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Passion for Wintersburg yields book

Many people credit Mary Urashima with drawing attention to the threatened historic site, and now she has chronicled its history.

March 13, 2014|By Anthony Clark Carpio
  • Mary F. Adams Urashima poses for a photo in front of the former Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Church, dedicated in 1934, in Huntington Beach.
Mary F. Adams Urashima poses for a photo in front of the… (KEVIN CHANG, HB…)

If someone asked Mary Urashima a decade ago about the history of the Wintersburg site in Huntington Beach, she probably wouldn't have had much to say.

The public affairs consultant and former journalist has plenty to discuss now. She has spent seven years researching the effect the 4.4-acre site on Warner Avenue and Nichols Lane had on the city and Orange County.

Much of her work is chronicled on her blog, historicwintersburg.blogspot.com, but she has also fixed her research in a more-permanent form with her first book, "Historic Wintersburg in Huntington Beach."

She has dedicated much of her time tracking how the Furuta family came to the United States, how the first Japanese Presbyterian church in Orange County came to be and what the atmosphere was like for Japanese Americans living in the area during World War II.

"This book is more of an introduction to [its] history," she said. "I continue my research and fully anticipate that there will be more coming out in the future."

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The spotlight on the Wintersburg site has grown significantly over the past two years. Japanese Americans from the community and throughout the state have attended Planning Commission hearings and City Council meetings on the issue. And preservationists nationwide have contacted Urashima.

Donna Graves, director of Preserving California's Japantowns, said only a few people in Southern California had any initial interest in Wintersburg and the Furutas' six buildings, which to outsiders are probably best known for the "Jesus Lives" sign facing Warner Avenue.

"It was difficult to get attention drawn to it until [Urashima] stepped onto the scene," Graves said. "She is a whirlwind of intelligence and energy that has brought such attention to this really important, historic resource — important not just for Japanese Americans in Southern California, but important to Orange County's history as a whole and to California's history as whole."

What makes the Wintersburg site unique, Urashima explained, is that it shows the story of Japanese immigrants chasing the American dream.

Charles Furuta and his family lived and worked in the area throughout the 1900s, endured the hardships of living in internment camps during World War II and remained in Wintersburg up until 2002.

Norman Furuta, Charles' grandson, said he was pleasantly surprised that someone had an interest in the property his family once owned.

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