Little Tokyo is a thriving community that emphasizes the heritage of U.S. born and Shin Nikkei Japanese Americans as well as the home of other Asian American organizations and a diverse residential community. Little Tokyo serves as a social, cultural, business, social service, athletic, political, and religious hub that expresses and shares our ethnic identity. Without Little Tokyo, we may never have had a Japanese American National Museum (JANM), a Japanese American Cultural and Community Center (JACCC), or a Little Tokyo Service Center (LTSC), or held the rallies that organized support for and won WWII redress. The four Buddhist temples and three Christian churches reflect Little Tokyo’s role as a spiritual center.
Little Tokyo is part of our contribution to the diverse neighborhoods that strengthen the social and economic vibrancy of the region.
The Little Tokyo Community Investment Fund (LTCIF) empowers individual, corporate, or foundation supporters to invest in planned and impactful real estate purchases that generate reasonable but below-market returns while providing affordable rents for legacy and community-related businesses to continue to operate in Little Tokyo.
Three Waves of Little Tokyo Redevelopment
By Kelly Simpson
Originally published at KCET.org on July 31, 2012
There’s a large parking lot located on Second Street between Los Angeles and San Pedro Streets in Little Tokyo; five years from now, it will be the center of a major shift in the culture of the neighborhood. Owned by a mix of private development companies and the City of Los Angeles, the property will complement its neighboring condominiums with new units for housing and shops to pick up foot traffic.
Directly across from the parking lot will sport the fruits of the community’s 30-year effort to build the Budokan, a multi-use athletic center that will serve the residents of Little Tokyo and beyond.
These two projects represent the dual interests in the history of redevelopment in Little Tokyo: the needs of the local, predominantly Japanese-American community on one side; outside interests on the other.
Yet outside interests don’t always derive from very far. To long-time residents of Little Tokyo, particularly those with roots in community activism, there’s been a pattern: each time the City of Los Angeles plans to expand or add new municipal buildings to the adjacent Civic Center District, they reach for property in Little Tokyo — beginning most notably with the 1952 construction of the Parker Center Building on Los Angeles Street at First Street, which razed an entire block of residential and commercial buildings in Little Tokyo.
The seeds for this pattern were laid during World War II, aptly described by many as the first wave of Little Tokyo redevelopment history. When all persons of Japanese ancestry in the city were evacuated and imprisoned in war relocation camps, much of their property was seized by the city, as well as grabbed by African-Americans who briefly turned the area into Bronzeville.
The successive waves of redevelopment that followed reflect a complicated relationship between urban renewal and Japanese American identity. Development beginning in the 1970s involved compromises between Japanese corporate developers, community leaders, and the City of Los Angeles. Stakeholders in Little Tokyo struggled with the overwhelming financial power of outside players, such as the Kajima corporation (who built the Kajima Building on San Pedro Street), that challenged the community’s identity which historically had been shaped by the immigrant experience.
Fortunately, by this time, lessons learned from the first wave of redevelopment had equipped activist groups in Little Tokyo with the tools and skills to campaign for local interests. The Little Tokyo People’s Rights Organization (LTPRO) and the Little Tokyo Service Center, for instance, were prominent voices that addressed the needs of the residential community, and the groups served to keep the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency at bay and point out conflicts with Japanese investors. Much of what we physically know of Little Tokyo today was born of the era.
Currently, Little Tokyo is in its third wave of redevelopment. With revived interest in Downtown Los Angeles, the neighborhood is once again a hot topic among developers and city planners. The location of Little Tokyo alone makes it a highly desired place for developers, who see profit in the highly walkable area that is so close to public transit and the continued revitalization of downtown.
The timeline below illustrates waves of redevelopment in the Little Tokyo, including efforts from the community and its leaders and a nod toward future changes to come.
1941 – 1945:
Japanese internment during WWII changes Little Tokyo forever, with only 1/3 of its community remaining after the war. Property acquired by the city at this time would play roles in successive wave of development.
Japanese congregation regains Union Church building at the original site on 120 San Pedro Street after several years of neglect during after WWII.
Demolition of property from the construction of the Parker Center police complex destroyed housing for nearly 1000 people and one-fourth of the district’s commercial frontage. That same building is currently slated for demolition for unsafe conditions after years of decay and the police headquarters moved out decades later.
Rev. Howard Toriumi of Union Church forms the Little Tokyo Redevelopment Association (LTRA) after needing a representative body to negotiate with the city for expansion of his church to adjacent property. A at the Daruma Café located on San Pedro Street gave rise to the Little Tokyo Redevelopment Association (LTRA), an entity that, in turn, developed into the influential Little Tokyo Community Development Advisory Committee (LTCDAC), with Reverend Toriumi at the helm. Original plans of the LTRA were modest and involved transforming a an alley into a full-fledged street, repairing lights and planting trees.