Marcus Garvey wrote: “A people who do not know their past history, origin and culture are like a tree without roots. His words have haunted me since I received distressing news a few weeks ago.
My November 4, 2014 column, “Celebrating Soulmates,” was one of hope for community success, relationships, and positive engagement. I wrote:
“There’s a woman I haven’t met but hope to share a celebratory meal with in the near future, even if it’s just in my head.” I had read the National Trust for Historic Preservation magazine, “Preservation”, and discovered a kindred spirit. Someone who loves historic places and recognizes historic sites that have shaped American identity. Someone who works to save and protect them.
In the mid-1980s in Huntington Beach, Mary Adams Urashima was drawn to a small roadside building. Its cornerstone read: “Japanese Presbyterian Church 1934”. Two decades later, the church was sold. When she learned that the church and remaining buildings were in danger of being demolished by the owner, Urashima began researching the history of the site.
She learned about the history of Japanese immigrants who settled in what was once the farming community of Wintersburg Village. In 1957, Wintersburg Village was annexed to Huntington Beach. The five-acre property includes the 1912 home of Charles and Yukiko Furuta, the Wintersburg Presbyterian Mission (c.1909-1910) and its buildings, including a bar (c. 1910), and the Japanese Presbyterian Church in Wintersburg (c. 1934).
The structures represent the life story of early Japanese immigrants to the West – from pioneer settlement and the California Foreign Lands Act of 1913, which denied Asian Americans the right to purchase land , up to World War II and beyond. The United States National Park Service and the National Trust for Historic Preservation noted that all structures are potentially eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
Hanford Taoist Temple received this designation in 1972. China Alley was listed as one of the National Trust for Historic Preservations’ 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 2011. The village of Winterburg was on this list in 2014 and was designated a National Treasure in 2015. Preserving Orange County named Historic Wintersburg one of Orange County’s Most Endangered Places in 2017.
I wrote another column on Wintersburg in 2018 after being informed that Republic Services, Inc. (the waste management company that owns the historic Wintersburg property) had entered into an agreement to sell this property to Public Storage for development of a self-service storage site. . I cried reading this news. But the Wintersburg Historic Preservation Task Force persevered, and the buildings remained.
On the morning of February 25, 2022, I was told that a building in Wintersburg was on fire. The head of the Urashima task force later released a statement: “The 112-year-old parsonage of the Japanese Wintersburg Mission has been lost. Within hours, the Republic Services brought in a bulldozer to demolish and remove the evidence needed to investigate the arson and archaeological artifacts. The Wintersburg Preservation Task Force is asking for an explanation for this event.
The 1910 Japanese Mission Wintersburg also caught fire and had to be demolished to prevent the fire from spreading.
A week after receiving the first bad news from Wintersburg, I woke up to the news that the Bow On Tong Joss House building in Fresno’s Chinatown had been destroyed by fire. Over a century old, the building was one of the oldest in Fresno.
The news of these fires is heartbreaking. It almost sent me back to the abyss of grief I walked through when our Taoist Temple Historical Museum burned down. Reading about Wintersburg and the Bow On Tong Joss house, my mind flashed back to the night I saw the temple burning, smoke and fire pouring through the windows and doors, the smell of ashes in my nose for days. Fortunately, our building survived, but not many artifacts. I took a look at the calendar and noticed that the date this column will be published is the same date the alleged arsonist has his scheduled preliminary hearing.
My mind goes back to Garvey’s quote, and I think of historic buildings and neighborhoods that still exist, how their stories and stories are people’s roots. Maybe if we try to know their roots, preserve them, and plan for their future, we could live in a kinder, gentler world.
Now that I’m in a sweeter, sweeter mood, allow me to share a recipe I thought of while reflecting on my own roots. According to Ancestry.com, seventy-six percent of “me” is from southern China, and of the remaining twenty-four, five percent are Irish. After St. Patrick’s Day, some of you may have extra corned beef in your fridge. I hope you enjoy this fun and tasty recipe that pays homage to some of my roots!
Arianne Wing is co-author of “Noodles Through Snails” and co-owner of the LT Sue Co. teahouse and emporium, benefiting the restoration and preservation of China Alley. She can be contacted at [email protected]