CROSSROADS TO SOMEWHERE: Putting JACCC Woes Under Public Scrutiny

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By W.T. WIMPY HIROTO

Published in The Rafu Shimpo on Dec. 19, 2012

Dear Mr. Hiroto,

This is in response to your column of Dec. 5, 2012. I am the widow of Kiyoshi Sawano, the architect who designed Japanese American Cultural and Community Center. He passed away seven years ago. I read your article and I was so excited and thought I have to write about our side of the story.

When Kiyoshi designed the center, his idea was to have greenery at the front of the building and on the street side. Japanese buildings should be surrounded with lots of greenery. A dry desert-like surrounding does not match with a Japanese-style building.

My husband was not consulted in regards to the plaza design. When we attended the opening of the plaza, we were disappointed with the plaza design because it did not match the building.

At that time, Mr. Noguchi also created a similar creation near Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa and a lot of people went to see it. But there was quite a different surrounding there. Around that center were modern high-rise buildings.

Later we learned, when summertime came, that the sun baked the tiles of the plaza and it became so hot that ladies would use umbrellas to go down to the building. Some years later they planted a few trees, but the area around the Cultural Center should be much more inviting with a lot more greenery and benches for people to sit down under the shade of the trees and rest.

I am an 89-year-old widow now and I am so happy to find out that there are other people who agree with my husband’s ideas about the plaza.

— Yasuko Sawano

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There was much discussion about the center’s architectural plans and concept, but the plaza was under the sole aegis of Isamu Noguchi, a world-renowned sculptor. He was a public favorite at the time, being heralded by the art world for his Orange County creation. This absolute plaza control also doomed the success of Aratani Japan America Theatre; shunted off into oblivion without access to San Pedro Street, unable to establish an identification. The sculpture, unfortunately, became the heart and soul of JACCC.

Isamu Noguchi’s sculpture, “To the Issei,” in the JACCC Plaza. (CRA/LA)

But that was that, and then was then. Today it is being bandied about that the center is up for sale — with an interested buyer already in tow. Come again? If true, is this not the proverbial “tossing out the baby with the bath water”? If a sale is imminent, discussion of plaza development or center renovation becomes moot. Rumor has it several high-profile individuals “applied for” the executive directorship, and have been told thanks, but no thanks. If true, doesn’t this underscore the sale rumor?

CR2S repeats the most popular question: How did JACCC get into such financial straits to begin with? You don’t run up $2.5 million in debt overnight, even if you’re a Democrat. As descendants of the Land of the Rising Sun, why were there no early-warning red flag wavers? Who knew what when? And said nothing?

With all of the millions raised by shoshas in the Exuberant ’80s, do they not maintain a voice? Interest? And what about the local benefactors, the philanthropic individuals, businesses, farmers and entrepreneurs? Wouldn’t looking into ways to save the center make sense before the finality of a sale? It being Li’l Tokyo’s last remaining major parcel of land, I don’t imagine there is a lack of buyer interest, so why the hurry?

Just as CR2S was not the first to imagine better use of plaza area, neither am I alone in wondering who will be calling the shots. We’re talking multi-million buckaroos, folks. I don’t think asking questions is out of order. Not asking caused this mess in the first place.

If only Frances Hashimoto would miraculously reappear, closely followed by Katsumi Kunitsugu.

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A left-handed salute to Sen. Daniel K. Inouye. And an aching heart because of the Newtown carnage.

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W.T. Wimpy Hiroto can be reached at [email protected] Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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