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Site of historic Huntington Beach church may face demolition

January 22, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
Despite its rundown appearance, the property behind a church in Huntington Beach holds a lot of good memories for Dennis Masuda.

"Sunday school all the way through high school here, that's where I met my friends. I met my first girlfriend here," Masuda said.

Known as the Wintersburg site, the five acres include the oldest Japanese Presbyterian Church in Southern California. But the buildings may face demolition, and with it, some argue, a loss of history.

"It was kind of a social meeting spot for all the Japanese in Orange County," Masuda said.

Charles Furuta bought the land in the early 1900s. The Japanese immigrant built his home and farm there and donated property for a mission and manse, where the clergy would live. His family started goldfish ponds until World War II when the Japanese were sent to internment camps.

"When the family returned from internment, they made a decision not to return to goldfish farming but use the ponds for water lilies, and they also grew sweet peas," said Mary Urashima, chair of the Historic Wintersburg Preservation Task Force.

The ponds are now replaced by dirt and cactus, and the buildings are boarded up. Urashima says it could cost about $500,000 to move and restore the buildings.

"Our preference would be, of course, to see these buildings preserved on site," she said.

Rainbow Environmental Services, which bought the property in 2004 from the Furuta family, want the buildings moved and the zoning changed from residential to commercial. The city planning commission is expected to consider an environmental report next month.

"At this point, we have no concrete plans, but we want to cooperate with the task force," said Sue Gordon from Rainbow Environmental Services.

If the environmental review report is approved, Rainbow is giving the task force one year from that date to come up with a plan for the site.

"I would like to see this preserved and restored," Masuda said. "My childhood memories were here."


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