(Web site editor’s note: this article
on church history was written in the late 1980s for the church’s 75th
TAJlMA (Editor of the Clarion.)
In 1913, when Pasadena’s
center of town was Fair Oaks
Avenue and Colorado Street, orange orchards and
farms stretched beyond Lake Avenue,
there were about 100 to 150 Japanese here, mostly young men who were students
or domestic workers. There were only about 10 Japanese women here in those
At the time,
the First Congregational Church maintained a mission, started in 1905 or 1906,
which reached out to these young Japanese. The FriendsChurch
also had a mission with a similar purpose, to offer these newcomers a night
school, dormitory facilities and introduction to the teachings of Christ.
In 1913 the two missions combined and, joined by other churches, formed the
Federated Missions for the expressed purpose of providing a church to serve the
Japanese in the community.
in the Federated Missions made spiritual, educational and financial
contributions. They were the Central Christian, First Baptist, First
Congregational, First Friends, and Lake Avenue Congregational and Pasadena
Presbyterian churches. Their participation included providing leaders who
worked in the mission and served with the Japanese leaders who came to the
community for short periods of time.
immigrants were single men, not yet settled in homes and jobs, and many of them
floated from town to town. The charter members of the new church, the “Pasadena
Japanese Union Church,” numbered 23 and most of them were only 18 to 30 years
old. Some attended PasadenaHigh School, then located
at Los Robles Avenue and Walnut
Street, diagonally across street from where the
First Congregational Church is today.
In 1973, as
part of our church’s 60th anniversary, a plaque was placed in our sanctuary
foyer, listing the charter members of our church. They were Hajime Arima,
Takesuke Chigami, K. Hashimura, Nihachi Hayashida, Heizaburo Iijima, Kenzo
Iijima, Ryoji Kato, Makoto Kobukata, Hitoshi Makino, Nisuke Mitsumori,
Yasohachi Miyawaki, and Jiro Morita, Naonori Morita, Ryoichi Nishio, Nami
Ohtomo, Yusaku Sato, Shigetaru Shiraishi, Kozo Tabuchi, Ichiro Takemura,
Kuniyoshi Uchida, Kuzo Uyeda, Rokuro Watanabe and Kensaku Yatsu.
Three of these
men attended that celebration 15 years ago. They were Nisuke Mitsumori,
Kuniyoshi Uchida and Kensaku Yatsu. Today Mr. Yatsu is the only charter member
still living. He is 104 and quite alert living in a retirement home in Seattle.
THE STORY OF THE GROWTH OF this church is the story of many people who served
patiently and faithfully on the Federated Missions Board. Parallel to their
efforts were the vision and work of our pioneer Issei laymen and ministers who
built a church that would serve them and their families and their neighbors,
would be a legacy to their children and would serve their God.
home of the new church in 1913 was a two-story frame house at 139 Mary Street.
That street has disappeared in the past 15 years. It was situated where the
north wall of the huge Ralph M. Parsons Company now lies, near the corner of Fair Oaks Avenue
and Walnut Street.
first home the young Japanese men of that day found a dormitory for temporary
housing, an employment bureau and a place to learn English. Here, most
important of all, they came in contact with the living Christian spirit in the
people who opened and operated the mission.
growth of the mission, there came a need for more dormitory space and an
extension of the work to the women and children in the families the men
started. Classes in cooking, sewing and English were organized for the women.
The Federated Mission in 1916 leased the Revere Hotel, then located on the
southwest corner of Fair Oaks
Avenue and Walnut Street. Membership in the church
fluctuated throughout these early years but reached a high of 81 in 1917. The
newly organized Sunday school had nine children.
extended ministerial and lay service to Sierra Madre, South
Pasadena and LamandaPark. LamandaPark
was the area we call East Pasadena today, east
of Sierra Madre Boulevard.
The combined Japanese population in those areas and Pasadena was above 100.
In 1920, the
church had to vacate the Revere Hotel and purchased, with considerable help
from Federated Missions, a house at 293
Kensington Place. For 45 years, this site was our
WAS A FINANCIALLY TRYING TIME. Total membership in 1921 was only 33 and there was a
swinging door of ministers. Five different men served between 1920 and 1928.
Yet there must have been keen vision and wonderful faith, for the church
undertook a building project, the construction of a two-story edifice with a
basement for a social hall and a sanctuary with adjacent Sunday school area
that could be opened to the sanctuary when additional seating was needed. In
1924, the building was completed at a cost of $17,000. The Federated Missions
Board pledged $12,000 and church members accounted for $5,000.
was moved to the back of the lot and the sanctuary building was constructed on
the Kensington Place
frontage. The house was the manse for whoever was serving as the minister. But
it also served a number of other purposes, its parlor being a meeting place for
church groups and its rooms also serving as Sunday school classrooms. Later
this house was identified by a historical society as an example of the type of
house built by Indiana settlers in the Pasadena area.
War II this venerable house was a hostel for people coming back to Pasadena
from relocation camps and Eastern states, then a Sunday School building and the
manse for the Rev. Jingoro Kokubun, who served as a leader for our Nichigo, or
Japanese speaking congregation. It was fondly called the “Kokubun House”.
saw a growth of facilities to serve the growth in membership as more and more
Issei settled with their families here. The church became more than ever a
family institution with increasing attention given to serving wives and
In 1922, the
Christmas program was attended by 165 people. A new Ford was purchased in 1923
because the Sunday school needed transportation. It was the custom up to World
War II to provide transportation for Sunday school children, and some parents’
autos and the church car provided a “bus” service.
WAS OFFERED AT OUR CHURCH IN 1924. The most significant move that year, however, was the
founding of the Women’s Christian Association, better known as the Fujin-kai,
with 25 charter members. This organization and a parallel group, the postwar
Women’s Association for Nisei members, would be the most productive
organization in terms of service and in relating women to the church.
the church suffered a fire that caused damages estimated at $2,036 to the dormitory
building (behind the sanctuary).
efforts of the Federated Missions Board, the city schools’ Board of Education
set up an English course for Japanese women. There were 242 Issei women here at
the time, and Mrs. Bessie Waterhouse, an old friend of the church, taught the
course. She also taught cooking and sewing. During these years the Fujin-kai
also began holding annual bazaars.
In 1928, our
church’s membership reached 75 and Sunday school enrollment was 124. Of that
number, one-half came from non-Christian families, so the church was fulfilling
one of its goals, carrying the Christian message to non-Christian families.
(while two missions were serving the Japanese) until 1928, a total of 11
ministers served our congregation. No one of them served more than three years.
(The ministers who served our church are listed elsewhere in this document). In
1928, the Rev. Kengo Tajima was called from Salt Lake City to be the pastor, and he
served 14 years until the evacuation of our congregation in World War II.
In 1929, the
church recognized a new medium of education and purchased a 35-millimeter movie
THE DEPRESSION OF THE 1930’s, our church expanded its property. The lot next to 293 Kensington Place
was purchased and a house moved to it to serve as a manse and as additional
Sunday school space. That house was moved to 305 Kensington Place from South Marengo
Avenue, just behind the present Security Pacific National Bank building on the
corner of Marengo and Colorado Boulevard.
transaction incurred a debt of $7,000 to the church, but this mortgage was paid
off within ten years. Again, much credit went to the Federated Missions Board,
to a hard working congregation and a community that gave its support.
Some of us
may recall the efforts of young people who staged melodramas two summers in a
row to raise funds and help payoff the mortgage. They were produced and
directed by Delos West, a good friend with seemingly limitless knowledge and
skill in music and drama and, more importantly, unflagging patience working
with Nisei who had rarely exhibited thespian talent. The basement social hall
of the Kensington church was transformed into the “KensingtonMusic Hall,”
and “The Drunkard” and “Tatters of Squatters Gulch’ offered strong lessons in
morality, heavily layered with corn.
benefit productions were in the latter 1930’s. Back in the year 1930 the
church, urged by Issei parents concerned about their sons, chartered Boy Scout
Troop 41, which still thrives today. Ten charter members made up the troop.
school numbered 200 children, the peak of its pre-World War II enrollment, in
1931. This number included the Cradle Roll, originated and conscientiously
carried on by Emma B. Fuessle. A widow of a missionary, she was one of the
first organizers of the Congregational Church mission back in 1905 or 1906. In
1931, the church membership, made up of Issei, was 86.
