The Ozawa Boarding House and Obayashi Employment Agency/Ozawa residence on North Virgil Avenue in Los Angeles. (Photo by Lindsay Mulcahy)

By ELLEN ENDO, Rafu Shimpo

Two historic structures that once were home to Los Angeles’ earliest Japanese immigrants were recommended for Historic-Cultural Monument designation on Oct. 7, 2021 by the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission, but a clash between tenants and new owners has left the future of the venerable buildings in doubt.

Staffing limitations at City Hall compounded by COVID prevented the HCM nomination from reaching the City Council last year, but the Hollywood Heritage civic organization and the L.A. Conservancy continued their collaboration to preserve the integrity and historic significance of the 110-year old Joyce Boarding House/Ozawa Residence at 560-562 N. Virgil Ave. and the Ozawa Boarding House/Obayashi Employment Agency at 564-564½ N. Virgil. 

The HCM designation is also designed to prevent impacts such as incompatible alterations, new construction, and demolition of an irreplaceable historic site/open space.

Sukesaka and Tsuya Ozawa immigrated from Shizuoka-ken in Japan in 1902 and 1909, respectively. Tsuya ran a farm stand that eventually generated enough money for the family to purchase the single-family residence at 564 N. Virgil, and in 1924, the Ozawas constructed a boarding house. The Ozawas remained owners of the family residence and the boarding house until 1980.

The Joyce Boarding House/Ozawa Residence meets one of the Historic-Cultural Monument criteria: it “exemplifies significant contributions to the broad cultural, economic or social history of the nation, state, city or community” as a rare example of a pre-World War II Japanese rooming house. 

Ownership changed hands last year, and the purchasers sought permission to make some repairs to the 560 residence, which was not occupied at the time. As a condition, the new owners agreed to cooperate with the Office of Historic Resources and were granted some permits to move forward with the work, with limitations.

In submitting its recommendation report, the City Planning Department noted that the Ozawa boarding house “exemplifies significant contributions to the broad cultural, economic or social history of the nation, state, city or community” as a rare example of a pre-World War II Japanese rooming house.

According to Lindsay Mulcahy of the L.A. Conservancy and Brian Curran of Hollywood Heritage, who nominated the properties for recognition, the owners have gone beyond the limits set by the Department of Building and Safety. On March 3, DBS issued “stop work” orders for the one-story 560 location and, on March 15, issued similar orders for the two-story 564 building.

Efforts to resume the city’s historic designation process have not yet begun.

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