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Manhattan Beach Historical Society Museum Reopens to Fanfare

Jun 27, 2021 09:42AM ● By Jeanne Fratello
The Manhattan Beach Historical Society held a reopening celebration at its museum on Saturday, after 15 months of pandemic-related closure.

On hand to cut the ceremonial ribbon were Manhattan Beach Historical Society President Gary McAulay, honorary Manhattan Beach historian Jan Dennis, and Manhattan Beach Mayor Suzanne Hadley.

"I've been doing this [researching Manhattan Beach history] for over 40 years," observed Dennis. "It's a great pleasure, but it also makes me realize how important history is."

The event also featured a presentation by Chuck Currier, retired Mira Costa economics teacher and founder of the Mira Costa History Project, on Francis M. Uyematsu, whose family once owned the land that now includes Mira Costa High School. (The talk was livestreamed and can be watched here.)

McAulay praised Currier for his diligent work on the Uyematsu family history, which has since drawn attention from national and international news media.

McAuley also lauded the Bruce's Beach Task Force for its recent history report, which he called "the most completely thorough research to date" on the topic.

"Manhattan Beach history is 'hot' right now," he noted proudly. 

Uyematsu Family History

Uyematsu, a Japanese immigrant, forged success in the early 1900s importing and breeding Japanese camellias and cherry trees. He pioneered temperature-controlled greenhouses and earned the nickname "Camellia King."

At one point, Currier noted, Uyematsu was making $100 a day selling camellias, at a time when the average worker made $100 per month.

Over four decades, despite anti-Asian sentiment and racist restrictions on land ownership and citizenship, he was able to acquire farm land and eventually expanded his Star Nurseries to three locations, including 120 acres in Manhattan Beach bounded by Peck and Sepulveda to the east and west, and 2nd Street and Artesia to the north and south.

Amid the hysteria that followed the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, the Uyematsu family was forced to relocate to the Manzanar detention center. Their indefinite detention necessitated the parcel by parcel sale of most of the Manhattan Beach nursery - 40 acres of which were ultimately sold to the Redondo Union High School District for $60,000.

Earlier this year, the Manhattan Beach Unified School District approved a plaque and pedestal at Mira Costa High School that would honor Uyematsu and his innovative business.

A video on the Uyematsu family, made by Lindsey Fox of Manhattan Beach and based on Currier's research, can be seen below.

The Manhattan Beach Historical Society Museum (the "little red house"), located in Polliwog Park, is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. Admission is free

Membership at the Manhattan Beach Historical Society, which includes invitations to special events and lectures, costs $10 per year for students, $30 for individuals, and $40 for couples. Higher levels of support are also welcome.

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