By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
A tentative agreement has been reached on the status of a house in Altadena that the Yuge family has lived in since the 1920s.
Under the agreement, which has not yet been put in writing, the family will move out of the house by June 19 and the school will not seek a permit to demolish it.
Takeo Yuge had been the gardener for the Scripps/Kellogg estate for 15 years when he and his family were interned along with other Japanese Americans living on the West Coast. After the war, the Kelloggs asked Yuge to return, and he and his wife Fumiko raised four daughters in the Craftsman house built by Takeo’s uncle Hanjiro when he was the estate’s caretaker.
William Scripps Kellogg and Takeo Yuge had a verbal agreement that the family could live on the estate as long as they wanted to, but the Scripps Home later put the property up for sale, and the Pasadena Waldorf School purchased it in 1987. The school entered into a written agreement that the family could remain on the site during the lifetime of Mr. and Mrs. Yuge; Takeo died in 1989 and Fumiko last November at the age of 100. The house was to be vacated 180 days thereafter.
The June 1 deadline has already passed. Although the Yuges are in the process of moving, they and other members of the community have expressed concern about the future of the cottage, along with a Torrey pine planted by the family, and would like to see them preserved for their historical significance.
An online petition that has been signed by more than 4,400 people states, “The family believes that a community garden would be an appropriate use for the land, both as a dedication to their parents and their relationship to the Kellogg family during a tumultuous time for Japanese Americans, and as a site important to Japanese American history. It would be the realization of the legacy of Mrs. Florence Scripps Kellogg and her son, William Scripps Kellogg, to share a garden with the community.”
Waldorf School on May 31 accepted a Big Tree award from Altadena Heritage and stated that it was committed to preserving the 120-foot-tall, 86-year-old Torrey pine. The Yuges did not attend the ceremony but said they were “extremely pleased” that the tree was recognized and hoped that it “will be protected to the fullest extent possible.”
Cindy Yuge, Waldorf officials and their respective attorneys met on June 9 to discuss the status of the house. Yuge still lives in the house with her husband; her sisters, Nadine Ishizu, Joyce Yuge and Carolyn Yuge, live elsewhere but many of their parents’ belongings have been kept at the house.
Waldorf School Administrator Douglas Garrett said Monday, “We think we’ve arrived by the end of the week at an agreement about them moving and us not taking out a permit or demolishing the house for a period of time. I think it’s being worked out what the details are between the attorneys, but that’s the status of it as of today.”
William Birney, chair of the school’s Board of Trustees and an attorney, attended the meeting along with Garrett and Director of Development Melissa Puls. He said in an interview last week, “We have been working with [the Yuges] trying to figure out or come to some sort of consensus agreement on how their departure from the portion of the property that they occupy, how that would look, and when that would occur … This was the first opportunity that our lawyer and their lawyer have actually been able to get together and talk first-hand …
“We can restate that it is our intention to preserve the tree. We certainly celebrate nature on this campus … Then there’s discussions about preservation of the home and what that would look like, maybe a community garden … Cindy indicated that they were very concerned that if we move to demolish the house, that that could have impact to the tree. And essentially she said that that was a condition for them to leave the property … They really wanted to have comfort that we weren’t going to take some action with regard to the house in the immediate future.”
Birney emphasized, “We really don’t know what our intentions are for that portion of the property. We haven’t had access to it to do the work that we need to do to really evaluate its physical condition, its safety condition, it’s historic relevance … We’ve only been in the house once in the 28 years the school has been there. But … we know that we don’t have any immediate intention to demolish the property. Our immediate goal is to rebuild the Grade 1 and 2 classroom that was destroyed by fire almost a year ago
“We can even go so far as to say that we can look out six months or maybe even 12 months before we’re going to really know how we’re going to incorporate that house and when we’re going to incorporate it. Our school is intentionally small, but we also have limited means and budget. So even while we might dream of how we’re going to utilize this whole property, the reality is that we do things slowly and thoughtfully and carefully, and we do it with the financing that we have available … We don’t have money for that right now.”
With regard to the possibility of relocating the cottage, Birney said, “If there was an opportunity that we determine that property wasn’t viable for school purposes, but maybe it had historic meaning to them or to others and they have the means or wherewithal to move that property, I think the school would be inclined to give them that first opportunity before the school would make any action.”
He added that the new classrooms will not be built on the site of the cottage, but “we need that portion of the Yuge property for construction purposes so that we can stage construction on that portion of the property so that it doesn’t impact our operations at school, so that our students aren’t walking through a construction area …
“The replacement of those two buildings is largely on the same footprint … It orients a little different. This is really the first opportunity in the 28 years that we’ve been on this site as a school. Actually, for the 37 years that we’ve been a school, this is really our first building opportunity, and we’re building it from the ground up … It’s close to the boundary line that separated our portion of the property from the portion that the Yuges controlled …
“The delay in our ability to get possession of the property has been, frankly, a little harmful in our ability to quickly stage and prosecute that construction. We’re hoping that some of the initial staging work, placement of materials, will happen this summer … We’re hoping that all can happen this summer while school is out of session …
“We don’t anticipate that that would have any harm to the rest of the site, any harm to the tree, because we’re driving over the same paved surfaces that have been there for probably as long as the Yuges’ cottage has been there.”
Birney said that in terms of preservation of the home or the garden, “I think there are still questions that need to be answered … but our sense is that can happen as information is learned, as we do our evaluations and they determine what their thoughts are … We’re not in the position of creating museums or other pieces that are going to take away resources from teaching children, which is our first goal. But what we can do is and what we signaled to the Yuges is that we can commit to undertaking that evaluation quickly … so that we’re operating on a set of facts that we all understand.”
Cindy Yuge said that an alternative to moving the cottage would be to purchase part of the site. “My sisters and I put forth a proposal to purchase a portion of the property which we have been occupying. This would allow the school to expand westward for more classrooms and the cottage, tree and garden would be saved.
“Although the school has been operating quite well now for some 28 years, we understand they need to expand and that they must provide safety for their 220 students, so a clear boundary would be established.”
She added that this is the fourth such offer that the family has made.
Yuge also told The Pasadena Star-News, “I would say we’ve come to some sort of solution that’s agreeable to both sides, but we just want to put it in writing to make sure nothing happens to the house. I think both sides are trying, and like anything, we just have to work through it.”
Photos by J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo