Editor’s Note: The following article was originally published in the Pasadena Star-News.
Altadena, Calif. — Four Japanese American sisters are weeks away from losing a home that’s been in their family for nearly a century.
The Yuge family has lived in the gardener’s cottage on the former Scripps estate in Altadena since the 1920s, when the late patriarch Takeo Yuge became a caretaker for the property. The historic bungalow sits on the southwest corner of a 5-acre property that now belongs to the Pasadena Waldorf School.
“For us it’s heartbreaking because we’ve lived here our whole lives so we have an emotional attachment to this piece of property,” daughter Cindy Yuge said of the school’s request that they vacate by June 1.
The cottage, built by Takeo’s uncle, was intended for the family to stay in as long as they liked, but when Waldorf School purchased the Scripps estate in 1986, a new agreement was drafted: Six months after the last parent dies, the property must be returned to the school.
“It was the best they could do for us and so we took it,” Cindy said of the agreement. “The culture of Japanese people is not to make waves. Don’t disturb things; don’t make a fuss. So at that point, we just let it be.”
Takeo died a few years later but their mother, Fumiko, lived to be 100 years old. She passed away in November, which is when Cindy received notice that they needed to leave.
Cindy still lives in the home but her three sisters, Nadine Ishizu and Joyce and Carolyn Yuge, own homes throughout Southern California.
Waldorf Administrator Douglas Garrett said they are meeting with the family to try to find a way to preserve the connection they had to their family home.
“We are working with the Yuge sisters to find a way to appropriately honor the family and their heritage on the property,” he said.
Millicent Crisp, a San Marino resident and longtime family friend, started an online petition two weeks ago in hopes of encouraging the school to preserve the cottage and gardens.
“I understand Waldorf’s take, I do,” Crisp said, “but at the same time if they could see the beauty of being able to offer something, not only to the community, but as a tribute to a handshake agreement of a family that’s been here 100 years I mean, what do you have to lose in that?”
The petition had garnered 432 signatures as of May 8, including one by William Scripps Kellogg’s grandson, William Kellogg.
“The historic nature of the Torrey Pine (and the property itself) makes it something that should be preserved for the future. Our family made a gift of this property in the mid 1980s to the community and we feel strongly that it should be preserved,” he wrote in support.
The relationship between the Yuges and the Scripps Kellogg families is unique.
Although the Yuge family was sent away to an American concentration camp during WWII, all of their belongings were kept safe in the main house.
When the Yuge family returned to California, William Scripps Kellogg sought them out and asked Takeo to return to the home. He later made a handshake agreement with Takeo that his family could stay as long as they liked.
“Even after the war when feelings were so on edge about Japanese people being the enemy, and there was this whole culture of hate, for them to actually seek out my dad and say, ‘You need to come back. Our orange groves need you. Please come back and live with us.’ That, I think, is very telling of the history of this place.”
Lane Hirabayashi, an Asian American Studies professor at UCLA, stressed the importance of preserving the home. He referenced a 1940 map of Old Pasadena that showed a booming cluster of Japanese American businesses, the majority of which are now gone. One listed is Sameshima Laundry, a business that belonged to Fumiko’s family.
“There were a lot of injustices that happened with the mass removal and incarceration during World War II, but I think it is worth remembering that there were some people who knew that was wrong,” Hirabayashi said. “And, for a wealthy and prestigious family to have reached back out to re-invite these people … I think it deserves recognition and remembrance.”
The fight to save the historic bungalow comes at a time when Los Angeles County is on the verge of approving a historic preservation ordinance, which would provide legal protections to historic sites and buildings in unincorporated parts of the county for the first time.
In January, the Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to move the ordinance forward.
Scripps Hall is listed on the California Register of Historic Resources and the National Register of Historic Places.
The registration document, filed in 1999 by the Altadena Heritage group, lists the gardener’s cottage as one of three components that contribute to the site’s eligibility on the national register.
State Historian Jay Correia said the cottage helps people to more fully understand the historic property and its use.
“If the cottage was a Japanese American gardener’s home, it holds a very important historical aspect to California,” Correia said. “Those are such critical historical contexts that it would be a shame to lose that resource.”
Although school officials are not sure what will be done with the 1-acre parcel containing the home and remnants of the nursery and gardens Takeo Yuge tended, a conceptual master site plan, drafted in December, includes a long driveway and a parking lot where the historic cottage and a 86-year old Torrey pine stand today.
The plan was presented to the Yuge sisters in March at a private meeting with Garrett and Waldorf trustee William Birney, who is also the chair of the school’s Legal Affairs Committee.
Garrett said that the long-term development plan is still in preliminary stages and may not come to fruition for 20 or 30 years, and will likely include addition of classrooms.
“We have to come into possession of the property and then after that, probably this summer, we will do a comprehensive analysis of the physical condition of this property and then be able to figure these things out.”
He said they are committed to protecting the family’s privacy during this time.
Garrett said the school intends to hold community meetings about future development of the site.
Maria Masis, who oversees the department that issues zoning permits in east Los Angeles County, said if the school plans to expand the facility, it would need to present a new master site plan and apply for a new permit.
The school is operating under its original site plan and Conditional Use Permit from 1986.
Even if the family cannot remain in the home, they have asked the school to preserve it as a community garden, for all to enjoy.
Hirabayashi said it seems ironic that an educational institution would even consider destroying such a unique piece of Altadena and Pasadena history that could be a resource to the kids.
“Why not have a living piece of history that also represents some of the neglected ethnic diversity of the LA basin?” he said. “That could be a win-win for the Yuge family, the Scripps Kellogg family and the school itself.”