The original Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission church, dedicated in 1910 (photo by Phil Brigandi, 1986, courtesy the Center for Oral and Public History, California State University, Fullerton).

The original Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission church, dedicated in 1910 (photo by Phil Brigandi, 1986, courtesy the Center for Oral and Public History, California State University, Fullerton).

The Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Church

The first few Japanese immigrants settled in Orange County in the 1890s. The 1900 census shows only three Japanese residents in the county, but the growth of the celery industry in the western part of the county prompted increased immigration in the early 1900s. Soon Japanese American businesses, civic organizations, and churches appeared. One of the first was the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission, founded in December of 1904 by Rev. B.H. Terasawa with the support of the First Presbyterian Church of Westminster.

Now a part of Huntington Beach, Wintersburg was then a separate community and the center of a rich agricultural area where many Japanese immigrants found work as farmhands or ran their own farms. Rev. Terasawa purchased property there at what is now the southeast corner of Warner Avenue and Nichols Lane (this was before the Alien Land Act of 1913). On November 5, 1909, the Huntington Beach News reported:

“The Japanese of this place [Wintersburg] intend to build shortly a mission to cost $700. It will be located on the property of Rev. Terasawa which has been cleared and leveled ready for the construction of the building.” The 25-seat church was built by the congregation members themselves, with the funds coming from the Japanese, and “some good American friends.” Rev. Terasawa, who served as pastor from 1904-07, deeded the property to the mission in 1912.

The church was dedicated on May 8, 1910. At that time, according to the pastor, Rev. J.J. Nakamura: “Our mission field includes Wintersburg, Bolsa Beach, Smeltzer, Bolsa, Garden Grove, Old Newport, Talbert and Huntington Beach. There are living in this field about three hundred Japanese and in the busy [harvest] season three or four hundred more.” He reported 15 active members, five associate members, and 15 “friends” of the congregation.

The Wintersburg Japanese American Mission was incorporated on July 1, 1910, with three Anglo and four Japanese American trustees, including Charles M. Furuta. In 1912, Furuta built a home adjoining the church.

On May 18, 1930, the mission became a separate church under Rev. Kenji Kikuchi. Plans were soon made to build a new church on the corner. Charles M. Furuta donated the site and by January, 1931, $4,000 had been raised towards its construction.

The new church was completed in 1934, and was used by the congregation until 1965. Now located in Santa Ana, the Wintersburg Presbyterian Church is still active today. Charles Furuta lived in his home adjacent to the church until his death in 1953. His widow, Yukiko lived there on into the 1980s. The property, including both churches, the Furuta home, and the adjoining buildings, was later sold for development.

For more than a decade now, efforts have been underway to preserve this historical site – the most significant pre-World War II Japanese American site left in Orange County. In 2014 the National Trust for Historic Preservation named the Wintersburg property one of the eleven most endangered historic places in the United States. Yet the threat continues.

For more information, please visit the Historic Wintersburg Preservation Task Force’s blog at: http://historicwintersburg.blogspot.com/

 The Furuta family home, 1986 (photo by Phil Brigandi, courtesy the Center for Oral and Public History, California State University, Fullerton).

The Furuta family home, 1986 (photo by Phil Brigandi, courtesy the Center for Oral and Public History, California State University, Fullerton).