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PRESIDENT'S LETTER

 

Now Playing: Asian American Historic Context

Office of Historic Resources’ latest publication of the SurveyLA historic context statement focuses on Asian Americans. The effort documents the broad patterns of history associated with Chinese Americans, Japanese Americans, Korean Americans, Thai Americans, and Filipino Americans in the City of Los Angeles.

The project combined a team of writers from various preservation consultants including Kari Fowler, Rosalind Sagara, Flora Chou, and yours truly. In addition to the historic narrative, writers identified extant historic resources associated with these communities. A National Register nomination was also prepared for the Filipino Christian Church (Jeffery Van Trees & Millar, 1909) by Fowler and Christine Lazzaretto.

I was privileged to write the Japanese Americans in Los Angeles context. While the history of Little Tokyo and Terminal Island has been widely documented, the research uncovered the existence of several other Japanese enclaves in LA during the 1920s. Some of these included “suburban” neighborhoods of Japanese people often employed in the produce industry or as maintenance gardeners, including Boyle Heights, Seinan (36th Street), Hollywood, and Uptown (present-day Koreatown). These neighborhoods were more suitable than Little Tokyo for raising families. Still other Japanese communities with their roots in agriculture included Venice, Pacoima/Sun Valley, and Sawtelle.

One of my favorite “finds” is a rare and intact example of a Japanese rooming house at 564 N. Virgil Avenue in Hollywood. Such rooming houses were a fixture of the early Japanese migrant communities, which predominantly comprised single men. Many of these boarding houses also functioned as employment agencies and/or mentoring organizations for networks of maintenance gardeners. New arrivals apprenticed with seasoned gardeners until they could establish their own businesses. The money they earned was reinvested in the equipment necessary to pursue their own business interests.

During the research process, a number of interesting resources were offered up by the community. One was an annual “yearbook” of sorts that was sent home to Japan to show how families were prospering in America. The visual evidence was photos of families in front of their businesses or residences (which they were barred from owning by alien land laws). Much to my delight, I recognized the above-mentioned boarding house from a photograph in the yearbook showing S. Ozawa and his family in front of 564 N. Virgil Avenue.

Los Angeles has a rich cultural heritage to be discovered. The contributions of Asian Americans to this city is often understudied and undervalued. I encourage you to explore this and other communities with the tools at SurveyLA

Sian Winship

 
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