WAHA E-News 8-7-2007

Preservation hearing, WAHA Newcomers' Dessert. And more!

1). PRESERVATION ALERT: UNION BANK (BANK OF TOKYO) HEARING Wednesday, August 8 11:30 a.m. Los Angeles City Hall, 200 N. Spring, Rm. 1020

The City of Los Angeles will be conducting a hearing tomorrow morning, Wednesday, August 8, regarding West Angeles Church's proposed new commercial shopping center at Crenshaw and Jefferson Boulevards. The public is welcome to speak, or to send comment letters to the file. (Address letters to Theodore L. Irving, theodore.irving@lacity.org).

The case involves a complicated set of Planning "Alphabet Soup" requests, including a tract subdivision (AA-2007-1846 PMLA), plus a conditional use permit, a variance, and an environmental clearance, all wrapped together in Case No. ZA-2007-1874 (CUB)(ZV)(ZAA)(ZAD).

The proposal calls for the demolition of the Mid-Century Modern Union Bank Building, which was erected in 1964 as the Bank of Tokyo. In addition, the proposal shifts the surface parking from Crenshaw Boulevard, where it currently is located, to Jefferson at Bronson Avenue, adjacent to the residential community. One alternative that has been suggested is to retain at least a portion of the building, facing Jefferson, so that the entire project becomes "pedestrian friendly" on both commercial streets, while also honoring the heritage of the building.

One other issue that has been identified is that, because the Bureau of Engineering is requiring the retention of a north-south alley, the project has been designed with what is in effect an 87-foot-long windowless "tunnel" running under the second story, which will be open 24/7.

WAHA is particularly troubled by what it considers an inadequate environmental review, and especially the historic assessment, which failed to address the relationship to our community's cultural heritage. WAHA's letter to the City reads, in part: "This Bank of Tokyo/Union Bank Building represents a rare remaining contextual element of the cultural and architectural history of Japanese Americans in Los Angeles.

"This building is linked to extremely important architects in the history of Los Angeles. Toshikazu ("Tosh") Terasawa moved to Jefferson Park just after World War II, attended USC and became a licensed architect in 1949. Approximately 15 years later, at the height of their distinguished architectural careers, Terasawa and his partner, Arthur O'Leary (a professor of architecture at USC, and author of architecture text books used to teach students elements of their profession) were hired to design the Bank of Tokyo's branch building that would serve this community."

Moreover, "When experts disagree, CEQA demands that the decision makers err on the side of significance…the current MND is inadequate and additional study is required to meet the standards of CEQA. Due to the many issues relating the entire development of the Crenshaw Boulevard area, in addition to what we view as an inadequate historic assessment, an EIR is required to assess the impacts of this project. The area in which this site is located deserves a more comprehensive look at the interrelationship between this development and the adjoining area."

And, WAHA concludes, "both the buildings associated with this community and the cultural history of its people themselves are in danger of being lost to future generations."

Many of you wrote letters about Felix the Cat (the Felix Showroom and Neon Sign) last month, which certainly helped in the effort to have that property designated a City landmark. Thank you very much. While bank buildings are probably not as fun, we hope this one can reach its ninth life, too! Please do share your thoughts with Mr. Irving, and with us. A more complete background history/description can be found at the end of this e-mail.

Thursday, August 16
6:30 p.m.
2190 West 24th Street (Kinney Heights)

WAHA members are all invited to a "Newcomers' Dessert" on Thursday evening, August 16, hosted by Robert Leary in his new home. This lovely historic house has never before been opened to WAHA for an event, and we know everyone will enjoy the original woodwork, light fixtures, and even the tapestry wall coverings of this remarkable home.

Existing members are encouraged to bring a dessert to share with their fellow members. Newcomers, those who have been members of WAHA for less than two years, are invited as our guests. Beverages will be provided.

In addition, WAHA will present the Bob Bortfeld Award to this year's honoree, Ed Trosper.

So please come and meet your neighbors, new and old, and let them meet you. We look forward to seeing you there.

