From left: Sisters Joyce Yuge, Cindy Yuge, Nadine Ishizu and Carolyn Yuge behind the family home while they were in the process of vacating the property. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)
From left: Sisters Joyce Yuge, Cindy Yuge, Nadine Ishizu and Carolyn Yuge behind the family home while they were in the process of vacating the property. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)

Rafu Staff Report

The board of Pasadena Waldorf School decided at a meeting on Aug. 31 not to sell the site of the Yuge home to the Yuge family.

The Yuges, who vacated the home in June under an earlier agreement with the school, offered to buy the site in order to preserve it as an important part of local and Japanese American history. The school has already made a commitment to preserve a Torrey pine planted by the family on the property.

Takeo and Fumiko Yuge became the caretakers of the Scripps/Kellogg estate in Altadena. They were interned during World War II, but upon their return to Southern California the Kellogg family asked them to come back to the estate. In addition to their caretaking duties, the Yuges turned part of the land into an azalea farm.

The Yuges had an agreement with property owner William Scripps Kellogg that they could remain on the land during the couple’s lifetime. Takeo died in 1989 and Fumiko in 2014.

The proposal to purchase the land was made by the four daughters, Cynthia Yuge, Joyce Yuge, Nadine Ishizu and Carolyn Yuge.

A Sept. 3 statement from Douglas Garrett, the school’s business administrator, reads as follows:

“In a regularly scheduled meeting of the Board of Trustees of the Pasadena Waldorf School held on Aug. 31, 2015, the board decided to neither sell nor enter into negotiations for the subdivision or sale of a portion of the west side of the school’s Mariposa campus.

“As the school continues the evaluation of this portion of the property, the Yuge family will be kept informed of plans for the cottage.

“The beautiful Torrey pine will be preserved and safeguarded at the front of the property, as will the trees along the western edge and the three small Japanese pines on the property. As the school has consistently stated, PWS is committed to exploring and finding a meaningful way to honor the legacy of the Scripps, Kellogg and Yuge families’ connection with the property.

“At the board meeting on Aug. 31, Cindy, Joyce and Nadine Yuge; Mark Tajima, Mary Scripps Spriestersbach, and Bob Spriestersbach appeared in person to speak to the board about their wish to preserve the property as a dedication to the Scripps and Yuge families and to Japanese heritage in Altadena.

“After much press and online comments about the situation, PWS Board members appreciated the opportunity to hear from the Yuge family and friends directly. This process has allowed the PWS school community to deepen an understanding of the history of the property and the legacies of the Yuge, Scripps and Kellogg families that are intimately connected to it.

“As reported by The Los Angeles Times in 1987, PWS was selected as the buyer because of the school’s commitment to save the Scripps home and the parcel from subdivision. William C. Kellogg, the great-grandson of the original owner, William Armiger Scripps, called the school’s purchase a ‘great compromise’ between those favoring development and those wanting to preserve the mansion as a community center.

“As part of that original agreement, the school agreed to honor a promise by the Kellogg family. That agreement established possession of a southwestern portion of the property for Fumiko and Takeo Yuge for their lifetimes. The school fully and completely honored the terms of the agreement, which called for that portion of the property to return to the school upon the Yuges’ passing.

“This sentiment to retain the land as one parcel, one campus, has not changed. Now PWS has the opportunity to fulfill the original intent of the 1987 agreement and the school’s founders by reuniting and utilizing the entire property that it purchased 29 years ago.”

Family’s Response

Cindy Yuge issued this response on behalf of the family on Sept. 4:

“First let me say that we’re very disappointed. We were in discussions with the school for several months. In June, we had a meeting with our attorney, the school’s attorney as well as two attorneys who are either on the board or in the administration of the school and at least two other representatives of the school. We made it clear that we wanted to discuss a workable arrangement to save the house and the tree. We discussed the conditions that would be essential to preserve the interests of both the school and the property.

We were hoping for an outcome that would assure the preservation of the house and gardens, and Torrey pine as they now stand. Our ultimate goal was to make it a historical site perhaps housing a small museum dedicated not only to the Yuge and Scripps/Kellogg families, but to bring attention to the Japanese American experience during the World War II years about which there is little focus in school curriculum.

