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LITTLE TOKYO : District Considered for Landmark Status

April 11, 1993|IRIS YOKOI

The Little Tokyo Historic District, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986, may now be designated a national landmark.

Federal parks officials are studying the idea because the district, consisting of the north side of 1st Street between Central Avenue and San Pedro Street, is significant in Japanese-American history.

If deemed a national landmark, Little Tokyo would become only the fourth Japanese-American historic landmark in the country. The three Japanese-American national landmarks are the Manzanar relocation camp in the Central California desert; the Harada House, a pioneer Japanese-American family's home in Riverside, and the Rohwer Cemetery, at another former relocation camp site in Arkansas.

The legal ramifications of national landmark status are not much different from those of a National Register listing, but the landmark designation opens the way to more public and private preservation funds, according to James Charleton, historian for the National Park Service.

And while the National Park Service has taken over ownership of some historic sites, the majority of the roughly 2,000 national landmarks remain under private ownership, Charleton said. Landmark status does not automatically give the federal government control of the property, authorities said.

Federal parks officials are almost finished with their study of the Little Tokyo Historic District and will next discuss the proposal with 1st Street property owners and solicit comments from local agencies.

A majority of the property owners must support the idea for the district to be considered for landmark status, Charleton said.

He said he hopes to have the study and public comments ready for a federal advisory board to consider in August. After reviewing the data, the board will make its recommendation to Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt.

The Little Tokyo Community Development Advisory Committee and the Los Angeles Conservancy originally nominated the turn-of-the-century 1st Street buildings for Historic District status. But the area has been on the draft list of study sites for about a decade.

"It's sort of a natural candidate," Charleton said, because of the age of the buildings and because Little Tokyo has historically been the key gathering spot for mainland Japanese-Americans.

The area also "symbolizes the hardships and obstacles Japanese-Americans successfully overcame," including restrictive land-use laws that made it difficult for Japanese-Americans to own land, Charleton said.

The proposal further reflects the National Park Service's effort to pay greater attention to ethnic and minority historic sites, he said.

Tony Sperl, owner of property at 337-339 E. 1st St., said he would support the landmark designation for his buildings, which his great-grandfather originally built for a blacksmith shop in 1882. The buildings now house a restaurant and a video store.

"I personally think it's a good idea," said Sperl, whose late father, Tim, was instrumental in the 1986 campaign to list the district on the National Register.

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