Chapter 3 Reclaiming the Past, Owning the Future
Returning to Little Tokyo after WWII, former residents found the area in decay. The formerly tight-knit Japanese American community was becoming decentralized, as many never returned to their former homes and moved out from the city center, settling in outlying areas such as Torrance, Gardena, and Monterey Park. However, with its strong roots as the hub of Japanese life in Southern California, many nikkei continued to travel to Little Tokyo for shopping and festivals. Rather than the self-contained neighborhood that it once was, Little Tokyo was becoming a memory and a reminder of a hometown long gone.
With the community seemingly in decay, the city took advantage of the situation to redevelop the area. The construction of LAPD’s Parker Center began in 1950 with the destruction and eviction of an entire city block, leaving 50 businesses and 1000 residents homeless. The neighborhood’s loss of a quarter of its land area brought an end to many longtime establishments such as the Olympic Hotel (1925), the Filipino Christian Church and Fellowship (1905), the Rafu Dojo (1920), and the Paris Hotel (1923), where Toyo Miyatake had his first photo studio.
Reacting in part to the rising apathy toward their own culture within the Asian American community, this era saw the emergence of a new band of young activists. Publications such as Ghidra brought Japanese and Asian American issues to the forefront, and Visual Communications produced works that portrayed Asian Americans not as a caricature as in mainstream media, but as real people aware of their own social issues of the present and the past.
In the 1980s and '90s, outside developers were brought into Little Tokyo from Japan and Korea to fund the modernization of the historic neighborhood. Growing concern of displacement of the elderly, homeless, and low-income people led to the formation of organizations such as the Little Tokyo Service Center to address the needs of the residents of Little Tokyo.
Today only a mere 1,000 Japanese live within the three-square miles of present-day Little Tokyo, and most of them are elderly. But the neighborhood is thriving, thanks in part to its collection of historic and modern businesses and restaurants that attract visitors for faraway, not to mention the resurgence of the neighborhood and surrounding area as a place of residence for younger professionals and urban dwellers. With the planning of Metro’s Regional Connector underway, Little Tokyo will soon become a busy transit hub, pointing the way toward the future of Los Angeles. But it’s also a nod to the past -- when the building of railroads initially brought together the communities of the city.