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In The Pipeline: 'Jesus Lives,' and so may church

November 02, 2011|By Chris Epting

"Jesus Lives" reads the rainbow-themed mural painted on the side of the old church building at Warner Avenue and Nichols Lane. Inside, another painting: On a large wall of the church, "I Love Taylor Walsh" has been spray-painted in day-glo pink by some recent uninvited visitors.

Such is the confused state of the historic former Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Church, which dates back to 1934.

I had the special privilege recently of taking an insider's tour of the compound along with a host of other local historian-types and interested parties, courtesy of Rainbow Environmental Services. They own the property and led the tour as a means of creating some dialogue that may help determine the fate of the church and the rest of the farm property (which includes the family house and several other historic structures).

The group included Dann Gibb from the Fountain Valley Historical Society, Art Hansen from Cal State Fullerton and Mary Adams Urashima, a government and public affairs consultant, among others.

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Just how important is this site in terms of local history? Local historian Chris Jepsen put it well when he wrote recently, "This is the most important extant Asian American historical site in Orange County, and still features the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Church — including the 1910 mission and manse, and the 1934 church — as well as the pioneer Furuta family's charming California bungalow."

If you ever look at a (really) old map of the area, you'll see the area was called Wintersburg. It was founded in the 1880s by a farmer named Henry Winters, and living here were some true pioneers of the county. There were the Gothards, Nicholses and Grahams — and a substantial Japanese community including the Furuta family, who donated an acre of their property to build the original Wintersburg mission in 1910 (the church moved to Santa Ana in 1965 and now goes by the name Wintersburg Presbyterian Church).

Since the early 1990s, the property has sat empty, removed from view the last several years by a tarp-wrapped fence. As we'd see soon, though, vandals and squatters have had their way with the place and certainly altered what may or may not be salvageable.

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