Wednesday, August 15
6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
USC Galen Center - Founders' Club Room, 3400 S. Figueroa Street (Please use W. Jefferson Blvd. entrance)

Each month the Exposition Construction Authority holds Project Status Update Open Houses along the alignment, which gives citizens, businesses and other strategic partners a unique opportunity to gain valuable information about the progress of the Expo Line. The presentation will include information about the status of construction and an urban design program update.

Please park in the USC parking structure, located on South Figueroa Street, near the Sizzler restaurant and validations are available for meeting attendees.

Mark your calendars as well for September 18, when the Construction Authority holds a similar open house for the mid-corridor section of the line.

For more information, contact Greg Starosky, Government & Community Relations Representative, Exposition Construction Authority, 213-243-5534 or gstarosky@exporail.net.

Saturday, August 25
4 to 7 p.m.
Heritage Square Museum, 3800 Homer St. (Highland Park)

BE THERE OR BE SQUARE! Heritage Square Museum remembers a watershed year in recent history when Flower Power was in full bloom, hippies hung out on the Sunset Strip, and there was a Love-In in Griffith Park. Re-live your mis-spent youth or come see what all the fuss was about! Be IN at Heritage Square as we remember a watershed year; when Flower Power was in full bloom, hippies hung out on the Sunset Strip, and there was a Love-In in Griffith Park. Tickets for this fundraising event are $25 per person. There will be food, face painting, dance contests, hippie "costume" contests, give-aways, and of course, music. KRTH-101 radio will be there, broadcasting all the "oldies." Get out your love beads and be sure to wear some flowers in your hair!

Heritage Square is a living history museum reflecting the settlement and development of Southern California from the Civil War to the early 20th Century, Heritage Square Museum offers visitors a look into the everyday lives of Southern Californians at the close of the 19th Century. To find out more, and to sign up for this event, visit www.heritagesquare.org or call 323-225-2700.

Sunday, September 9
11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

You're invited to "Six Blocks of History," the Western Heights Neighborhood Association (WHNA) Homes Tour. Stroll through the "streetcar suburb" where up-and-coming young professional families built their homes in the early part of this century. Eight historically significant homes will be open for tour.

Located just north of the Santa Monica Freeway between Western and Arlington, Western Heights is an architecturally diverse enclave filled with custom-built homes from the turn of the century. Originally developed outside the city limits, this six-block area was a forerunner to the modern suburb, far from the dusty and noisy center of town. The residential streets are characterized by two- and three-story single family residences in many architectural styles including Craftsman, Tudor Revival, Queen Anne, Spanish Colonial Revival, Monterey Revival, and American Four-square. Many were designed by some of the most prominent architects of Los Angeles, including John C. Austin, Myron Hunt, Sumner Hunt, Frank M. Tyler, Elmer Grey, Arthur R. Kelley, and Paul Williams.

Much of the community's architectural legacy remains intact in spite of the construction of the Santa Monica Freeway in 1960. To maintain the neighborhood's integrity, the Western Heights HPOZ was created by the City in 2001. It contains 120 Contributing and Contributing "Altered" structures dating from the late 19th century to the 1930s.

Tickets are $30 in advance and $35 the day of the tour. Final tickets will be sold at 3:30 p.m. Tickets for the self-guided tour are available through WHNA, PO Box 191400, Los Angeles, CA 90019 or by e-mailing westernheightstour@mac.com. Proceeds from this event will benefit construction of traffic easements in the neighborhood. Visit our historic neighborhood at www.WesternHeightsonline.com.


The Bank of Tokyo/Union Bank building was designed in the early 1960s in the International Style as a financial institution serving the adjacent Japanese-American residential community of Jefferson Park.

This building represents a still-standing piece of community fabric in a neighborhood where much has been demolished. It is reflective of a time both past and present of a neighborhood filled with diverse culture. We are trying to work together as a community to ensure that the Japanese-American community's remaining history in Jefferson Park is not erased as well.

Recent historic assessments have been prepared but the series of preparators each ignored the role this particular building and its particular Japanese-American architect played in its local community.

