Little Tokyo Service Center (LTSC) announced on Friday the purchase of the former Umeya Rice Cake Company site, located at 414 Crocker St. in Los Angeles.
Although the three-generation family-owned business closed its doors in 2017, Umeya rice crackers remain a fond memory for many in the community.
The owner’s decision to sell the property to LTSC means the site will remain an important facet in the ever-changing landscape of the Little Tokyo neighborhood. The terms and purchase price were not disclosed.
Rex Hamano, president of Umeya, said the sale would continue the legacy of the company, which was founded in 1918. Umeya sembei and fortune cookies were a staple at family gatherings throughout the Japanese American community.
“414 Crocker St. is not just property for the family, so we’re glad LTSC is doing something with it,” Hamano said.
“Thankfully the community has been so supportive to us for 100 years and so it felt like with the community supporting us all these years, it was the best way to stay connected.”
The purchase would expand the residential footprint of Little Tokyo south towards Fourth Street. While the area is considered to be part of Skid Row, a number of Japanese businesses are located there, including Mutual Trading Company.
LTSC will redevelop the 35,766-square-foot site into a mixed-use, 100 percent affordable transit-oriented development project. The multi-story residential building will consist of approximately 120-150 units, all affordable rental housing for low-income individuals and families, with 50 percent set aside for permanent supportive housing.
There will be approximately 13,000 square feet of ground-floor community, commercial, and service provider space to provide wrap-around services for housing tenants.
“Being able to advance a cornerstone of our mission by contributing towards alleviating the housing affordability crisis in our neighborhood on a site symbolic to the history of Little Tokyo is momentous,” said Takao Suzuki, LTSC director of community economic development. “Once completed, this project will be the first 100 percent affordable housing development in Little Tokyo in over 20 years.”
The Umeya Rice Cake Company began in 1918 and was incorporated in 1924 or 1925 by Yasuo Hamano. The factory was originally located in the area currently known as Weller Court until the start of World War II and the forced relocation and evacuation of Japanese Americans from the West Coast.
After the war, the company temporarily moved to Denver, Colo. until 1950, when it returned to Little Tokyo at its Crocker Street location. The business was taken over by Yasuo’s son, Takeshi “Tak” Hamano, in 1970 and remained under his leadership until his passing in 2017 at which time his son, Rex Hamano, took over as president. Umeya Rice Cake Company closed its doors in December of 2017 after nearly 100 years in business.
Hamano said he is hopeful that the development of the site will lead to a renewal of the area and make it safer.
“The whole land at 414 Crocker at the time was helping immigrants with jobs and giving opportunity. So 414 Crocker will continue to be that way given LTSC’s mission in affordable housing,” Hamano said.
Little Tokyo Service Center is a social service and community development organization that has been creating positive change for the people and places in Southern California for nearly 40 years. It preserves and strengthens the unique ethnic communities of the region and helps people thrive. Starting with its own home in Little Tokyo, it builds and strengthens communities throughout Southern California where people, culture and our collective future matter.