Historic Wintersburg

by Kimberly Dennin

We have once again entered a time where violence, hate, and racism against Asian-Americans is at the forefront of the nations’ consciousness. Now that we are in Asian and Pacific Islander heritage month, it seems prudent that we continue to keep the history of Asian/Pacific Americans, and all that entails, at said forefront.

Brief History of the Japanese Experience in California

Significant immigration of Japanese to California started in the mid-1880s for a variety of reasons. During this time Japan had loosened their emigration constraints, allowing more Japanese citizens to leave the country. In addition, there was a major boost in immigration after Hawaii was annexed in 1898 which allowed Japanese settled in Hawaii to travel to California without passports. California was also experiencing a rapid expansion of its farming and agriculture industry and needed more labor to support it. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 created a shortage of cheap Chinese labor, and the Chinese that were in California were moving to urban areas where they could establish Chinatowns that offered some protection from racial violence. This labor need was met by Japanese immigrants, and it is estimated that 27,440 Japanese came to the West Coast from Hawaii and Japan between 1891 and 1900. Agriculture became the leading enterprise of the Japanese and many settled near each other, eventually establishing communities all over rural California.

Japanese Immigrant Farmers via National Museum of American History

Despite this reliance on their labor the Japanese experienced similar prejudice and racism as the Chinese, and increasing xenophobia led to discriminatory laws targeting Japanese farmers. Asian immigrants would be barred from becoming naturalized citizens until 1943, and the Alien Labor Law of 1913 prohibited “aliens ineligible for citizenship from owning agricultural land or possessing long-term leases over it”. In 1920 the law was made stricter with amendments that prohibited short-term leases of lands to non-US citizens. Then, like the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Asian Exclusion Act of 1924 (also known as the 1924 Immigration Act) was passed in response to the increase in Japanese immigration. This act limited the number of immigrants from any country to 2% of the number of people from that country who were living in the United States at the time of the 1890 census.

1942 Dr. Seuss Cartoon via National Museum of American History

In the United States, anti-Japanese sentiment and political propaganda became widespread beginning in 1937 when Japanese forces invaded eastern China as the first step in creating a “new order”. Japan had previously annexed Korea in 1910 and had taken control of Manchuria in 1931. In 1941 Japan occupied French Indochina (Vietnam) and this advance was viewed as a threat to European and U.S. ambitions. In response, Americans labeled the Japanese the “yellow peril” which resulted in an increase in anti-Japanese sentiments, and in some places, watch lists of Japanese families were created.

Exclusion Order via National Museum of American History

The breaking point was on December 7, 1941 when Pearl Harbor was bombed by Japanese forces. Fear caused by this event was exacerbated by long-standing anti-Asian prejudice and led to the signing of Executive Order 9066. This authorized the removal and incarceration of “any and all persons” of Japanese Ancestry from the areas of the country deemed vulnerable to attack or sabotage, and it was believed that Japanese living on the West Coast posed a threat to homeland security. The military established a War Relocation Authority, which prompted arrests by local law enforcement and the FBI along the West Coast, removing Japanese Americans and resident Japanese. They were then ordered to register and report to detention centers and had to quickly sell (at extremely low prices), give away, or leave behind homes, businesses, cars, and pets. From the detention centers, people were sent to 1 of 10 inland incarceration camps. It is estimated that about 75,000 American citizens of Japanese ancestry and 45,000 Japanese nationals living in the U.S. but denied citizenship were incarcerated. The camps started to be emptied in 1945 with the Supreme Court decision in Ex parte Mitsuye Endo. While the decision stated that the War Relocation Authority “has no authority to subject citizens who are concededly loyal to its leave procedure” it resulted in the closure of all of the camps, and thus the release of Japanese American citizens and Japanese nationals. Many had no homes or communities to go back to and housing shortages, scarce jobs, and continued discrimination made resettlement difficult.