YP, OR YOUNG PEOPLE’S SOCIETY, was started in 1929 and by 1936, was drawing as many as 100
to meetings. By then, there were three groups, all meeting on Sunday evenings.
For some time, the pastor published a weekly mimeographed bulletin in Japanese.
He laboriously cut stencils by hand. It was called the “Shuho” and continues today as the Japanese
language page of our weekly newsletter, the "Clarion".
In 1935, the
first English language newsletter in our church made its appearance under the
guidance of Sophie Tajima, daughter of the Rev. Tajima. She later married the
Rev. Donald Toriumi, our church’s pastor for 31 years after World War II. The
mimeographed bulletin was called the "YP Lancer" and appeared
biweekly. Among staff members were present-day Pasadena
residents Miki (Arnai) Kumamoto,
Fumi (Matsumoto) Konagamitsu and Frank Tanaka. The mimeographer is a paragon of
loyal service, Makoto Uchida, who printed the first editions of the
"Lancer" 53 years ago and still prints the "Clarion" today
six months of every year.
In 1936, the
church’s first choir was organized. Named the Dorcan Choral Society, it
practiced and sang under four different directors and, on a couple of memorable
occasions, participated in mass choirs numbering more than 125 voices from
Japanese churches throughout Southern California.
SIGNIFICANT DEVELOPMENTS BECAME apparent during the 1930’s. Nisei were growing up in church
responsibility, and more and more of us were taking over Sunday school teaching
and supervision. The Japanese congregation as a group was also assuming greater
financial responsibility in the church and lessening dependence on the
Federated Missions Board. It was during this period in Issei and Nisei church
members that this progress was devastated. The outbreak of World War II in 1941
and the forced evacuation of all Japanese and their dependents from the West
Coast in early 1942 closed our church. With fortunate foresight, our church and
the Federated Missions Board had made plans for the protection of church
property and for re-building American-Japanese relations in the community.
When our congregation went into exile in 1942, the Federated Missions Board
assumed responsibility for the property. The church building was used for
storing goods for the Japanese in our community. Much work and time was given
by board members during the war years.
direction of Katherine Fanning and Sarah Fields, two former missionaries to the
Orient, the two houses on the property were used for American Friends hostels.
The organization, Friends of the American Way, was formed by Christians in the
area to work for restoration of the civil rights of Japanese Americans, and one
of the steps was to put up a bulleting board with a service flag and the names
of 117 Pasadena area Nisei who were serving the in the American forces during
the Friends of American Way are remembered for keeping in touch with evacuated
families and servicemen and generally conveying the feeling that there were
people in the Pasadena
who cared about what was happening to the Japanese residents now dispersed. The
organization also collected toys and clothing for children and sent them as
Christmas gifts to Gila RiverRelocationCenter,
where many of the Pasadenans were sent. Willie C. Carr, a realtor in Pasadena, kept up a
steady stream of letters to servicemen. When the war ended and the Japanese
returned to this area, he assisted many with housing matters and opened his
house to church groups for meetings and social events.
The congregation was not moved en masse to Gila in Arizona, but the majority of the families
were sent there. There our church members joined a church that included
Christians from other areas relocated to Gila. During the war years many of the
families relocated to Midwestern and Eastern states where they found employment
and, in many instances, settled permanently. Our church’s pre-war congregation
was thus reduced.
THE POSTWAR PERIOD
WAS A TRYING TIME. Families that had been forcibly removed from homes and placed in the
rude, barren, congested clapboard barracks of hastily constructed camps and
those that had relocated in the Midwest and East faced new decisions: should
they stay where they had relocated, should they return to home communities
where they might face animosity and not be welcome, or where should they move
to if not their home communities? The Pasadena
area had gained a reputation among returning Japanese as a desirable city in
which to settle. The Federated Missions Board members, Friends of the American Way and
other community people who had expressed concern for the evacuated Japanese
had, in their efforts, earned a warm reputation for the area.
