Committee to look at church preservation

The Huntington Beach City Council voted unanimously Monday to form an ad hoc committee to study fundraising options for preserving and relocating a group of historic Japanese church buildings.

Councilwoman Connie Boardman requested last week that the council vote on whether to direct staff to analyze possible relocation spots for the historic structures, which date as far back as 1909 and comprise a church, mission, manse, farmhouse and barn.

Instead, the council approved a different motion to form the committee, which will include Boardman, Councilmen Matthew Harper and Joe Shaw and other community members.

Among those who may join the committee are members of the city's Historic Resources Board and a representative from Rainbow Environmental Services, the waste management company that owns the property where the buildings reside, according to Boardman.

The councilwoman, who has toured the fenced-off site, said she doesn't know if it's possible to move the buildings, but wants the city to make its best effort.

"I don't know whether they're sound enough to be moved," she said. "I don't know where in the city they could be moved to. These buildings tell a story of a very different culture and Japanese American immigration into Orange County that's largely unknown to a lot of people in Huntington Beach.

"They're historically significant, and I want to make sure we look at all the alternatives with the development of that site."

Planning Manager Mary Beth Broeren said the city is awaiting completion of an environmental impact report that will analyze the structures' historical significance and the consequences of demolishing them. Rainbow Environmental Services, which has owned the property since 2004, seeks to remove the structures and have the land rezoned from residential to commercial/industrial use.

Company officials have said they will contribute funds to have the buildings moved if a plan materializes to relocate them.

Boardman said when she spoke with staff, she learned that the proposed impact report did not include an analysis of whether it was feasible to move the buildings or where in the city they could be relocated. She mentioned Bartlett Park, Irby Park and Huntington Central Park as three locations worth assessing.

In anticipation of Monday's vote, several Huntington residents and even some from out of town wrote to the council urging preservation of the buildings — the most prominent of which, the former Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Church constructed in 1934, features a rainbow mural with the slogan "Jesus Lives" overlooking the corner of Nichols Lane and Warner Avenue.

Donna Graves, the director of the statewide research project Preserving California's Japantowns, called the Wintersburg site a rare resource.

"This complex is unique within the nearly 50 communities we surveyed for the range of buildings and structures included, their physical integrity and the rich history they represent of an early 20th century farming community," she wrote. "As an Orange County native, I urge you to search for ways to honor this important piece of local history, one of the few that can connect current residents to these important aspects of Orange County heritage."

michael.miller@latimes.com

Twitter: @MichaelMillerHB

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