Aftermath of the fire at Historic Wintersburg in Huntington Beach (Preserve Orange County)

In response to the Feb. 25 fire that destroyed part of Historic Wintersburg in Huntington Beach, and concerns expressed by the Historic Wintersburg Preservation Task Force, the Little Tokyo Historical Society sent the following letter on Feb. 28 to Huntington Beach Mayor Barbara Delgleize and the City Council.

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The fire and unpermitted demolition on Friday, Feb. 25, of the 1910 Wintersburg Japanese Mission’s manse at the Historic Wintersburg property comes after years of anti-Japanese and anti-Asian hate, orchestrated harassment on social media, and threats to preservationists.

The documented public use and publication of anti-Japanese graphics, comments that the preservation of the property “celebrates Pearl Harbor,” deliberate cyber-harassment targeting Historic Wintersburg on a daily basis, and obviously orchestrated cyber-harassment on Dec. 7 each year are a clear picture about who the hate was targeting — the Japanese American community in Orange County.

City officials and Republic Services [owner of the property] were made aware. Rainbow Environmental-Republic Services also were notified in writing for years of concerns about security and maintenance to prevent vandalism and fire risk.

Currently, the historic structures are unboarded, so open to vandalism and fire risk. Security is completely inadequate. Simple maintenance such as weed abatement is not being conducted.

The Little Tokyo Historical Society toured the National Treasure heritage site in April 2017, so it is unfathomable that the conditions of the site still have not been addressed for improvement.

We strongly demand the following actions on the part of the City Council:

1. We are calling for a thorough investigation for arson and for the ongoing negligence and purposeful demolition-by-neglect by Rainbow Environmental-Republic Services.

2. We also are calling for the right of Japanese Americans to enter the property with permission to collect ash and artifacts, to honor and save what is left of a sacred site where the Mission and manse stood. In case it is not understood, this is a significant heritage property and a place of spiritual meaning. Our 100+-year history was quickly erased by the fire and unpermitted and purposeful demolition of the 112-year-old historic and Japanese American heritage structures by Rainbow Environmental-Republic Services.

3. We also call on the city to help facilitate a genuine response from Republic Services corporate offices in Phoenix, Ariz., to move forward the discussion for purchase of the property by historical organizations for historic preservation (Preserve Orange County, Heritage Museum of Orange County and Historic Wintersburg).

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The letter was signed by LTHS President Michael Okamura. In addition to the mayor, the members of the City Council are Mayor Pro Tem Mike Posey and Councilmembers Kim Carr, Erick Peterson, Dan Kalmick, Natalie Moser and Rhonda Bolton.

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