The Bank of Tokyo/Union Bank Building was designed in 1964 by architects Arthur O'Leary and Tosh Terasawa in a modern style that utilized the visual vocabulary of Ludwig Mies von der Rohe, a German-born educator and architect who helped define modernist architecture with a rational approach and the famed slogan, "Less is More."

The Bank of Tokyo opened its first Los Angeles branch in Little Tokyo, at 120 So. San Pedro, in the early 1950s. Erecting the Jefferson Boulevard branch a decade later represented the Bank of Tokyo's effort to serve the growing Japanese-American residential community in the neighborhood we now call Jefferson Park. Although considered risky at the time, according to an interview conducted with Kazuo K. Inouye, founder of Kashu Realty, this Bank of Tokyo branch almost immediately turned a profit after opening in the mid-1960s, due primarily to the large number of real estate loans it was able to make to Japanese-American families purchasing homes in the area.

Jefferson Park extends from Arlington on the east to Crenshaw on the west, from about 26th Place to Exposition. Both before and after World War II, many Japanese-American families settled in the area. After the war, many actually "resettled" in this area - having lost their homes during internment at such relocation camps as Manzanar.

One of those resettlers was a young man named Toshikazu ("Tosh") Terasawa. Terasawa moved to Jefferson Park just after World War II, attended USC and became a licensed architect in 1949. About 15 years later, while enjoying the fruits of a well-established architecture career, Terasawa and his partner, Arthur O'Leary (a professor of architecture at USC, and author of architecture text books used to teach students elements of their profession) were hired to design the Bank of Tokyo's branch building that would serve this community.

One of the more famous buildings erected in the area was the Holiday Bowl. Built in 1958 by five Japanese-Americans, the Holiday Bowl exemplified part of the process of rebuilding the community after internment. In order to finance it, its owners sold shares throughout Crenshaw. Given the Bowl's location on Crenshaw Boulevard, it became important in the desegregation of Los Angeles as it served a multi-racial clientele. According to a website devoted to its history, "despite a lengthy and impassioned outcry to save it, the Holiday Bowl was demolished in October of 2003. When it finally was torn down, those who frequented the Holiday Bowl and many in the surrounding neighborhood experienced a profound loss."

Indeed, adds Chris Aihara, executive director of the Japanese American Cultural Center, "We've seen so much loss in that community - you get to be fatalistic about preserving its history." She also told the National Trust that "I think what we have come to understand in terms of preservation is that there are buildings, but they are significant because of the activities [that took place there] -- what people recognize is the association they have with the area."

Terasawa also was clearly well-regarded at City Hall, where he served for 17 years on the Building & Safety Commission as its only architect member, and four terms as its president. Terasawa and O'Leary were also jointly honored as "Distinguished Alumni" by their alma mater, USC. This annual award is not meted out lightly.

Arthur O'Leary, FAIA, MRIAI, co-founder in 1949 of O'Leary Terasawa Partners, is now retired from active practice and living and writing in Drogheda, County Louth, Ireland. He is still generally associated with the firm he founded with Terasawa, which over time grew and merged into a Santa Monica practice now called Widom Wein Cohen O'Leary Terasawa (WWCOT).

O'Leary is a much-published author of journal articles on topics ranging from professional architectural practice and design liability to construction law. His Architectonics textbooks (Vol. 1 to 4) were used at the USC School of Architecture, where O'Leary was also a faculty member from 1953 to 1963. In addition, he was a lecturer at SciArc, and the UCLA School of Architecture and Urban Planning. He additionally helped develop curriculum at Trade Tech for two decades, from 1965 to 1986. Through these activities O'Leary helped educate and influence several generations of young architects.

He also served as a director for both the Los Angeles chapter and the California Council of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). O'Leary was a Commissioner for the California Board of Architectural Examiners, conducting oral interviews and design examinations for professionals hoping to earn designation as licensed architects. O'Leary is also widely recognized as an authority in forensic architecture.

