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Groups talk church's demolition, salvation

Rainbow Disposal wants to tear down the historical building, along with a few others on the property. Historical society panel suggests moving it instead.

May 18, 2011|By Michael Miller, michael.miller@latimes.com
(Courtesy Chris…)

The old church building looks forlorn at Warner Avenue and Nichols Street, its windows boarded up and the sign that juts over the sidewalk mostly smashed.

From a distance, the structure doesn't give many indications of the role it once played in Orange County. Another sign, apparently hand-painted, advertises Bible study and services in English and Spanish. The building's most prominent feature is a mural featuring a silhouette of Christ with a rainbow cutting through it and the slogan, "Jesus Lives."

Near the front door, though, a small cornerstone bears the words "Japanese Presbyterian Church A.D. 1934." And that's the history that some in Orange County hope to save.

The former Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Church, which resides on a 3.7-acre property along with a historic house, mission and minister's quarters, has belonged to Rainbow Disposal since 2004. The Huntington Beach trash collection company seeks to demolish all the structures.

According to the Orange County Historical Society, the buildings, some more than a century old, represent the most important Asian American extant site in the county.

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The demolition may not happen anytime soon, as Rainbow is working its way through city bureaucracy in hopes of getting approval to rezone the property. In the meantime, the society is urging residents to help preserve as much of the site as possible — even if that means lifting the buildings from their foundations and relocating them elsewhere.

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Up for preservation

Rainbow, whose main facility is across the street from the former church, bought the property from the Furuta family, its longtime owners, as a "defensive mechanism" to keep residential development out, Chairman Ron Shenkman said.

The company is seeking to have the property rezoned from residential to commercial/industrial use. Shenkman and Chief Operating Officer Jerry Moffatt said they are not sure yet how they want to develop the parcel, but believe it is not appropriate for residential homes, due to the industrial activity nearby.

The demolition, if it happens, could be a ways in the future. Rainbow has applied for an environmental impact report, which analyzes the effects construction would have on the surrounding area, and the report may take until early next year to complete, according to Associate Planner Ricky Ramos.

In the meantime, Shenkman and Moffatt said, they will support any efforts to remove the buildings for preservation.

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