Historic Building and its City of Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument designation in advance of its upcoming 100th anniversary.
The Historic Building was designed by local architect Edgar Cline and built in 1925 as the Hompa Hongwanji Buddhist Temple.
Following the signing of Executive Order 9066 in 1942, local Japanese Americans were ordered to gather in front of the temple with only the possessions that they could carry. There they boarded buses that would take them to concentration camps.
The temple was closed during World War II and reopened in 1945, resuming services and serving as a hostel for returning incarcerees. In 1969 the congregation moved to a new location at 815 E. First St.
In 1985, the newly incorporated JANM signed a 50-year lease with the City of Los Angeles to renovate the historic temple building and convert it into a museum.
The renovation was conceived by a consortium of eight Japanese American architects: Marcia Chiono, David Kikuchi, Shigeru Masumoto, Yoshio Nishimoto, Frank Sata, Takashi Shida, George Shinmo, and Robert Uyeda. In 1986 it was designated as City of Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument 313.
In 1992 JANM opened its doors to the public with 23,800 square feet of space for exhibitions, collections, and public programs.
Kristen Hayashi, director of collections management and access and curator at JANM, welcomed attendees and introduced Michael Okamura, president of LTHS, who spoke about the his organization’s many projects and ongoing work to raise the visibility of historic sites throughout Little Tokyo.
Rev. William Briones of Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple discussed the important role the site played in the spiritual and social life of the community.
Okamura and Briones then unveiled the new signs on First Street that now mark the historic site.
“JANM’s Historic Building is our oldest and largest artifact on our campus,” said Ann Burroughs, JANM president and CEO. “It is hallowed ground, a site of conscience, and a gathering place for civic engagement and social justice. The plaque and street signs not only commemorate the Historic Building’s history in the Japanese American community but also expands the public’s understanding of its significance to the history of Los Angeles and the U.S.
“Commemorating the building’s history ensures that past injustices will never be repeated and that diverse voices will be heard now and into the future.”
Ken Bernstein, principal city planner and manager of the Los Angeles Office of Historic Resources, lauded the new signage for raising the visibility of the historic site in Little Tokyo.
“Our historic buildings anchor us in an ever-changing city,” he said. “They really provide a meaningful connection to our collective memory.”
The speakers were then joined by actor and activist George Takei, longtime board member and board chair emeritus at JANM, to unveil the plaque now installed at the building’s historic entrance, followed by a song performed by children from the Nishi daycare center.
Photos by Kazz Morohashi, courtesy of JANM (except where noted)