The Los Angeles Conservancy has announced that a rare site associated with Japanese American heritage is now damaged and at risk, despite pending status as a Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM).
The conservancy, which is dedicated to preserving the historic places that make L.A. County unique, said, “560 and 564 N. Virgil Ave. are extremely rare examples of pre-war Japanese boarding houses. They tell the story of the Japanese American laborers and families and also served as reunification sites for incarcerated Japanese Americans after World War II.
“As of March 8, 2022, through a series of alterations occurring without permits and approval by the City of Los Angeles, the owner continues to flagrantly violate the pending Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM) process and the Los Angeles Department of Building & Saftety (LADBS) stop work order. This action has destroyed some character-defining features of both buildings.
“Similar to the recent action taken at the former Pig ‘n Whistle in Hollywood, this pattern illustrates how L.A. needs stronger tools and deterrents to protect historic places.”
In 1914, Tsuya and Sukesaka Ozawa purchased a recently built home at 564 N. Virgil Ave. That home and the next-door property at 560 Virgil were part of a nascent Japanese community known as the Madison/J Flats neighborhood in East Hollywood. Sukesaka and Tsuya Ozawa were part of the first waves of migration of Issei to arrive in Los Angeles. First congregating in Little Tokyo in the late 19th century, Japanese immigrants began to form residential enclaves throughout the city to start families.
As migration to the Madison/J Flats neighborhood swelled in the 1920s, the Ozawas and their next-door neighbor at 560 Virgil converted their homes into a boarding house. Boarding houses were popular as affordable residences for Japanese immigrants and often doubled as employment agencies. They served as places of community connection and cultural expression in an era where Japanese Americans were excluded from many parts of white Los Angeles.
By 1942, the Ozawa family ran both 564 and 560 N Virgil. Boarders, mainly single men working as gardeners in private residences, enlivened the homes and patronized Japanese shops along the Virgil corridor. This community fabric was violently severed at the onset of World War II when Japanese Americans were forcibly removed from their homes, businesses, and communities. The Ozawas were incarcerated at the Heart Mountain camp in Wyoming. Their homes were stewarded by neighbors for the duration of the war.
In the post-war period, 564 N. Virgil became an anchor to reunite family members and help their community rebuild. The Ozawas, who owned the properties through 1980, had a lasting influence on the neighborhood. The family developed four additional properties in the neighborhood and were actively involved in institution-building in the neighborhood.
Today, single Japanese American men continue to call 564 Virgil Ave. home. These residents continue an almost 100-year legacy in the building known for providing community and security for Japanese and Japanese Americans in East Hollywood.
The boarding houses were sold in February 2021 to a new owner, spurring a nomination by Hollywood Heritage for Historic-Cultural Monument status.
In October 2021, the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission (CHC) voted unanimously to recommend the Ozawa Boarding House/Obayashi Employment Agency and the Joyce Boarding House/Ozawa Residence Historic-Cultural Monument nominations to the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee.
The conservancy (www.laconservancy.org) will post hearing dates and details when the information becomes available.