Efforts to save the Wintersburg site in Huntington Beach took a big step forward this month when it was designated one of the most endangered historic places in the United States.
The location, which failed to make the cut in 2013, was recently chosen to be included on the National Trust for Historic Preservation's annual list, officials said Tuesday.
Wintersburg, a 4.4-acre site off Warner Avenue and Nichols Lane where Orange County's first Japanese American Presbyterian church stands, is the first location in the county to make the list.
"I'm ecstatic because the inclusion of Historic Wintersburg on America's most endangered list means that we can get help from around the country to save this important American historical site," said Mary Urashima, a preservationist who has been doing research on Wintersburg for the last seven years.
Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust, explained that the designation would help Urashima connect with financial partners and donors around the country who would be willing to fund a way to save the site.
For each of the last 27 years, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., has named 11 places in the United States that hold historical significance to the country and are in danger of being lost.
Other sites that made the list this year are Frank Lloyd Wright's spring house in Florida, the Chattanooga State Office Building in Tennessee and an area of Richmond, Va., known as Shockoe Bottom.
For Meeks, Wintersburg is one of the most significant places named to this year's list, she said Monday.
"We found it to be an incredibly compelling story," said Christina Morris, field director for the National Trust's office in Los Angeles. "The word 'unique' gets tossed around probably too much, but we felt that it was an incredibly rare and unique resource in Southern California, perhaps in all of California because of the way it documents three generations of Japanese American experience."
Aside from housing the church for Japanese immigrants, Wintersburg was also the home of the Furutas, a pioneering family in Huntington Beach that endured internment camps during World War II.
Norman Furuta, the grandson of Charles Furuta, who founded the site, said during a news conference Tuesday that he has yet to wrap his mind around the news that his family's home has been recognized for having historic significance to the nation.
"Our whole family has just been dumbfounded, really," he said. "We knew there was local interest, but to get this type of recognition is really hard to believe."
Meeks characterized the National Trust designation as a crucial tool to achieving the goal of preservation. She added that she is confident that Wintersburg can be saved because of the group's track record, noting that of the more than 250 sites that it has backed, only 11 have been lost.
Urashima said she and the Historic Wintersburg Task Force have collected $10,000 and would need $5 million to $6 million to acquire the property from Rainbow Environmental Services, a local waste management company that owns the site.
Urashima added that the property would need to be assessed to determine the exact price.
In November, the city voted to allow Rainbow to demolish Wintersburg. However, after many pleas, the company agreed to give Urashima and the task force 18 months to raise funds and figure out how they would preserve the site.
Rainbow bought the property from the Furuta family for $4.6 million in 2004.