The US government made no immediate effort to support affected individuals as they transitioned back into society. With growing calls for an independent investigation, the bipartisan Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians was authorized by President Carter in 1980, with a final report produced in 1983, “Personal Justice Denied.” Following this, President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which was the official federal government apology and action toward redress. It took until 1990 for the first redress checks for $20,000 and formal letters of apology to be sent to former camp inmates from President George H.W. bush. The government paid more than $1.6 billion in redress payments to 82,219 former camp inmates. It is estimated that the total property loss was $1.3 billion and net income loss was $2.7 billion (calculated in 1983).

The Orange County Experience: Historic Wintersburg

Wintersburg Village became the heart of activity for the Japanese immigrant community in Orange County. Historic Wintersburg documents three generations of the Japanese American experience from immigration in the late 19th century to the return from incarceration after WWII. Japanese immigrants began arriving in Orange County in 1900. Four years later, in 1904, religious leaders held a community meeting and founded the Wintersburg Japanese Mission, located in present day Huntington Beach. The land was purchased in 1908 by Reverend Barnabus Hisayoshi Terasawa with assistance from Charles Furuta, and the construction of the Wintersburg Japanese Mission and manse was completed in 1910.

© Congregation at the Wintersburg Japanese Mission courtesy of Historic Wintersburg

Terasawa returned to San Francisco and Charles Furuta was deeded the property in 1912, just months before the California Alien Land Law of 1913 prohibited immigrants “ineligible for citizenship” from owning property. Furuta continued to dedicate a portion of his farm to the Mission and in 1917 he started Wintersburg’s first commercial goldfish pond. These goldfish were taken to buyers in Orange County, Long Beach, and eventually around the country. In 1930 the Presbyterian Church U.S.A formally recognized the Wintersburg Japanese Mission as a church and formal fundraising for a larger church began. This larger church was completed in 1934 and used until 1965. The community experienced a fair amount of success until 1942 when Executive Order 9066 was signed into law. The entire community associated with Historic Wintersburg was forcibly removed from Orange County and detained or incarcerated through the end of the war in 1945. Furuta specifically was on the FBI’s list for interrogation and arrest because he was a landowner and community leader. The Furuta farm and Wintersburg Japanese Mission were one of the rare Japanese-owned properties to survive so people were able to return after the war ended in 1945, and Furuta began farming flowers. The church officially reopened and grew until it was moved to Santa Ana in 1965.

© Charles and Yukiko Furuta bungalow courtesy of Historic Wintersburg

Today, Historic Wintersburg is one of the rare pre-alien land law Japanese immigrant-owned properties, and the mission is one of the oldest Japanese missions in Southern California. Historic Wintersburg still contains 6 historic buildings; the 1912 and 1947 homes of the Furuta family, the 1910 mission, the mission’s 1910 manse, the 1934 Wintersburg Japanese Church buildings, and the c.1908-1912 last pioneer barn in Huntington Beach. Efforts to restore the property are underway and more information can be found here: For more information on Historic Wintersburg check out our first podcast episode of season 2 of History with a Twist: OC History Slice by Slice! Check out the book by historian Mary Adams Urashima, Historic Wintersburg in Huntington Beach (History Press / Arcadia, 2014) and the history being shared on the Historic Wintersburg blog at


Japanese Immigration, FoundSF,Japanese%20government%20first%20allowed%20emigration.&text=Similar%20to%20the%201880s%20%2D%20and,jobs%20and%20a%20failing%20economy

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Asian Exclusion Act of 1924, Smithsonian American Art Museum,time%20of%20the%201890%20census

Righting a Wrong: Japanese American and World War II, National Museum of American History Behring Center

Executive Order 9066: The President Authorizes Japanese Relocation, History Matters,Executive%20Order%209066%3A%20The%20President%20Authorizes%20Japanese%20Relocation,and%20resident%20aliens%20from%20Japan

Executive Order 9066: Resulting in the Relocation of Japanese (1942), Ourdocuments

Orange County, California Japantowns

Urashima M. (2012) About Wintersburg, Historic Wintersburg Huntington Beach, California

Historic Wintersburg, National Trust for Historic Preservation

The Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Church, OC Historyland