A downtown Arts District building whose tenants are fighting eviction was recommended for historic-cultural monument status by a Los Angeles City Council committee Feb. 13.
The 100-year-old Joannes Brothers Building at 800 Traction Ave. was recommended for preservation by the Planning and Land Use Management Committee, but with added language recognizing two of the artists who once lived there and a direction for city staff to research the building’s connection with nearby Little Tokyo.
Both of the additions were requested by a group of activists, residents and artists facing eviction. They said the original historical application paid for by the building’s new owner, DLJ Real Estate Capital Partners, only included its history up until 1959, and made no mention of its history during the 1980s and what some residents say was a crucial contribution to the history of the artist-in-residence program and the history of Japanese American and Latino artists in Los Angeles.
“I consider myself a preservationist, but I also like to think and say that it’s not only about bricks and mortar and the architecture, but it’s also about the events and people that have made history what it is, and so I think this is a location where that applies,” said Councilmember Jose Huizar, who recommended the additional language.
Huizar is chair of the committee and also represents the Arts District and Little Tokyo.
Opponents of the historical application have argued that the building’s new owner, DLJ Real Estate Capital Partners, was “whitewashing” the neighborhood’s history as it looks to evict longtime artists and Japanese Americans who live there.
The city Planning Commission, bowing to the wishes of some of the application’s opponents, in December added a few lines to its recommendation that recognized the building’s association with the development of the Arts District in the 1980s, the artists-in-residence lofts there, and its connection to Japanese American artists and other ethnicities.
Huizar further added to the language that would recognize the building’s monument status and specifically recognized two artists who once lived there, Matsumi Kanemitsu and Richard Duardo.
The firm hired by DLJ to prepare its application, GPA Consulting, previously reported that the building did not appear to have a strong connection to Japanese Americans and Japanese American artists, but Teresa Grimes of GPA told the committee that she and DLJ agreed with the new language.
“We’re very satisfied with the language that you just stated,” she told Huizar.
DLJ did not immediately reply to a request for comment about what it intends to do with the building if the residents are evicted. The company bought the five-story building and a two-story one next door in 2016 for $20 million, and the roughly dozen residents that live there reported over the summer that they received eviction notices.
The artists are fighting the evictions and reported in October that they received unlawful detainer lawsuit notices, which are used in California by landlords to evict tenants who do not move out voluntarily after receiving a notice.
A group of 30 supporters held signs in support of the artists.
Taiji Miyagawa, chair of the 800 Traction support group, said, “This problem of gentrification is citywide, not only in Little Tokyo, and we cannot allow the history of Japanese American and other diverse artists to be whitewashed out. I appreciate Councilman Huizar’s amended language and his assistance to encourage negotiations between DLJ Capital Partners/Credit Suisse Bank and the residents. However, the name of ‘Little Tokyo’ in which boundaries the Arts District was born needs to be included in the language of the final resolution.”
The building was constructed in 1917 and served as the Joannes Brothers Co.’s Ben-Hur coffee and spice manufacturing facility from 1917 to 1959. In 1982, the property was converted to residential use, according to a city planning report.
The artists facing eviction and activists supporting them argue the company could receive millions of dollars in tax credits and a reduced property assessment as a result of a historic designation, which would have to be approved by the full City Council.
Outside the chambers, photographer Jaimee Itagaki, one of the artist residents, stated, “I want to thank all of the supporters so much. It’s really been incredible. I think today was a definite gain. I cannot disclose much about the negotiations with the owners but I believe it’s going well and I feel good after this hearing.”