Members of the Support Historic Wintersburg coalition hold up a banner during the press conference and rally. (Photos by J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)

HUNTINGTON BEACH — In response to a fire that damaged the Historic Wintersburg site in February, an ad hoc coalition called Support Historic Wintersburg held a rally at the site in Huntington Beach on March 19.

Emcee David Monkawa introduced the groups supporting the rally, including Historic Wintersburg Preservation Task Force, Preserve Orange County, Heritage Museum of Orange County, Progressive Asian Network for Action (PANA), Neighborhood Safety Companions, AAPI vs. Hate South Bay, Greater L.A. Japanese American Citizens League, Sansei Legacy, Save Our Seniors Network, and API-RISE (Re-entry through Inclusion, Support, Empowerment). William Summerville, a candidate in the 42nd Congressional District, also attended.

According to the task force, the owner of the property, Republic Services, immediately bulldozed a building that was damaged by fire, destroying evidence before an investigation could be conducted, and needlessly destroyed a second building that was not damaged by the fire. Around the turn of the century, Historic Wintersburg was the hub of the Japanese American community in Orange County.

Nancy Hayata read a statement on behalf of task force leader Mary Urashima, who was unable to attend. The message read, in part:

“As a leader for the preservation of Historic Wintersburg for the past decade. I want to let you know how moved and grateful I am for your presence and support. I wish I could be there in person with you. All of you have some idea how challenging and at times heartbreaking this work has been. I know that so many of you have worked so hard to honor, save and celebrate Asian American cultural heritage. I understand that so many of you have faced opposition or hate and kept going … Your strength, your voices to never give up is what inspires me every day.

“Historic Wintersberg speaks to so many of us. We are mourning. We have suffered a devastating and irreplaceable loss with the fire on Feb. 25, a loss by fire that awakens the memory and trauma of painful points in history where fire has been a tool to remove people, to cause fear, to erase their presence.

Tommy Dyo

“We call on Republic Services to allow historians, preservationists, archeologists, and representatives from the Japanese American community to enter Historic Wintersburg to document and collect the ash and remains of the 1910 Wintersburg Japanese Mission and the 1910 Manse. These remains hold history …

“One day we hope to reconstruct the land, where the Wintersburg Japanese Mission and Manse should be honored with a ceremony. It is a place of worship founded by Buddhists and Christians, a spiritual place, concentrated ground. The ongoing neglect of this historic and sacred place must not be compounded …

“We call on Republic Services to do the right thing … This history reaches back centuries to the Tongva and it continues today with the Oakview neighborhood. Future generations can learn from the multitude of stories held in Historic Wintersburg. The preservation effort is truly for the sake of the children. We hope today is the first step in a better direction for the future preservation of Historic Wintersburg as a heritage park.”

Hayata also read a message of support from Ann Burroughs, president and CEO of the Japanese American National Museum.

“Amidst the recent rise of anti-Asian prejudice and hate sweeping the nation, Historic Wintersburg and its preservationist community have been targeted by ongoing harassment and threats,” Burroughs wrote. “City officials and Republic Services were made aware of anti-Asian targeting of Historic Wintersburg and were also notified in writing for years of concerns about security and maintenance at the property to prevent vandalism and fire risk. It is deeply troubling that the Historic Wintersburg site is currently open to additional vandalism and fire risk, which follows a history of inadequate property security and lack of maintenance.”

JANM called for an investigation and immediate action to protect the remaining structures.

Pastor Tommy Dyo, national director of Epic Movement/Campus Crusade for Christ in Long Beach, said, “Why is this place even worth it? This place is a dilapidated property, but this place is a place of remembrance of our spiritual and ethnic heritage. And so it’s vital for our community to preserve this as a monument … to God’s faithfulness and the faithfulness of resilience in the Japanese American community.”

David Young, interim senior pastor of Wintersburg Presbyterian Church in Santa Ana, was also present.

Support from School District

Ocean View School District President Gina Clayton-Tarvin (right) and Vice President Patricia Singer.

The Ocean View School District was represented by President Gina Clayton-Tarvin and Vice President Patricia Singer.

Clayton-Tarvin said that having served as president five times in 10 years, she has had “the opportunity to see how the dispute between the Republic trash dump, the Ocean View School District, and the community has happened. So I want to go back to explain really what’s happened here at this site so that you can truly understand why we’re here today.

“Going back to 1874, the Ocean View School District was the one and only government agency in this area. Ocean View predates the City of Huntington Beach by decades and Ocean View School District educated all of the children of the Wintersburg village … and of all of the different areas that made up unincorporated Orange County at the time. You’re standing at a place that is special to the Huntington Beach community, to the Orange County community, to our entire nation and internationally …

“Why is it important that we save this site? It’s important because we save history. It’s important so that we don’t erase an entire group of people that once lived here, farmed here, sent their children to school here, just down the street at Beach and Warner, where the second Ocean View school was …

“Ocean View School District has always been an inclusive place. Ocean View School District did not segregate students. Unlike other neighboring school districts, we have a proud and long history of loving all and educating everyone.

“Back in 2012, the Ocean View School District took up litigation against the Republic trash dump … Rainbow [Environmental] Services was operating an 18-acre, stench-filled dump … You can even smell it in the air today. That’s the remnants of the abuse and the years of neglect by Republic Services … They operated open-air as if in a Third World country … Dust choking students as they played on the playground for over 30 years, unmitigated. And we said, ‘You will do this no more. You … will not pollute and poison innocent children. And we will take you to task.’ And we did. We set out to sue not only Republic, but the City of Huntington beach and the County of Orange for their neglect of the children of Oakview …

“We did that in a CEQA mandamus action, meaning the California Environmental Quality Act, because Republic tried to rezone this exact property, the Historic Wintersburg site, and turn it into … more trash facility. They wanted to mow down all of the six buildings … They even got permits to do so. And we stopped them in a court of law …

“We have a legal settlement that controls what goes on on this property. It’s an agreement between land owners and it was part of the settlement that we negotiated in 2016. They cannot rezone this place for homes, cannot rezone this place for commercial. They cannot rezone this place for anything … We control the destiny along with you, the people of Huntington Beach and Orange County and beyond. We’re not going to allow this to be made into anything but a historical park, green space and a historical center and museum, with your help. We will get this done.”

Clayton-Tarvin added that the fire occurred not long after she called, texted and emailed the vice president of Republic and the local general manager about potentially having a buyer for the land — and got no response.

On the morning of the fire, she was in Eastern Europe to attend her father-in-law’s funeral. “I asked our vice president to come down to the site to make sure that she was witness to this so that no one could say later that the Ocean View School District was not giving accurate information. In fact, we have an eyewitness to this fire and she’s right here.”

First of two parts.

By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer

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