantowns; Huntington Beach Historic Resources Board;  Huntington Beach Tomorrow; Professor Emeritus Art Hansen, consultant to the Japanese American National Museum; other individuals with expertise in Asian American historic preservation and the history of Wintersburg.

“The recommendation is inconsistent with the City’s General Plan (demolition of known historic resources). The recent Historic Context Survey for the city’s Cultural and Historic Resources Element in the General Plan reports at least four of the Historic Wintersburg structures are individually eligible for the National Register. Not noted is the barn, which we believe also is eligible.

“A total of 23 structures were recommended as eligible for the National Register in the December 2012 Historic Context Survey. Demolition of five of these structures, including the barn — all contained on the Historic Wintersburg property — removes almost a quarter of the buildings recommended as National Register-eligible in Huntington Beach. Since the last historic survey in 1986, Huntington Beach has lost half of the almost 400 structures recommended as having historic value.

“The project does not represent the ‘whole of the action’ as intended by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) … What necessitates demolition of historic structures if there is no proposed development?

“Photo documentation (of the buildings before they are razed) is the lowest level of historic mitigation, particularly for structures considered eligible for the National Register.

“The half-dozen buildings on the property are separated for individual analysis. Four of the buildings currently are acknowledged as eligible for the National Register. The staff response is that these buildings do not qualify as a district because they are on two parcels. Staff cites National Register language, saying it is not a ‘significant concentration.’ However, this is not the full definition as provided by the National Register of Historic Places, which is (that) …. ‘A district may also comprise individual elements separated geographically but linked by association or history.’

“The response from staff dismisses the historic nature of the barn and comments that additions were made to the barn over the years. The barn is estimated to be approximately 100 years old — at least as old if not older than the 1912 Furuta home. Additions were made by the original and sole owner, are part of the barn’s history, and do not diminish its historic significance. The barn was used for the unique enterprises of goldfish and flower farming, is an integral part of an agricultural pioneer property, and is a rare feature in urban Orange County.

“The report is a narrow and outdated view of adaptive re-use. The consultant’s evaluation assumes the historic structures would be the only buildings on the five-acre site in adaptive re-use and that commercial use would be restricted solely to those structures, thereby creating an extended 19-year return-on-investment. There are many examples of creative adaptive re-use incorporating historic structures into new construction, while preserving the history.”

Those who are unable to attend the meeting can click here and use the menu to send a comment regarding Planning Commission agenda items.

Information about the site is at www.HistoricWintersburg.blogspot.com. There will be a half-day workshop about Historic Wintersburg during the California Preservation Foundation conference on May 3, and Historic Wintersburg will be represented on an APIAHiP (Asian Pacific Islander American Historic Preservation) panel at the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s annual conference in October.

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  1. Dr. Linda G. Morita on

    I am a former sansei resident of Huntington Beach who attended Huntington Beach High School. My father, Masaru Morita was a farmer in Cypress before we moved to Huntington Beach. Our family knew the Furutas.

    I presently reside in Switzerland. How can I help the effort to keep the Wintersburg landmark featured in your article?

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