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Preservationists begin clearing the way at Wintersburg

Leonel Granados with Tsuzuki Tree Service trims a California pepper tree at the Historic Wintersburg site in Huntington Beach on Wednesday.

Leonel Granados with Tsuzuki Tree Service trims a California pepper tree at the Historic Wintersburg site in Huntington Beach on Wednesday.

(Scott Smeltzer / Huntington Beach Independent)

A step toward stabilizing Historic Wintersburg was taken Wednesday when trees that loomed menacingly over some of the buildings, which are considered national treasures, were trimmed by a local arborist.

Mary Urashima, who chairs the Wintersburg Preservation Task Force, said arborist Tsuzuki Tree Service, based in Fountain Valley, cut the trees — which could “be easily $5,000 worth” of work — for free.

She said the task force worked with the Japanese American community in Orange County, as well as Glenn Tanaka of Tanaka Farms and Marvin Masuda, a descendant of one of the families associated with Wintersburg, to find the arborist.

The stabilization work is important because a strong wind could damage the structures and dry brush on the ground and piled up on some roofs could spark a fire, officials said during a recent tour of the property.

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A crew from Tsuzuki Tree Service trims trees at the Historic Wintersburg site in Huntington Beach on Wednesday.

A crew from Tsuzuki Tree Service trims trees at the Historic Wintersburg site in Huntington Beach on Wednesday.

(Scott Smeltzer / Huntington Beach Independent)

The next moves include removing debris, fumigating to rid the place of any vermin and replacing tarp material on roofs to prevent rain damage, Urashima said.

“This helps prevent deterioration or demolition by neglect until we can get to the hands-on preservation work,” she said.

Urashima has already been through the fight to save the structures through negotiations with the landowner, trash company Rainbow Environmental Services, now owned by Republic Services, and tussles over zoning.

In May 2015, Rainbow promised that it would not demolish the six buildings that remain on the site, including a 1908 barn. In June 2014, Wintersburg had been designated one of the most endangered sites in the country by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Later, the trust identified the 1912 house, 1910 mission and 1934 church as “essential” structures that should be saved to maintain the integrity of the site.

Urashima and others, including Kevin Sanada, a field officer for the National Trust, are now entering the stabilization phase, ensuring that the buildings they fought to save don’t succumb to the forces of nature.

The ultimate phase, preserving and opening up the property to the public, probably won’t be accomplished until a deal is reached to acquire the land from Rainbow, and that doesn’t appear close.

Jose Hernandez with Tsuzuki Tree Service clears debris from a Brazilian pepper tree at the Historic Wintersburg site in Huntington Beach on Wednesday.

Jose Hernandez with Tsuzuki Tree Service clears debris from a Brazilian pepper tree at the Historic Wintersburg site in Huntington Beach on Wednesday.

(Scott Smeltzer / Huntington Beach Independent)

During the tour, Urashima and David Hauser, an executive with Republic Services, seemed coy as they talked about getting all stakeholders — the city, the task force, Republic and the Ocean View School District — to agree on a plan for the land. But it is unlikely that anything other than sufficient money to buy the property from Rainbow, which pays taxes on land that it essentially cannot use, would solve the matter.

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FOR THE RECORD

11:55 a.m.: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified one of the stakeholders as the Oak View School District. It is the Ocean View School District.

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Urashima considers the 4.4-acre parcel off Warner Avenue and Nichols Lane, the site of the first Japanese Presbyterian church in Orange County and housing for early Japanese immigrants before many were forced into internment camps during World War II, an important part of American history.

She said that ideally the area, which is zoned for residential use, would become a heritage park with community and educational uses, serving as a field trip destination for students, for instance. She said opening Wintersburg as a stand-alone museum wouldn’t be financially “sustainable.”

She also sees the area as a potential pilgrimage site, like Manzanar, one of the country’s 10 World War II relocation centers for Japanese Americans and resident Japanese, located in the Owens valley.

Sanada said he envisions a similar “dynamic use” of the site.

“Once there’s more certainty [about the fate of the property], then donors come in,” she said, hopeful about the future of Wintersburg.

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Brittany Woolsey, brittany.woolsey@latimes.com

Twitter: @BrittanyWoolsey

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