In the Pipeline: Saving Wintersburg, a page at a time


“I’m an accidental historic preservationist,” Mary Urashima, a government and public affairs consultant, says with a laugh.

That may be the case, but she is also a published author and passionate advocate for the subject of her first book, “Historic Wintersburg in Huntington Beach.”

It started back in the early 1980s, when she used to pass by the small farming property owned by the Furuta family on Warner Avenue near Gothard Street.


“Something about it called to me,” she told me recently. “It was part of old California. I looked at the 1934 cornerstone on the old church, and it just did something to me. It became a touchstone.”

Wintersburg, whose six historic buildings have been spared from demolition for now, was once the site of a Japanese American Presbyterian Church founded in the 1880s and related settlements.

When Urashima heard years ago that the property was changing hands, she became an advocate for its preservation.

“There are places in this country known as sites of conscience, and this spot in Huntington Beach is one of them. And it has been right in front of all of us all of this time,” she said. “Historic Wintersburg is iconic in American history, Japanese history and civil liberties history.

“When you look at the tragedy of what happened after Pearl Harbor, and then what happened afterward, it’s inspirational. These remarkable people came back. And they contributed to our community.”

Urashima went on to explain that while she never imagined taking a leadership position in an effort to preserve the site, she now finds herself as chairwoman of the Historic Wintersburg Task Force.

The property’s owner, Rainbow Environmental Service, wants to develop the land. Preservationists have been given 18 months to either buy the property or raise money to move the buildings to create a heritage park in the area. Urashima’s preference is to keep the compound where it is.

The group is in the process of establishing nonprofit status so it’s easier to acquire funds and grants.

“And we’re also close to acquiring more historic designations for this property,” she said. “It’s just such an important place. And it’s a place that can keep on teaching everyone for years and years to come.”

Urashima’s informative blog, historicwintersburg.blogspot, is a good place for updates, as she and her group continue to come up with ways to protect and preserve the property.

As for this marvelous new book, here’s a partial description from the publisher, History Press:

“Wintersburg Village’s unique history is representative of the Japanese pioneer experience on the West Coast. Japan’s post Meiji period ended the feudal system, creating in the late 1800s social changes that prompted Japanese immigration to America.

“Many who settled in the Wintersburg countryside were of Samurai ancestry, bringing an enterprising spirit to Orange County’s businesses and farms. The village’s history encompasses early aviation, archaeological discoveries, the county’s oldest Japanese church, goldfish farming and overcoming discrimination to achieve civil liberties. Forcibly evacuated and confined during World War II, Japanese pioneers left an indelible mark on Southern California.”

Urashima will hold a book signing at 2 p.m. March 9 at the Barnes & Noble in Bella Terra. I encourage everyone to come out and support this author and preservationist who has already contributed countless hours to trying to save one of this country’s most precious historic landmarks.


Remembering Kotsch, Willard

On a sadder note, you may have heard that Natalie Kotsch, founder of our International Surfing Museum, died last week after a long struggle with cancer. I was fortunate enough to have been friends with her; her smile and warmth are something this community will deeply miss. I will be writing more about my friend in the weeks to come.

Last year I wrote about Greg Willard, a former NBA referee who was also a vital part of Seaview Little League. He died last year after a battle with cancer, but I wanted you to know that at this season’s Seaview Little League opening ceremony, a field was dedicated in his name.

A touching gesture for a gentleman missed equally by parents and young players. I will be including this site in the next edition of my book, “Baseball in Orange County.”


Student writing contest

It’s time for the annual In the Pipeline high school student essay writing competition. This is the call for any high school student in Huntington Beach, Fountain Valley or Seal Beach to answer the following: Tell me about a special person, place or piece of history in your community.

I’m looking for things or people who I might not be able to find on my own. Submit 500 words or less and photos, if you like. Entries are due April 4. The winner will get to cut the ribbon at the spectacular Taste of Huntington Beach on April 27, as well as attend the food festival with family. Send entries to

CHRIS EPTING is the author of 19 books, including the new “Baseball in Orange County,” from Arcadia Publishing. You can chat with him on Twitter @chrisepting, or follow his column at