In the postwar years this
city, which had a Japanese population of about 200 families and 1,000 people
before the war, absorbed a population of well over 600 families and 2,000
Japanese by the mid-1950s. Reopening a Christian work among the Japanese here
at first met with some disagreement. The Congregational Church denomination wanted
the Nisei to join already established churches in the community. The Issei
wanted a church and, in 1945, the Rev. and Mrs. Jingoro Kokubun came here to
serve them. They also wanted a church for the Nisei and Sansei, and the Nisei
felt better about having their own church.
The congregation, which
before the war had been a “union church” with connections to the Congregational
Church denomination, decided that it wanted the Rev. Donald Toriumi for our its
minister. He was then serving Christ Presbyterian Church in Hollywood.
To obtain his services, it would be necessary for our congregation to decide to
be Presbyterian, to sever ties with the Congregational Church and to apply to
the Presbyterian Church for affiliation. All the steps were taken by August
1948 and we became the Pasadena Union Presbyterian Church. The Rev. Toriumi
delivered his first sermon here September 5 and was officially installed
October 10. All this was dutifully reported in the Clarion, the weekly
bulletin initiated early that year by Donald Tanzawa and a group of young
people who had rallied around the church for the community.
THIS WAS A PERIOD OF
the Japanese in the community. Both Issei and Nisei had been uprooted from
their homes by the war and evacuation, had scratched for a place they could
call home, had had their loyalty as Americans tested, and had chosen the
Pasadena area where they wanted to establish their homes and raise their
families. The situation was ideal for the return of our church to ministering
to the people and to teaching the good news of our faith. The Japanese and
Japanese Americans coming to Pasadena wanted a community
identity. They wanted a place where they could worship, they wanted a Sunday
school for their children, and they wanted a center where they could gather and
share experiences and work together for progress in resettlement. Our church
provided such a place.
Once our church established
a foundation with a Nisei leader assisted by an Issei minister, we grew in
programs, numbers and strength. In 1953, when we celebrated our 40th
anniversary, our membership reached 235 and Sunday school enrollment was 195,
with an average of 150 children coming on a Sunday. The baby boom was on. Nisei
families were increasing in number, more Japanese returning from relocation
were choosing Pasadena and the area as the
ideal place to settle, and our church’s work was escalating. In 1954 we had
three choirs – Issei, Nisei and children. VacationChurchSchool in 1955 drew
163 children for two weeks and had 74 teachers, helpers and drivers. In 1956 we
remodeled the sanctuary. Two years later we purchased a manse on Winona Avenue
and freed the old green manse at 305 Kensington Place to full use for Sunday
That year, realizing that we
had to take major steps to meet the problems of an ever-growing program, our
congregation kicked off a building fund drive. In 1959 earnest planning for a
new church began. In 1961 the congregation approved the purchase of a site on Lincoln Avenue at Harriet Street in Altadena, our present location. It was level and
three times the size of our Kensington
Place property. There was a bus stop on the
corner. The back property line was already fenced by Pasadena’s FranklinSchool. And it was
in the general northwest Pasadena area to which many of
the families were moving. On October 15 the Building Fund was kicked off with a
goal of $222,900. In one month, half of that goal was pledged. The total goal
was pledged before the end of the year. By May 1962 the property was acquired
and paid for. The mortgage was burned that June at a church picnic. In October
1963 architects were selected. In March 1967 we had the ground breaking on a
rainy day. The buildings were finished by autumn of that year and we began to
move in before year’s end. Great Day! On March 17, 1968 our new church was
dedicated. Great Day again! On March 28, 1976, eight years and a few days after
the day of dedication, the new church’s mortgage was burned. Over 500 donations
had given to the Building Fund – families, couples, individuals, organizations,
friends, near and far. Pledges in all amounts were completed. Elaborate annual
bazaars had drawn tremendous community support. Our oldest member, Mrs. Kei
Hiraiwa, who died after a long Christian life of 96 years, had left her estate
to the church. And a countless number of people had given countless hours of
time, their best ideas and thoughts, their skills and talent and energy, and
their prayers to this church. They had given much; just as our first Issei members
and all other members and friends over the years had given much to our church
and to the glory of God.
