Historic Wintersburg, an iconic, century-old Japanese American landscape in Huntington Beach, was named a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the nation’s leading historic preservation organization.
This designation coincides with the release of a technical study by the Urban Land Institute (ULI) that proposes ways that the Historic Wintersburg site could be preserved for future generations and repurposed to enhance quality of life for nearby residents, while benefiting the greater Huntington Beach community.
Historic Wintersburg was named a National Treasure for its connections to Southern California’s early agricultural history and its significance as one of the only surviving properties purchased before California barred Japanese from owning land, a direct result of anti-Japanese hysteria in the early 20th century.
The site also represents the injustice that thousands of Japanese American families faced, as the entire Wintersburg Church congregation — the majority of whom were American citizens — were forcibly removed and incarcerated during World War II.
The National Treasure designation comes as a new ULI report proposes a range of creative reuse alternatives for the 4.5-acre Historic Wintersburg site. Funded with community donations raised by the Historic Wintersburg Preservation Task Force and coordinated by the National Trust, the report is the result of an objective study following two intensive days of analysis and stakeholder interviews with community members, Huntington Beach elected officials, and representatives from Rainbow Environmental Services, which owns the historic property.
The study, the first-ever collaboration of its kind between ULI’s Los Angeles and Orange County/Inland Empire chapters, convened a panel of nine renowned professionals with expertise in urban planning, historic preservation, real estate development, housing and landscape design. The report recommends shared uses for the site that highlight the historic buildings and landscape, new construction to support small and local businesses, and expanded community amenities and green space.
“We’re proud to name Historic Wintersburg as our newest National Treasure,” said Stephanie K. Meeks, president and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “ULI’s expert analysis is a strong step toward restoring Wintersburg as a center of community life and shows that, through compromise and cooperation, we can preserve this important Japanese immigrant history to support a new immigrant community living in the area today. We are committed to working in partnership with the site’s owner, the neighborhood, and community stakeholders toward a solution that everyone can embrace.”
“Historic Wintersburg is among the only surviving reminders of Huntington Beach’s unique pioneer history and tells an incredibly important national story,” said Huntington Beach Mayor Jill Hardy. “I’m encouraged by ULI’s recommendation of a collaborative process to determine a viable future for the site and look forward to working with the community and property owner to restore Huntington Beach’s National Treasure.”
“This report, made possible by public donations, shows how a community-based approach can preserve our history,” said Mary Adams Urashima, chair of the Historic Wintersburg Preservation Task Force. “We are ready to work with all of the stakeholders toward a viable future for Historic Wintersburg that honors its important place in American history.”
“We appreciate the ULI team’s ideas and work,” said Sue Gordon, Community Relations Manager of Rainbow Environmental Services. “We look forward to evaluating the report’s recommendations.”
Located in the Oak View neighborhood of Huntington Beach, the Historic Wintersburg site contains six structures, including the 1912 Furuta family home, 1910 Wintersburg Mission, and 1934 Wintersburg Church. While demolition is no longer an immediate threat, the site requires a long-term, viable reuse to return to its historic role as a neighborhood center and community gathering place.
The ULI study offers the following recommendations to guide the collaborative effort:
• Preservation and reuse of historic structures and landscaped green space on the site’s north end;
• Construction of new tech-oriented or small business space on the parcel’s south end;
• A landscaped parking area that can double as space for outdoor fairs, festivals, or other community events;
• Pedestrian access throughout the site to provide a walk-able environment within the Oak View neighborhood;
• Formation of a “community council” of local stakeholders to guide the project and ensure the opinions of all stakeholders are heard and addressed.
National Treasures are a portfolio of nationally significant historic places throughout the country where the National Trust makes a long-term commitment to finding a preservation solution. As part of its Historic Wintersburg campaign, the National Trust has employed its expertise in re-imagining historic sites to work with local partners toward a sustainable use for this important place.
As the presenting partner of the National Treasures program, American Express has pledged $6.5 million to help promote and enable the preservation of these cultural and historic places.