Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Yuge Story: It's complicated



Few of us bother to vote in the Altadena Town Council elections, but then, from time-to-time in certain census tracts, no one bothers to run, either.

It's not that we're apathetic so much as pragmatic; everyone knows the council has no real power -- it and ergo we, are entirely at the mercy of The County Supervisor. Besides, we're the most contentious community I've ever met; we argue constantly, about everything. So most of us sit out the election and cross our fingers, hoping the Supe doesn't take a crazy pill one day and declare prohibition, or war on Sierra Madre.

All this to say, to lead up to, a quite amazing local development: A petition which has actually garnered 3,000 signatures. Three-thousand Altadenish agree on something? Anything? You could knock me down with a feather.

OK, here's the issue, I'm going to try to sum it up in one rambling mess of a paragraph: Members of the Japanese-American Yuge family lived (and will until next week, apparently) in a bungalow, built by a Yuge uncle, situated on the Scripps estate and owned by William Kellogg. The Yuge family fell victim to the US internment during WW2, left all they owned behind, lived in a concentration camp, were liberated years later, moved to Harbor City, were located through the efforts of Kellogg, and agreed to return to Altadena. Yuge and Kellogg entered into a gentleman's agreement, to whit: the Yuge family -- mother, father, daughters, could stay (rent-free, I believe) in the Yuge home on the estate for as long as the Yuge parents lived.

Got it? Because now it gets sticky, and I'm into a second paragraph. When William Kellogg got near his expiration date, unbeknownst to the rest of his family, he willed Scripps Hall not to his children, but to the owners of the Scripps Home for the Aged, a care-facility founded by his ancestors. And, with no strings attached, including the ultimate fate of the estate or the necessity to honor his agreement with the Yuge family.

OK, don't shoot me -- one more paragraph; two, max.

The Scripps Home put Scripps Hall up for sale, and developers gave it the once-over. Which would have meant losing the Hall, and likely, the Yuges losing their home. Instead, the Waldorf School bought the property, agreed to let the Yuge family stay in the Yuge home until both parents died. The mother died last year at age 100, which means the property reverts to the school, and results in the eviction of at least one Yuge daughter.

Waldorf School, just for some background, is a private school, offering classes for pre-schoolers to high school, and yearly tuition, depending on age, ranging from 11K to more than 20K. This has no bearing on the issue, except why some in town are rooting for the obvious underdog. But according to their website, Waldorf has an admirable mission statement. Their instruction (and I quote):

Nurtures the imagination while educating the intellect
Develops flexible thinking
Enhances children’s artistic as well as cognitive abilities
Honors children’s learning styles and temperaments
Provides a warm atmosphere that embraces the spiritual essence of the human being


Oh god, I'm so long-winded, will this ever stop? Yes, soon, soon.

When I was in elementary school in SoCal, 1960s, our tribe was Methodist, mainly, but also a good portion Lutheran, Catholic, and Jewish.

Our World and American history classes weren't relentlessly positive. We learned that a civilized society can be most uncivil indeed. As illustrations -- slavery, the Holocaust, treatment of the Native Americans. We even learned that "This Land is Your Land" wasn't an anthem at all, but an accusation, written during the Dust Bowl and Great Depression years.

But never mentioned, not ever, was what happened in our own state to the Japanese-Americans in the 1940s. Isn't that odd? We didn't hear about the concentration camps on our own soil, and how most citizens stood by and watched as their neighbors were forced to leave their homes and possessions behind.

Waldorf will likely construct new classrooms and perhaps a parking lot on the existing property. The Yuge family wants to save their house for posterity. And yes, I understand the Yuge family has no legal leg to stand on. Yet, I can't help but place myself on their side. If for no other reason than we've preserved just about nothing to remind us of the thriving Japanese-American community that lived in the Denas prior to WW2, or to remind us of what it was they lost, which was everything.

It seems to me we should preserve, acknowledge, whatever little still remains.

Which is why I support saving the Yuge home in Altadena. And I really don't see why we as a community can't come to the table with Waldorf, break bread, and work out some sort of compromise of benefit to us all. The home could house a permanent collection of Japanese-American memorabilia, and a portion of the garden could be returned to the glory it once enjoyed under Mr. Yuge's care.

At the very least, it's worth discussing. Before it's too late.



(Yes, these are three of the Yuge sisters. I barged in on them yesterday; Albert was my calling-card. Good move; they're dog-lovers.)

Here's the petition: https://www.change.org/p/carol-liu-judy-chu-adam-schiff-save-a-historic-japanese-american-home-gardens-and-endangered-torrey-pine-tree

26 comments:

  1. Interesting story. I hope the house can remain! There's a Torrey Pine there? I didn't know they existed outside of the La Jolla area and some small islands.

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  2. I did my part... anyway doesn't always come down to money? and who can prosper from it?... Al sure knows how to weazel his way in... :-)

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    1. Re: money. The Waldorf school will owe a huge payment chunk to the Scripps home the moment the property reverts, so that Scripps/Kellogg entity will be the immediate financial benefactor of the transaction. And please, let no one assume that discussions have not already been in place for months before the (partial) story came out in the media.

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    2. Hey, it wouldn't be Altadena without at least one conspiracy theory added to the mix and posted anonymously.

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  3. Albert's a charmer, of that there's no doubt.

    And your conspiracy theorist didn't give enough detail to make the money story ring true. A huge payment to whom for what and under what auspices?

    (Altadena politics sound exactly like Lackawanna County politics, including a lack of candidates.)

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    1. The school bought the property from Scripps home in 1986, including the Yuge property. The "gentleman's agreement" (parents could live there rent free) was then officially put into writing. The parents and all four sisters signed, as did the school. The school did not initially have to pay Scripps for the Yuge portion of the sale because they wouldn't be getting use of it until the agreement was completed (ie 6 mos after the death of the parents). The contract was for the school to make the final payment to Scripps once the property reverted.

