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[COMMUNITY] Little Tokyo

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  • madchinaman
    The face of Little Tokyo is changing By Valentina Cardenas And Gayle Pollard-Terry, Times Staff Writers http://www.latimes.com/news/local/valley/la-re-
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 5, 2006
      The face of Little Tokyo is changing
      By Valentina Cardenas And Gayle Pollard-Terry, Times Staff Writers
      http://www.latimes.com/news/local/valley/la-re-
      guide3sep03,1,5828458,full.story?coll=la-editions-valley


      -

      Japanese immigrants began moving into the area, which was once a
      citrus grove, in the 1880s. They established restaurants, grocery
      stores, businesses and churches that welcomed those who spoke
      Japanese. By the start of World War II, the population had swelled
      to 30,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans in and around Little
      Tokyo, which occupied three square miles.

      -


      Little Tokyo, considered by many outsiders only a destination for
      food and festivals, is also becoming a hot place to call home. The
      downtown housing boom has brought upscale condos, which are
      attracting affluent professionals, artists and seniors. The
      newcomers reflect the region's diversity, but the neighborhood's
      importance to the Japanese community shouldn't be underestimated.

      Beginnings

      Japanese immigrants began moving into the area, which was once a
      citrus grove, in the 1880s. They established restaurants, grocery
      stores, businesses and churches that welcomed those who spoke
      Japanese. By the start of World War II, the population had swelled
      to 30,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans in and around Little
      Tokyo, which occupied three square miles.

      After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the U.S. declaration
      of war against Japan, President Roosevelt authorized the forced
      relocation of anyone of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast to
      internment camps. As the homes and businesses of Little Tokyo
      emptied, African Americans moved in — jazz great Charlie Parker once
      lived there — and the area became known as Bronzeville.

      When the war ended, Japanese Americans returned. But many soon
      discovered suburbia and left the area. That exodus, coupled with
      1960s community redevelopment, reduced Little Tokyo to its present-
      day four square blocks bounded by Los Angeles, Temple, Alameda and
      3rd streets.

      What it's about

      Primarily a cultural and commercial district, Little Tokyo boasts
      restaurants, markets and shops that specialize in Japanese foods and
      products, but the neighborhood draws tourists and shoppers from all
      over.

      For the last few years, Little Tokyo has been home to about 1,000
      people, mostly Japanese American senior citizens. But the
      demographics are beginning to change and the population is swelling
      as the new condos lure whites, Latinos and a large number of Koreans
      to the buildings.

      "Up until two years ago, most of the residents were senior and low
      income. Almost every new resident coming in now … can afford high-
      end rentals and high-end condos," said Bill Watanabe, director of
      the Little Tokyo Service Center.

      Seven condo and apartment projects under development are expected to
      more than double the current population of about 1,500 in two years,
      he said.

      Good news, bad news

      Hovig Hovaguimian, a chef who owns a catering business, bought and
      moved into a two-bedroom, two-bathroom loft in the Savoy in April.

      "I have been living in California for 30 years," said the former
      Glendale resident. "For the first time, I leave my home and walk to
      lunch or dinner."

      John Kim and his wife, Annie, own a home near Fullerton, but they
      decided to buy a three-bedroom, two-bath condo in the Savoy because
      of its location on the corner of 1st and Alameda streets.

      "I run a garment manufacturing business. It's very close to my
      business. I drive, but it's less than a mile away," Kim said. He
      also likes the shopping. "There is a market in very close walking
      distance, a lot of shops and restaurants."

      One of the biggest concerns of business owners and residents is
      nearby skid row, with its crime problems and concentration of
      homeless people.

      Some low-performing public schools also discourage many families who
      could afford the new housing, said Jim Perabo, an agent with
      Condosource, a boutique real estate brokerage firm that specializes
      in L.A. condos and lofts. He says the quality is being addressed,
      and three schools are under construction.

      "When an urban area is revitalized, typically the first people to
      move in are younger singles and professionals. The families follow,"
      Perabo said.

      Insiders' view

      Brian Kito's grandfather started the family business, Fugetsu-Do
      Sweet Shop, in 1903. The confectionary store on East 1st Street
      sells Japanese treats, both retail and wholesale. A second shop is
      on Alameda. Kito also lives in Little Tokyo. Although he likes the
      friendly community, he plans to move to Monterey Park, where his
      son, now 5, will attend school.

      Marion Kawamoto, 86, has lived in Little Tokyo for 20 years. Her
      condo is for sale because family members insisted she move nearer to
      them in Chino Hills. "I love it here," she said.

      Housing stock

      In Tokyo Villa, the first condominium complex built in the area, in
      1985, three of 167 condos are on the market, ranging from a one-
      bedroom, one-bathroom, 848-square-foot unit listed at $400,000 to a
      two-bedroom, two-bathroom, 1,087-square-foot unit listed for
      $525,000.

      The 303 units in the Savoy went on sale in December and are sold
      out. Prices ranged from $281,000 for a 504-square-foot studio to
      $820,000 for a three-bedroom, two-bathroom unit in 1,226 square
      feet.

      At Little Tokyo Lofts, which started selling in January, units range
      from 650 to 1,400 square feet. Prices for lofts with downtown views
      range from the mid-$300,000s to $750,000. Currently, 70 of 161 units
      are available.

      Report card

      Area schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District received the
      following scores out of a possible 1,000 on the 2005 Academic
      Performance Index: 9th Street Elementary, 637; Hollenbeck Middle,
      580; (children from 9th Street Elementary also attend Carver,
      Berendo, Virgil and Adams middle schools), and Belmont Senior High,
      537.
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