By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu English Editor-in-Chief
Two banners on Central Avenue depicting Little Tokyo in the 1940s were vandalized sometime this week. Metro staff replaced the banners on Thursday evening, restoring the images, including the 1942 Toyo Miyatake photo of Japanese Americans gathering at the corner of First Street and Central waiting to be evacuated.
The images, which had been cut out with a sharp instrument, are part of the art installation “Little Tokyo: Snapshots Through Time,” a collaboration between Community Arts Resources (CARS), Metro, and the Little Tokyo Historical Society (LTHS). The timeline photos surround the construction site of the Metro Regional Connector.
Rick Jager of Metro media relations explained that incidents of vandalism and graffiti are common throughout Los Angeles County. Because of the nature of the vandalism, he said that it took longer to fix the damage, but generally Metro tries to deal with graffiti within 24 hours.
“We’re very sensitive to the community in Little Tokyo and it’s the responsibility of the contractor to go out and inspect on a daily basis and if any graffiti is large in nature … deal with it,” Jager said.
“We have to say thank you to Metro and CARS because they’re the ones who take quick action to make sure the panels are replaced and repaired,” said Michael Okamura, LTHS president. “Every time it’s vandalized it really is a stain on the community’s hard work and the time they put into this to make it enjoyable for the entire public.”
Olga Arroyo, Metro construction relations manager, said that there have been relatively few problems with tagging and she noted that the vandalism of the banners was unusual.
“It’s very unusual, not common. We think the individual taking the panel found the content very interesting,” Arroyo said.
Steve Nagano, a LTHS member who spearheaded the art installation, agreed. A photo by Nagano of the Nebuta float during the Nisei Week Parade is among the 12 moments depicted in the banners.
“It’s not vandalizing the way they cut it. Somebody wanted it, they wanted the pictures,” Nagano said. “Not happy they took that them but it shows an interest.”
Ellen Endo, president of the Little Tokyo Business Association, noted that Little Tokyo has seen a dramatic increase in the number of visitors.
“From last year to this year the number of visitors has doubled, and the demographic is younger,” Endo said. “Ninety-nine percent of the people are well-behaved and then we have the few who come late at night.”
“We’re pretty diligent about reporting any time there is graffiti,” she said. “We do contact the city in terms of graffiti removal, especially when it’s new graffiti, which is easier to remove.”
The Central Avenue banners are among mitigation measures to support Little Tokyo as Metro continues work on the Regional Connector. The tunnel boring machine that will dig the twin 1.1 mile light-rail tunnels is currently being assembled at the First and Central station yard. Tunneling is expected to begin in January.
“Cultural artwork is a result of mitigation measures. We will follow the direction of the (Little Tokyo) community. If they want to update it, if they want to keep it in place or change it, we can do that,” Arroyo said.
The public can contact Metro to report vandalism or other concerns regarding the Regional Connector at (213) 922-7277.