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  4. I hope some arrangement can be made to save the house.

    Seeing the real thing makes such an immediate connection with the past.

    And points to Albert.

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  5. Well done, Karin! If the school could figure some way to make an educational project of that one acre [historical, ecological, community outreach] with full participation of students it would benefit everyone: For the students, an ongoing learning experience in accord with the school's principals; for the school, great PR; for the community, a lasting piece of history saved for all of us.

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  6. Wouldn't that be something? As Jean sez, there's nothing like the real thing.

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  7. I read a book called The Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet a year or 2 back, about an old man who'd been involved with a Japanese-American girl who was interned during WWII. It is a period that's not usually discussed, and that was an excellent, thought provoking book. The story of the Yuge daughters makes it even more compelling, because they add a real dimension to it.

    (That's one big honkin' tree behind them; very impressive greenery for a place suffering a drought).

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  8. In response to the comments about The Torrey Pine, the one on the property was brought from La Jolla by Mr. Kellogg and Mr. Yuge planted it. Two Arborists approached The Yuge Family recently about nominating The Torrey Pine for this Year's Altadena Heritage “Tree of the year” contest. They were referred to The Waldorf School and, to hear the result, read yesterday's Pasadena Star News Article. Here is the link: http://www.pasadenastarnews.com/social-affairs/20150526/pasadena-waldorf-officials-decline-to-nominate-historic-torrey-pine-for-tree-of-the-year-contest
    -- Millicent Crisp - Spearheading The Yuge Family Petition

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  9. I'm most disturbed by Waldorf's lack of concern for the Torrey Pine. Rudolf Steiner (the founder of Waldorf education) is no doubt, is rolling in his grave.

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  10. For the love of Torrey Pines! can you get this up on the George Takei FB page? He was instrumental in getting a Japanese iInternment Collection out of the hands of an auction house and into the hands of the downtown Japanese Museum. Worth a try.

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    1. Someone I don't know forwarded this post to him already, via Facebook.

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  11. George was indeed instrumental in bringing attention to this issue. I admit I hadn't considered the ramifications of selling the memorabilia (I blame DH, he's always watching Antiques Roadshow where you can make half a million just by showing up with your old blanket) although I was well aware of the internment. But the US has a history of interning people and I believe the Third Reich, correct me if I'm wrong, patterned their concentration camps after some of the methods we used to intern First Americans.
    I hope the Yuge sisters prevail in this and I will be signing the petition. Also, please tell Albert he just topped himself in my estimation, as if that's even possible.

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    1. He'll get a biscuit with your name on it.

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  12. Some arrangement can be made I'm sure. Build them a beautiful home nearby, construct another Hall on the site, call it Yuge Hall and dedicate it to the family and its history. Yuge Hall in paradise. There. Problem solved. Happy weekend to all.

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  13. Once you lose something of historic significance, it's lost and gone forever. Something newer and bigger won't replace what has been lost (not that that's even in the cards or up for consideration, anyway), it will just be something newer and bigger, and historically -- insignificant..

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  14. Bravo to Altadena and the 3,000 who signed the petition. I hope they're getting somewhere in the negotiations to which Anonymous refers. Maybe there's a foundation that could help. Where else could you find a beautiful bungalow and gardens these days in Southern California. All this for a parking lot?

    As for the Waldorf School . . . we've run into them up here and it's no place we'd send our (imaginary) kids.

    Now I'm curious: what Scripps estate, who was Scripps, any relation to the Scripps family in San Diego? And who was Kellogg? Time for me to hit Google because enquiring minds want to know.

    Admirable writing.

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  15. Love the photo of the three of the Yuge sisters with adorable Albert .
    What a beautiful place and tall tree!

    Happy Sunday to all.

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  16. The agreement ended when the mother passed away. The home no longer belongs to the Yuge sisters

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  17. Folks, You are speaking about a piece of property that someone bought and has waited almost 30 years to occupy... It's a really terrible thing that happened to Japanese-Americans in this country, but it was not at the hand of the Pasadena Waldorf School so I don't understand why people think it's OK to hold them responsible and ask them to pay the price--I mean that figuratively, but maybe I should mean it literally too. The Scripps/Kelloggs could have gifted the property to the Yuge's, but they donated it to Scripps Home and took a tax deduction instead. They maybe had no idea that Scripps Home would turn around and sell it, but how exactly does buying it and saving the Scripps mansion make Waldorf the villain? I haven't seen anyone step up and offer their home or land to relocate the remaining Yuge daughter or offer their money so she can try to buy the property from the Waldorf School or house her family artifacts for the public to see. AltadenaHiker, while we came to different conclusions, I appreciate that you presented the facts in this story and drew a clear line between the facts and your opinions. Mr Evans, with all due respect, have you seen what you describe as "a beautiful bungalow and gardens" lately? I know beauty is subjective, but I drive by regularly and I can tell you it has not been taken care of for a number of years. PS, my intention was not to make this posting "Anonymous", but I don't have or understand any of the other options being offered.

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  18. Hi. Anonymous. I'm sorry there was a delay in posting your comment -- all comments, Anon or not, go into a moderation folder if the post is 14-days or older, otherwise, we'd see a bunch of Viagra ads. As to your point, yes, things could have been set up otherwise, but they weren't. I was advocating to save a piece of history at the 11th hour if possible, which apparently, it isn't.

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  19. And if I can add just one more thought -- it seems to me the Japanese-American life and experience prior to and during the internment is woefully unrepresented in the 'Denas. So any chance to save some of their history should be preserved. If you wish to respond, I'm home tonight, and will check the moderation folder and gladly publish.

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