Japanese-American residents of a downtown apartment building spoke out at LA City Hall today about eviction notices that jeopardize the building's cultural history.
"Preservation is not just about a building, it should be about the people in the building," said protester Evelyn Yoshimura. "It white washes the real history of the area, especially if the eviction that is pending goes through."
800 Traction Ave. is an old warehouse that rests on the border between Little Tokyo and the arts district. It was built in 1917 as a manufacturing facility for Joannes Brothers Company. It made coffee and spices in the first half of the 20th century when McCormick bought them out. Starting in 1982, it was repurposed as lofts for artists and residents.
The owner appeared before the Cultural Heritage Commission today to apply to make it a historic-cultural monument, and dozens rallied in opposition.
But their protests wouldn't make a difference.
"You think that if we don't make it a monument, that the artists will live there. I'm not sure that's true," said Commission President Richard Barron. "I think this issue is a lot bigger than this designation. And it's bigger than this commission."
Owner Laura Doerges confirmed that the application and evictions were unrelated. She declined to comment on why the residents are being told to leave.
800 Traction Ave. is not the only example of cultural shifts in Los Angeles.
Gentrification in LA and across the country is a growing problem with rising house prices and homeless populations. In recent history, LA neighborhoods are gentrifying more and more, displacing urban populations and uprooting cultural hubs in one of the country’s most diverse cities.
This building houses Japanese-American artists who live and work there. Bruce Yonemoto has lived there since 1999, producing artwork that he's shown worldwide. He said it's getting harder for artists to find places to live.
"There won't be any artists left in the arts district so it will just be in name only," he said. "They've already eradicated an ethnic community that's been established since before the turn of the last century."
But Barron said even though he's sympathetic, it's not news to him.
"You were the first gentrificationers whether you want to admit it or not," he said, coining the term. "I've seen it in Portland, I've seen it in Minneapolis, I've seen it in many cities. There's an arts district, and it becomes a professional district after awhile, and then there's housing. It's happening here and it's really unfortunate."
Commissioner Diane Kanner said even though they couldn't protect the artists, that their vote might not be meaningless.
"I find that an application may be amended up until the final determination," she said, "So going by the book there would seem to be that these persons should work together to come up with an application that suits us."
Kanner said they could ensure that zoning and building use could go into the application before it is approved.
The commission voted unanimously to approve the monument application with the caveat that they meet with community members to include the Japanese-American influence on the building's history.