Iso Fuchiwaki remembers when her three daughters used to play inside a former Japanese community center in Arroyo Grande.
Her girls spent their childhood entertaining themselves on the property, which at that time after World War II included a one-room schoolhouse and a schoolteachers’ home.
After the war, the buildings on the property were used as a hostel for Japanese returning to the area and looking for permanent homes.
Fuchiwaki, who was born and raised in the county, returned with her father to their property in 1945, after spending about four years at the Gila River War Relocation Center, an internment camp about 30 miles southeast of Phoenix.
By the time Fuchiwaki and her husband, Hilo, married and rented the schoolteachers’ home on the property in 1947, all but two bachelors living in the schoolhouse had left for permanent homes.
Fuchiwaki, now 89, recalled recently how one of the men grew vegetables, sharing carrots and other produce with her daughters. The girls attended Japanese school once a week — far less than their mother, who studied reading and writing Japanese for an hour every day after public school.
“It was a nice place to raise my girls,” she said.
When the hall was destroyed in a fire about a week and a half ago, it was one of Fuchiwaki’s daughters who called, upset, to tell her about it.
“You think it’s always going to be there because it’s been there forever,” Fuchiwaki said recently, sitting in the front room of her Arroyo Grande home, the same one she and her husband and daughters moved to in 1960.
The fire was upsetting for many reasons: not only did it destroy a former cultural center for Japanese families in South County, but it incinerated decades’ worth of memorabilia for Boy Scout Troop 413, which had been meeting at the hall since 1969.
Arroyo Grande police arrested two teens Monday in connection with the fire.
On a recent morning, yellow caution tape encircled the property at 490 E. Cherry Ave., most of it resting on the ground. Near the Scouts’ fire circle, a yellow flag hung at half-staff. It read: “We will survive.”
Scoutmaster Chris Hagerty plans to continue holding weekly Scout meetings at the site. “We don’t want to leave the property,” he said.
Meanwhile, Greg Rubio of Five Cities Judo Club, which held classes at the hall, has been looking for a spot to fit his needs, so far without success.
Fuchiwaki doesn’t know what will happen next with the property.
“It was the first-generation Japanese that had to scrimp and save to purchase the land and put up the buildings,” she said. And now, she added, the younger generation has to decide what’s best for the site.
Cynthia Lambert and Gayle Cuddy write the South County Beat column on alternating Wednesdays. Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCounty Beat on Twitter.