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LITTLE TOKYO : The Monster That Ate the Recession?

October 09, 1994|TOMMY LI

Godzilla vs. King Kong. Godzilla vs. Charles Barkley.

Godzilla vs. the recession ?

That's right. Japan's famed monster with the bad breath could help wipe away the economic woes that have marred Little Tokyo and surrounding Downtown businesses since the 1992 riots, according to some local merchants and artists.

The group is proposing that a statue of the fictional, dinosaur-like character be erected alongside or as part of a family entertainment, monster and science fiction movie museum in Little Tokyo.

"Godzilla is an icon," said Sheila Rollins, 49, a visual artist who owns an apartment building on Traction Avenue.

"He's Japanese. He's American. Everybody knows him. Kids would like to come and see (the museum)."

City officials have yet to review the group's suggestion, but Howard Gantman, press deputy for Councilwoman Rita Walters, said: "It might be an interesting idea."

The Godzilla museum idea was among the "most popular and unique suggestions" among submissions from about 80 people to the Community Redevelopment Agency, according to a consultants' report.

CRA staff spent $10,000 to hire consultants Kats Kunitsugu and Sumiko Takase, who organized brainstorming sessions over the past year with Little Tokyo and surrounding Downtown residents, merchants, artists and property owners.

The purpose of the Little Tokyo Opportunities Inventory was to collect community ideas for making Little Tokyo more appealing to tourists and visitors, and to find ways to turn those ideas into reality, said Gloria Uchida, CRA project manager for the area.

Other recommendations for future projects included a bridge to connect the artists' colony on Traction Avenue to 2nd Street, a multipurpose gymnasium that could be called the Little Tokyo Megaplex, a toy museum that could be incorporated with the Godzilla monster museum, a public aquarium to display Downtown's seafood industry and a Japanese products complex to house consumer representatives from Japanese electronics firms and auto makers.

Although CRA officials said they don't have funds to pay for all of the proposed projects, they plan by December to produce pamphlets featuring most of the ideas.

An estimated 2,000 will then be distributed to developers or businesses in an effort to seek outside funding, said Mickey Gustin, arts planner.

Meanwhile, CRA staff can provide money for some of the less expensive ideas from the community, such as tree plantings around Little Tokyo, Uchida said.

Nancy Uyemura, a 47-year-old artist who heads the Godzilla museum group, said CRA staff should consider asking American or Japanese filmmakers for financial support.

"Everyone Downtown, and I think Little Tokyo especially, is just suffering from the economy and the bad P.R. we got from the riots," said Uyemura, a visual communications designer at Mrs. Gooch's decor studio. The community "needs some kind of a major attraction."

A Godzilla museum is highly possible in Little Tokyo and would also be unique to America, said Qathryn Brehm, also an artist. Currently, the only known Godzilla memorial is in Kobe, Japan.

Consultant Kunitsugu said a business improvement district, similar to the city's first on Broadway, is an alternative to obtaining funds needed for arts and visual projects in Little Tokyo.

"That's the only way we are going to be able to do anything," she said.

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