“In an effort to clarify our position we sent an email to the school saying that the house was not intended for use as a personal residence. There was never a question of the property being developed — only preserved.

“This was the fourth time that we had approached the school to purchase the property, and the school knew our desires going back several years; however, this was the first time that we were told the reason the school denied our request. Only now did we find out that the stated reason was not to break up the property.

“It would have been helpful if they had told us this at the outset years ago when we had first asked. Or, when we met in June, instead of telling us they would look at any offers to purchase, they could have been up-front and let us know right then. We went to the trouble of having a market analysis done to get a value of comparable properties and also had a civil engineer come out to assess the possibilities and draw the proposed boundaries.

“Going forward, I’m hopeful that there will be some other way to save the house and gardens in their current positions and that the school will see the importance of maintaining that little corner of the property. They could create a small garden for the public to visit while offering the house as a museum so that history is kept alive. We believe that if there is a will to do this, there is a way.

“Mary Scripps Spriestersbach attended the Aug. 31, 2015 meeting, stating her belief that the preservation of the house and gardens was what her family desired.”

Tajima, who attended the meeting on behalf of the Greater Pasadena Area JACL, said that the chapter “is deeply disappointed that the Pasadena Waldorf School rejected the request from the Yuge family to purchase the cottage in order to preserve it as a landmark that is culturally and historically significant to the Japanese American community.

“The school’s administrator, Douglas Garrett, responded to the Yuge family in a letter, which essentially is a few introductory lines to a press statement on the school’s position on the sale and use of the property. In the statement, Pasadena Waldorf School states that a Torrey pine tree, three small Japanese pine trees, and some other trees will be preserved on the property, but makes no similar commitment to preserving the cottage, which is culturally and historically significant to the Japanese American community.

“We hope the school would care as much about preserving the heritage of Japanese Americans as preserving Japanese pine trees [and] preserve the cottage in which one of the Yuges lived for over 80 years – far longer than any other Japanese American could live in Altadena.

“Before 1950, there were racial covenants preventing the sale of homes to Japanese Americans in Altadena. Past racial discrimination is part of Altadena’s legacy.”

Historical Perspective

Among those who sent letters to the Board of Trustees in support of the Yuges was Mary Adams Urashima of the Historic Wintersburg Preservation Task Force. She wrote:

“I’m writing to urge you to allow the Yuge family to purchase the home they have known for a century … Any destruction of the home should not even be considered by an educational institution.

“The rarity of a Japanese American home and historical site surviving the past century should be of prime consideration to the Waldorf School. This is a living link to California pioneer history and an opportunity to preserve the rich diversity of American history.

“The fact an agreement was made between Takeo Yuge and William Scripps Kellogg in the 1920s speaks to the fact Kellogg was providing a home to the Yuge family after California’s passage of the Alien Land Laws of 1913 and 1920, which prohibited Japanese immigrants from owning property.

“That the Yuge family were able to return to their home after World War II confinement — and the handshake agreement in 1948 to ensure it remained their home — speaks to Kellogg’s support for the family and recognition of the civil liberties injustice they endured.

“That the Kellogg family stored the Yuge family belongings during World War II confinement is a remarkable statement about the intention of the Kellogg family. This was at a time when many Japanese American homes were vandalized, burned, and lost forever, and when those supporting Japanese Americans risked being ostracized.

“It is obvious the Kellogg family wanted the Yuge family to know, despite the actions of the federal government in 1942, that the house in Altadena was their home. The prominence of the Kellogg family in California history makes this doubly important. This is as much a story of the Kellogg family’s personal action to right a wrong, as it is the Yuge family’s endurance through one of our country’s pivotal civil liberties moments. A remarkable and important lesson in humanity.

“Please allow for the Yuge family purchase of the home … at a reasonable cost. As chairperson of a national effort to save and preserve a rare Japanese American property in Huntington Beach, I must emphasize the decades of erasure of Japanese American history in California. The Waldorf School should not be part of that historical expunction, particularly in this century.

“As stated on the school’s website, your decision-making should embody the ‘profound consideration of what it means to be human and what the task of humankind is perceived to be.’ This is the opportunity to put into action that philosophy.”

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