Resurrection for historic church?

The waste management company that owns an historic Huntington Beach church property has offered to help pay to relocate what some have called the most important surviving Asian American site in Orange County.

Sue Gordon, the vice president of public affairs for Rainbow Environmental Services, said the company will donate the amount it would have spent to demolish the buildings at Warner Avenue and Nichols Lane if community members make arrangements to have them moved. The long-vacant property once housed the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Church, an immigrant family home and more.

Rainbow (formerly Rainbow Disposal), the property's owner since 2004, has applied to the city to rezone the property and demolish the structures. Some local preservationists, though, have voiced a desire to preserve them, and the company stated in late September that it would help with such an effort if possible.

"We did make an announcement that we would be more than happy," Gordon said. "If they're not moved, we have to demolish the buildings, and that would be a cost to us, so we would donate that amount of money toward their movement."

Gordon said she didn't know how much relocating the buildings would cost, but said the cost of demolishing them would total about $14,000. The company would donate that amount toward the relocation, although Gordon said it almost certainly wouldn't cover the full expense.

"There will definitely need to be a fundraising effort," she said.

Mary Adams Urashima, a government and public affairs consultant who is part of the effort to preserve the site, said she would like to see the buildings maintained in place but acknowledged that moving them may be more realistic.

"It would be wonderful if the properties could remain on site," she said. "That's always wonderful if you can keep historic buildings.

"It looks like that may not be a viable option in terms of the other issues in preserving historic buildings—who can maintain them, who can provide security — and if they're relocated to a site where there's already an organization that provides restoration and maintenance and security, that may be a better solution."

Urashima, who joined several historians and preservationists on a Rainbow-led tour of the property Sept. 30, said her group had several potential sites in mind for relocation, but declined to specify them. She said the group may launch a fundraising campaign after it settles on one or more sites.

According to the church's website, the mission on the property dates was built in 1910 on land donated by the Furuta family. The building that now stands at Warner and Nichols, sporting a prominent mural that reads "Jesus Lives," was dedicated in 1934. The church moved to Santa Ana in 1965 and now calls itself the Wintersburg Presbyterian Church.

The Huntington Beach Department of Planning & Building took public comments on Rainbow's plans through Sept. 30. Senior Planner Ricky Ramos said the next step is for a city consultant to write a draft environmental impact report, which will also be made available for public review possibly early next year.

Among those who joined Rainbow on the tour were representatives from the city's Historic Resources Board, Dann Gibb of the Fountain Valley Historical Society and members of the present-day Wintersburg Presbyterian Church, which still has congregation members who attended the old church.

Gibb said his group was interested in the Wintersburg property because many of the church's families settled in his city over the last century.

"Sometimes when you're driving down the road, you'll see that one house that sticks out that's not a tract home, and those homes often have the original Japanese families in them," he said.

Twitter: @MichaelMillerHB

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