Historic Wintersburg was once part of a bustling center of community and commerce in one of Southern California’s earliest Japantowns. Yet today the community faces an uncertain future. A Technical Assistance Panel (TAP) conducted by the Urban Land Institute (ULI), however, has provided recommendations for the adaptive use of this significant site to help satisfy the needs of the property owner while benefiting the surrounding community.
Wintersburg’s Early Years
When Japanese immigrants arrived in Southern California at the turn of the century, they quickly transformed the sprawling desert landscape into a thriving agricultural hub. One of many pioneer families that settled in the region, the Furuta family cultivated a thriving goldfish farm at Wintersburg Village.
Despite laws that restricted land ownership for Japanese immigrants, the Japanese American community prospered through the early 20th century until World War II, when the Furuta family, along with the entire Wintersburg congregation, was forcibly removed and incarcerated at the Poston War Relocation Center in Arizona. Ever resilient, many Japanese American families returned to Wintersburg Village following the war, including the Furuta family, until sale of their land in 2002.
Today, the Historic Wintersburg site is all that remains of what was once Wintersburg Village. The 4.5-acre site contains six historic structures, including the original Furuta family home and barn, surrounding farmland, and the original Wintersburg Presbyterian Mission, one of the earliest social institutions serving Japanese immigrants in the area. The site is located in the Oak View neighborhood of Huntington Beach, a largely Latino immigrant community. Now owned by Rainbow Environmental Services/Republic, a waste transfer company, the site was originally proposed for demolition in 2013. In response to the threat, the National Trust named the site to its 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list in 2014, and a National Treasure in 2015.
ULI Technical Assistance Panel
While the owner has since backed off demolition plans, the fate of the fragile buildings remains uncertain. To help determine a financially viable new use for the site, National Trust worked closely with the Historic Wintersburg Preservation Task Force and the Urban Land Institute (ULI) to conduct a Technical Assistance Panel, one of ULI’s signature programs that convenes a team of experts to analyze complicated land use challenges. Funded with $30,000 in community donations to the task force, nine renowned experts representing fields such as urban design, historic preservation, economic development, and real estate convened for two intensive days of analysis. Through a series of stakeholder interviews and a site visit, the team developed recommendations for the adaptive use of Historic Wintersburg. Final recommendations included a “shared-use” approach that includes open, green park space surrounding restored historic structures, a landscaped parking area that can double as space for community events, and a “flex tech” small business park for entrepreneurs and emerging tech firms.
Following are three key takeaways from their analysis:
Community Input and Compromise
Through a series of interviews with Huntington Beach’s elected officials, the National Trust, local preservation activists, Oak View community stakeholders and the property owner, the panel recognized the critical need for communication and compromise among the stakeholders. More importantly, the TAP panelists noticed that stakeholders had limited venues simply to talk, and this lack of communication space would hinder any movement toward a solution. To address this, panelists strongly recommended a continuing dialogue among key stakeholders and the owner, Rainbow Environmental Services/Republic. Formation of a “community council,” consisting of local leaders, resource partners, and key stakeholders would facilitate this interaction and ensure that community voices are heard and respected throughout the process. The panel’s recommendation represents a starting point for discussion and the best opportunity for compromise toward an agreeable solution.
A Key Role for Community Economic Development
Second, any preservation solution simply must be economically viable. The TAP noted that any reuse of Historic Wintersburg must incorporate diverse sources of capital and creative solutions. The proposed flex-tech office park would generate rental income for the property owner with the expectation that some of the revenue would support restoration of the historic buildings. The restored historic structures, while available for historic interpretation and programming, could also function as rental space for nonprofit organizations--potentially job training or incubator space, or as space for neighborhood-serving community programs.
Through partnerships with diverse end users, other sources of financing--such as New Markets Tax Credits, economic development programs, or private grant programs--should be leveraged as a key component of the preservation effort. To identify these opportunities, the National Trust will work with community stakeholders to conduct an initial feasibility study to understand how the historic structures can best be reused, and which financing sources could be available to support those end uses.
A Community Benefit
Finally, the TAP underscored the opportunity presented at Historic Wintersburg to transform a significant portion of the one-square mile Oak View neighborhood. The site is an underutilized, inaccessible space amid a bustling suburban community, and reopening Historic Wintersburg to public access would greatly improve walkability while significantly increasing available open and green space for neighborhood uses. Landscaped walkways throughout the property would also improve pedestrian safety and allow for greater connectivity within the neighborhood. Many stakeholders noted a lack of available community space in the area, and the TAP’s proposed concept would address this shortcoming head on.
The TAP analysis is a strong first step toward realizing a preservation solution for Historic Wintersburg that adds to the unique character of Oak View while honoring oft-overlooked Japanese American immigrant history. It is, however, just the start of the discussion, and none of this is possible without cooperation and compromise among the key stakeholders. In the coming months, the National Trust will continue to work with the Historic Wintersburg Preservation Task Force, the City of Huntington Beach, Rainbow Environmental Services/Republic, and community stakeholders to build consensus and engage new partners to aid in the effort.#ULI #Wintersburg #Diversity #NationalTreasure #Economics