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Construction to begin on new Japanese Cultural Center in Santa Maria

Japanese cultural center
Posted at 7:01 PM, May 03, 2023

Construction will finally be getting started on a new Japanese Cultural Community Center in Santa Maria.

City leaders say early Japanese settlers first arrived in the Santa Maria Valley around 200 years ago, with some coming as farmers, business owners, or families seeking new opportunities on the Central Coast.

"It has been about a decade in the making to get this project under renovation and get moving," said Dennis Smitherman, Recreation Services Manager for the City of Santa Maria. "Last night’s acceptance of $500,000 from HUD will really get this community center, house and garden open to the public here even quicker."

He says the project had been stalled for the past decade due to a lack of funding, but following Tuesday's grant approval by the city council, early construction on the new center can begin in the coming months.

"The woodworking is going to be installed, and then we are going to get the house painted, and then we will move on to laying the foundation for not only the community center, but the community garden in front of the facility," Smitherman added.

He says the future Japanese Cultural Center will host community events, as well as art galleries featuring exhibits from the first settlers who touched ground in the Santa Maria Valley.

"We do want to honor those Japanese pioneers who came to our valley and understand how they helped build the City of Santa Maria and the City of Guadalupe and the whole area," said Shelley Klein, curator for the Santa Maria Valley Historical Museum.

The museum's displays range from century-old artifacts of the Santa Maria Valley's first Japanese businesses to lists and posters of the many Japanese farmworkers who helped establish the local agriculture industry.

Smitherman, meanwhile, says he hopes the new center only builds upon that preservation of culture.

"We want to honor them and continue to teach kids and visitors and everyone about the Issei generation that really makes our valley who we are today," he added.

Smitherman says that once completed, the center will also serve as a venue for weddings, quinceañeras and recurring cultural events. The entire cost of the project is estimated at around $6 million.

It will be located off Bradley Road and Betteravia Road.