Feb 28, 2011

Deliberate Acts

Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, then and now.

Once upon a time (1886), an ex-seaman from Japan, Charles Kame, opened a restaurant on First Street near San Pedro Street  Twenty years later, after Henry Huntington had finished laying the tracks for the Pacific Electric Railway (actually, 2000 Japanese immigrants (Issei) did the work and stayed in Los Angeles) his workers moved into the same area as the restaurant and it became known as Little Tokyo.  

These people faced intentional discrimination by the laws of the time; they were barred from becoming citizens, they could not own property, they were barred from most jobs and most neighborhoods.  Banks would not loan money to non-citizens, many wholesalers would not sell to any Asians, and their children could not attend public schools. 

The next generation, born here in the United States (Nisei), were American citizens by birth.  They were able to go to regular schools and when they grew up they could vote and acquire property.  They helped expand the original triangle of Wilmington to San Pedro to First into a large area that extended from Main Street, like the top of a hat between 1st and 2nd streets down to Los Angeles Street East to Market and South to San Pedro Street, then West to Azusa, down 2nd to Alemeda connecting with 1st and down to Garey St.  The East side went from Los Angeles Street to Market, then the South side of Alameda back to 1st.  

In 1936, Los Angeles City Hall was completed on Main Street in the block just East of Little Tokyo.  In its heyday, Little Tokyo had over 40 hotels, just as many restaurants, six churches, manufacturing, banking, employment agencies, garages, etc. 

Then there was the attack on Pearl Harbor.  The reaction on the mainland was immediate and sustained.  Japanese in the U.S. took the brunt of resentment in the form of bigotry, discrimination, loss of property and confinement. After the war, Japanese returned to their homes when they could, and gathered in Little Tokyo before dispersing all over North America.

The LAPD headquarters, Parker Center, was built in the early 50's between Los Angeles Street, 1st and San Pedro and a parking lot area was cleared between San Pedro and Central from 1st to Market, taking about a third of Little Tokyo.  City Hall Annex took up the land between Los Angeles Street and Main and 1st.  The Traffic Division took land from 1st to Jackson between Central and Alameda. Today's Little Tokyo is limited to the area of Los Angeles Street, between 1st and 2nd down to Central.

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