Along with the USC Distinguished Alumnus Award (1992), O'Leary received accolades from AIA's Los Angeles chapter (Distinguished Achievement Award, 1985), and the California Council of AIA (President's Certificate of Appreciation and the Special Award for Excellence, both in 1985.) In 1974, O'Leary was elevated to "Fellowship" in the national AIA. This distinction is bestowed by the Institute on AIA members "who have notably contributed to the advancement of the profession of architecture" by "truly outstanding achievements." According to the AIA, "Fellowship is one of the highest honors the AIA can bestow upon a member. Elevation to Fellowship not only recognizes the achievements of the architect as an individual but also elevates before the public and the profession those architects who have made significant contributions to architecture and to society."

When O'Leary and Terasawa were recognized in 1992 by USC, Dean Robert Harris of the School of Architecture noted that "This is a particularly important time for the Architecture Guild, and the architectural profession, to recognize architects whose energies have shaped our understanding of ethics and culture. By making important contributions to society as citizen-architects, Art O'Leary and Tosh Terasawa have provided a model for all professionals."

Other recipients over the years of USC's award include Frank Gehry, Jon Jerde, Albert C. Martin, and Pierre Koenig, among other illustrious company.

Their architectural partnership was also recognized with awards by architect-peers for its designs of such projects as the Toyota Technical Center in Los Angeles, the Marymount High School Library, and the St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church renovation.

Terasawa was also an AIA Fellow. His career arc was, of course, different than O'Leary's, although they were partners for more than 40 years.

Terasawa was an American-born Nisei. But when he was a youth, he was taken from his home and interned at a relocation camp throughout the war years. One of the reasons he settled in the Jefferson Park area afterwards was his membership in the Centenary United Methodist Church, then located at 35th Street and Normandie. With the evacuation of the Japanese to the war relocation camps, the church had closed its doors. But at the end of the war, the church became a community hostel for camp returnees, including Terasawa.

Terasawa, as noted, matriculated at the University of Southern California, becoming a licensed architect in 1949 and forming his longstanding partnership with O'Leary the same year. Always civic-minded, Terasawa is now considered a seminal force in the master planning of Little Tokyo, where he also served as a longtime member of the Community Development Advisory Council. He helped found the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, and served on its board beginning in 1971 for several decades. He was also its president. In addition, Terasawa served on the Board of Governors of the Japanese American National Museum beginning in 1985. His efforts with these organizations have clearly helped preserve the history and culture of Los Angeles's Japanese-American community.

He was also the architect of the new Little Tokyo home for Union Bank in the early 1990s. Along with designing the structure, Terasawa worked with the artist Seiji Kunishima to conceive and install at that location the acclaimed public sculpture, "Stonerise," an artwork meant to evoke Japanese gardens.

The consultant also stated that the building is an "ordinary" example of International Style. Other architectural historians have noted, however, that it is one of the buildings erected along Crenshaw in this era that introduced modern lines and style to the community. The building is supported by structural columns that form a regular grid along the rest of the building, and include a glass curtain wall - certainly a Miesian touch. It also has a distinctive garden area on the Jefferson Boulevard elevation that visually merges indoors and outdoors, a common theme in modern design.

The Bank of Tokyo building at 3501 West Jefferson Blvd. is a site that has significance to the City of Los Angeles because it reflects and exemplifies the broad cultural, economic and social history of the Japanese-American community in Jefferson Park. Both the buildings associated with this community and the people themselves are in danger of being lost to future generations.


We welcome your contributions to the WAHA E-News and West Adams Heritage Association's monthly publication, "West Adams Matters." Please understand that we do have deadlines. Material for the print newsletter should be submitted no later than the 1st of the prior month (i.e.: April 1 for the May issue). If your event is scheduled for early in a month, we suggest you request coverage for the prior month (i.e.: May issue for a June 3 event), because it's entirely possible that not all of our members will have received their newsletter by then (we do try hard…). We reserve the right to edit submitted material. For the WAHA E-News, we prefer to only send it out once or twice a month. Please don't wait until two days before an event to let us know about it. It may not be sent out.

EXCEPTION: If you suddenly hear of an important city hearing or other public meeting that is important to West Adams, we will endeavor to send out a special bulletin.

Submit your material to Laura Meyers, editor, lauramink@aol.com.