It's enough to make Buddha smile: the rebirth of Little Tokyo, where a month-long celebration will begin Tuesday on the anniversary of the great teacher's birth.
Little Tokyo and the rest of Southern California have come a long way since 1882, when 23 young, male issei (first-generation) immigrants arrived. Today, there are 160,000 Japanese-Americans in the Southland, although the streets in the four-block Little Tokyo district, centered on 2nd and San Pedro streets, nearly were abandoned with the internment of 100,000 Japanese-Americans during World War II.
Yet, the most visible change in Little Tokyo is not population growth. It is the buildings that house the people and their businesses.
Honda Plaza, Japanese Village Plaza, Little Tokyo Square, Weller Court: four new shopping centers, each with its own look, all catering to the Japanese-American community and the rest of the city as well. These are just a few examples of the new construction that has and is going on.
Hotel Gamble Pays Off
How about the New Otani? The hotel firm took a risk when it decided to build in the then seedy environs of Little Tokyo in 1977. Now the gamble is paying off.
All around the hotel, at 1st and Los Angeles streets, there is new construction or rehabilitation.
Old buildings along 2nd Street are being closed to be razed for new development, and some businesses, like the popular little restaurant Suehiro, are relocating to places being refurbished on 1st Street. There is also new housing: condominiums as well as senior-citizen housing, a first for the area on 3rd Street and Central Avenue.
There is some reconstruction at 2nd Street and Central Avenue. Known as the Brunswig Square Building, it is scheduled to be completed in early summer.
Designed by Albert C. Martin and owned by the Mika Co./Stewart Resnik Development, the $20-million-plus project involves turning a 1930s, five-story warehouse, operated for years by the Brunswig Drug Co., into an eight-story retail and office complex with parking for 205 cars.
Formal Garden Included
With a formal garden and a specially commissioned sculpture by James Surls, landscaping will reflect the Japanese heritage of the surrounding community. The Irving Bonios Co. is handling leasing.
Mika Co./Stewart Resnik Development also plans a second development in Little Tokyo: a 50,000-square-foot, three-story shopping center with subterranean parking and an open-air plaza, that will be directly across from Brunswig Square on the site where the City of Hope building stands now. Construction is expected to start immediately following demolition, which the Community Redevelopment Agency has targeted for June.