The Redman-Hirahara House in the Pajaro Valley, south of Watsonville, California was constructed in 1897. The house is located on a 1.8-acre parcel of land. The Queen Anne Victorian style home was designed by architect William Weeks for beet farmer James Redman. Weeks was a well-known architect, known for designing the Casino Arcade at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, among hundreds of other buildings across California. The Redman-Hirahara house is the only surviving rural farmhouse designed by Weeks. It’s obvious that the home’s name comes from having been owned by James Redman, but where does the name Hirahara come into the picture?
Redman lived in this home and tended to his farmland here until his death in 1921. Sixteen years later in 1937, the home was sold for $69,575 to a new owner – Jim Katsumi Tao, a relative of the Hirahara family. Tao would only own the house for a few years before selling it to Fumio Hirahara in 1940 for only $10 when he was just 16 years old. Tao and the Hiraharas were among the first Japanese-American families to own farmland in the country.
The Hirahara family started to make additions, such as adding extra living space in the barn on the property. However, it would be less than two years before they were forced out of their home, when the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor caused panic and fear about national security, as the United States government ordered all Japanese-American families to be sent to internment camps around the country. In 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt initiated Executive Order 9066, and families were sent off to camps.
The barracks where families were sent were uninsulated, and furnished with the bare minimum, only providing cots and coal burning stoves. Hot water was scarce or sometimes not even available. The camps provided bathroom and laundry facilities, but held residents in by use of barbed wire and armed guards. If a person was caught trying to escape, the orders for the guards were to shoot them.
The Hirahara family was sent to Rohwer War Relocation Center in Arkansas. While the Hirahara family was being held at the internment camp in Arkansas, local citizens continued to maintain the house and farm. On June 4, 1945 the Hirahara family returned from Arkansas, and continued to reoccupy the property; something that many Japanese-American families were not fortunate enough to do. For many Japanese-Americans, things got worse and they were left without homes, as their homes were taken from them. The Hiraharas made more additions to the carriage barn on their farm to provide additional housing for Japanese-Americans who had been left without a home when they returned.
The home remained in the family’s ownership until the 1980s.At one point the home had been converted to offer 4 separate apartments. When the Hirahara family left in 1989 following the Loma Prieta earthquake, the home was left empty. It sat abandoned until 2005, when the Redman-Hirahara Foundation stepped in with hopes to restore it. In one room of the house, between a 1937 newspaper and two layers of wallpaper, nailed to the wall were pieces of the Japanese book “The Autobiography of Osugi Sakae.” Osugi Sakae was an anarchist during the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Unfortunately, the restoration of the home was never completed and the group filed for bankruptcy in 200. Currently, the Redman-Hirahara House is in need of renovations. Vandals have ripped off the plywood covering the windows, and there is some graffiti on the front wall. It would be great to see it renovated one day and opened as a museum as the group had hoped to do, to tell the story of the family. Unfortunately, it’s very unlikely that this will ever happen today.