Just after World War I had begun, under the leadership of Senji Hara, Kanekishi Nakayama, Tauichi Yoneyama, Tomichi Sumino, Teiji Miyamoto, and Chinzaburo Kodama, the Hollywood Buddhist Church was established in the year 1915.
It was initially called “Hara-san no Bukkyokai,” or “Mr. Hara’s Buddhist Association,” in tribute to its most influential leader. The church was merely a wood-framed hall that was located on Cahuenga Boulevard between Sunset and Hollywood boulevards. Only the dedicated could find it behind a row of small Japanese stores, which included Imai Grocery, Hara’s Barber Shop, a laundry store, and Toribuchi Market. Thus, the church humbly began with much faith and hope.
A group of Buddhists led by Yoshitaro Hirai raised funds and constructed a three-room building at 1423 Cahuenga Blvd. near Cole Street, just south of Sunset. The Bukkyokai began to hold services at these new facilities.
Ministers assigned from Nishi Hongwanji would make what was then a long trip from Little Tokyo to the Hollywood Bukkyokai in order to conduct services. After World War I ended, a station wagon brigade started, transporting 20 Bukkyokai children to join the larger Nishi Hongwanji group at the Yamato Hall, located on Jackson Street and Central Avenue in Little Tokyo, for a combined Sunday School.
However, in 1923, the Bukkyokai members decided to hold both the regular services and Sunday school services at the Cahuenga hall in order to keep families closer together. They successfully expanded their church community in 1928 by renting the facilities of the Hollywood Gakuen Japanese School on Ivar Street, one block east of Cahuenga and one block south of Sunset.
Increasing rent due to rising land values and high property taxes forced the church to move into the newly built facilities of the Hollywood Japanese Language School in 1936. This new location at 3929 Middlebury St., just north of the Hollywood Freeway, provided the church community with sufficient space to hold services in its multi-purpose Kaikan, or hall. It served as the new, stable foundation that would further allow the church to grow.
By the outbreak of World War II, the Bukkyokai community consisted of about 90 families, but the end of the war brought back 75 families. Through the years between 1950 and 1960, membership proceeded to fluctuate between 60 and 75 families, which helped raise the Sunday School enrollment to up to 125 students.
In 1967, the members voted for the construction of its own church facilities with classrooms. A building committee was formed by the following members: Bob Honda as chairman, Masaru Okamoto as co-chairman, Tetsu Sugimoto, Tetsu Santo, Hideo Izumo, Masanori Nishikawa, Toshiaki Kozai, George Iwasaki, and Joseph Takahashi.
They started a building fund and raised money through the donations contributed by the members and from various fundraising activities, which included carnivals, car washes, paper drives, and senbei sales. Eventually, three properties in the neighborhood of the institute were purchased, and an architect was contracted to draw plans for the new Hollywood Buddhist Church (HBC).
However, by the time the plans were completed, a new and larger facility no longer seemed necessary or financially feasible due to membership attrition, a decrease in Sunday School enrollment, and the high costs of construction. It was eventually voted by the members to abandon the plan. The properties acquired for the building project were sold, and the funds were used to support the Bukkyokai’s mother church, Nishi Hongwanji, and various other organizations.
By 1970, membership dwindled to 50 families with about 60 students, and in the years following, the Sunday School was discontinued. The Japanese population of the neighboring areas decreased as many of the Sansei moved away, and with it a decrease in the church membership as well. Currently, there are about 15 active families with an average attendance of 30-40 members and guests who attend services.
The Hollywood Buddhist Church continues to hold services, and remains a branch church of the Los Angeles Hompa Hongwanji Buddhist Temple (LAHHBT). The church is grateful to have a minister from LAHHBT conduct its eight annual services. Currently, Rev. Koho Takata serves as the HBC resident minister who conducts services. A luncheon usually follows the service as a time for members and guests to socialize and reconnect with old-time members, their children and grandchildren. Happily, the church has also been able to welcome new members and guests.
Serving on the History Committee until 1996 were Yoshiye Honda (chair), Hideo Izumo, Masanori Nishikawa, and Yemiko Okumoto; and from 1996 to 2015, Susan Oiwake.
On Sunday, Nov. 1, HBC will celebrate its 100th commemoration with a special morning service and afternoon lunch reception. To RSVP or request further info, contact Asao Masumiya at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 413-6220, or visit http://hollywoodbuddhistchurchcentennial.weebly.com/.