Riverside’s Harada House appears finally on the road to becoming an active museum where people can go and learn about the role the national historic landmark played in a triumph for civil rights in the Inland Empire.
However, the museum’s opening is still years away.
Built as a one-story cottage in 1884 in downtown Riverside, the home was later purchased by a Japanese American family and a second floor was added. Harada family heirs donated the home to the city in 2003.
Since then, the city has been wanting to restore the dilapidated structure.
“We have reached the day when we can embark on that project,” Robyn Peterson, the city’s museum director, said Wednesday, Aug. 10.
A San Diego-area architectural firm has begun designing the project. The Riverside City Council awarded a pair of contracts in July worth nearly $500,000 to IS Architecture of La Jolla, which has extensive experience with historic preservation projects. One of the contracts involves determining the extent of damage.
“We’re going to be examining every square inch to see what we can preserve and what we’re going to have to replace,” Peterson said.
Construction could begin a year from now, she said, though it’s not known how long the work will take and when the Harada House will open its doors for docent-led, small-group tours.
The second contract involves developing plans for demolishing a next-door building the city acquired in 2014, and replacing it with a structure resembling the Harada neighbor’s home as it appeared in the 1930s, Peterson said. The plan is to make that the Harada House Interpretive Center.
“Over in the interpretive center, you’ll get the story,” Peterson said.
And what a story it is.
Husband and wife Jukichi and Ken Harada immigrated to the United States from Japan in the early 1900s in search of the American dream. They settled in Riverside, where they ran a restaurant and boarding house.
In 1915, they bought the Riverside home — which is on Lemon Street — and listed their three American-born children, who were U.S. citizens, as the owners. The Haradas weren’t citizens, and couldn’t become citizens under the laws of that era. And a state law barred those ineligible for citizenship from owning property.
People complained about the family moving into their neighborhood and tried to get Jukichi Harada to sell and leave. A lawsuit claimed he was the true owner and shouldn’t be allowed to own the house. In 1918, a Riverside Superior Court judge declared in a landmark ruling it was permissible for the children to own the house.
Peterson said the case “was one of the first dominoes to fall in what turned out to be a long process of wiping from the books these exclusionary racist property laws.”
She added that Jukichi Harada courageously testified in court at a time when some in the local Japanese immigrant community urged him not to “make waves” and to take an offer to buy the home for $500 more than he paid for it.
Then during World War II, the family was forcibly removed to an internment camp for Japanese Americans. One of the children, Harold Harada, wrote on the wall of an upper-floor room when that occurred: May 23, 1942, at 7 in the morning. The home managed to stay in Harada hands, though, as a friend looked after the property until a family member could return.
Aside from the history, Peterson said museum visitors will one day be able to see how the Haradas lived. The home will be furnished with original furniture, she said.
Family heirs also donated pots and pans, kimonos decorated with family crests, embroidered sashes, personal letters and other items to the museum, a family member said earlier.
But first the city has to strengthen the building and make it safe.
“Almost the entire foundation has to be reconstructed,” Peterson said.
Walls, floors, plumbing and wiring also are in poor condition due to sinking of the building, water damage and termite damage. A walkthrough reveals plywood-covered walls, braces placed against walls and ceilings, and torn, stained wallpaper.
Unfortunately, Peterson said, not many repairs were made over the decades.
“The good side of that is that a lot of the original fabric of the house — which, by that, I mean the material with which the house was built — is present,” she said. “The millwork, the flooring, the old light switches — all that is still present. In many cases, a house of this age would have lost those features.”
Several years ago, ballpark estimates pegged the renovation cost at around $10 million.
Peterson said officials now believe the price tag is closer to $8 million, and the city has the money it needs to cover the cost. Project funding is anchored by a $7 million state grant the city received about a year ago.
Peterson characterized the building as “unique to Riverside.”
“It’s about a historic event that occurred in this community,” she said. “It was groundbreaking in this community and it was groundbreaking beyond this community.”