THERE WERE MANY
OTHER HIGHLIGHTS in
our church’s history, too many to enumerate. We would remember, however, that
the Rev. Toriumi started a “God and Country” program in 1958 and, in the next
20 years, 95 Boy Scouts and two girl Explorer Scouts completed the required
training. In April 1963 the congregation was proud of our pastor when the Rev.
Toriumi was presented the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity by OccidentalCollege.
In 1964 Masayoshi Kawashima was called to our church as assistant pastor to the
Japanese-speaking congregation. On June 14 he married Hope Omuchi and on
September 17 he was ordained. He served until 1972.
In the 1960s and 1970s an
annual event was the bazaar, which added to the Building Fund and rallied
tremendous community involvement and support. In the 1980s our Nisei, who were
reaching retirement age, began to feel reluctant about continuing these
demanding fund raising events. In recent years, however, Sansei assumed
leadership roles and rejuvenated the Nisei, and the bazaars, now called Fall
Festivals, were resumed with energy and success. One of the most dramatic
examples of the Rev. Toriumi’s leadership was his role in the United
Presbyterian Churches’ resettlement program for Southeast Asian refugees. As
one of the prime movers of the Asian Presbyterian Caucus, he encouraged
churches to adopt refugee families, and our church was one of the first to do
so, adopting the Vietnamese family of Mr. and Mrs. Tche-Yu Wang, their two
sons, two daughters and a son-in-law in 1975. Our congregation provided a home
and physical, financial, emotional and moral assistance to the family. The
Wangs have become independent and self-sufficient. In the past three years the
congregation has helped support three young people in unusual and productive
missions to foreign lands. Carolyn Iyoya was selected for the Presbyterian
Global Youth Ministries Peacemaking Seminar in 1985 and traveled to the Soviet Union that summer. Richard Sahara was
named a Volunteer in Mission
and spent the summer of 1986 working in Thailand.
Stephen Sato served as a Volunteer in Mission
in 1987, also in Thailand.
IN THE PERIOD SINCE
WE MOVED to our
present site, we have been led by the Rev. Toriumi, who retired in 1979 after
31 years of productive leadership; the Rev. Leonard Osbrink, who served a
trying three and a half years; and the Rev. Nicholas Iyoya, who accepted our
call and came here in June 1983. Mariko Yanagihara came to us as an assistant
to the pastor in 1985 and was named Associate Pastor in 1986. She was ordained
that year, the first Japanese American woman to be ordained a minister in the
Presbyterian church of America.
In 1974 our membership had reached 637.
Today, however, we are
reduced in active membership and attendance. We have been victims of
demographics. Because of immigration patterns forced on Asians, our Issei came
to the United States
before 1922 and few Japanese migrated here until the 1950s. As a result, we
have unusual highs and lows in the Nikkei population. Most of the Nisei are in
their 60s and older. Most of the Sansei are in their 30s and 40s. The Yonsei,
or fourth generation, are still being born. Those already born are in
pre-school and elementary school. So, we have gaps in school agers (sic) and
college agers (sic) and between the Sansei and the Nisei. Our Issei membership
is very small. Our Nisei are getting on in years. Many of our Sansei have moved
to other areas or are attending other churches. We are now vigorously
developing a young family program and our Sunday school on the Yonsei level.
Our church’s 75 years are a
fascinating story of devotion on the part of turn-of-the-century Caucasians who
founded missions and of young Issei who accepted this outreach, and with
conviction developed the missions into a church. It is our story of how we were
uprooted from our homes and our church by World War II and forced to maintain
family lives, find employment, and uphold our loyalties in strange places and
environments. It is a story of our return, to carry on our lives, continue our
traditions, raise our families, and endeavor to maintain this mission, this
ministry in our community. It is a story of how we, like all our brothers and
sisters in Christ, praise the glory of God and strive to serve him through the
ministry of His Church. It is a story that must and will continue.