By BILL WATANABE
The JACCC Plaza (aka “Noguchi Plaza”) has an amazing history and is one of most storied sites in all of Los Angeles! That’s right — the plaza that people cross as they walk to the JACCC or the Aratani Theatre has a deep and rich history.
How is it amazing? Let me count the ways:
1) The property was once owned by Biddy Mason. Who was Biddy Mason? She is one of the most incredible people of Los Angeles that most Angelinos never heard of. Go ahead and Google her — it is a great read.
Biddy was a slave in Mississippi and trained as a midwife. Around 1851 she walked to California as part of an entourage with her “master” and they settled in Los Angeles. In a harrowing adventure worthy of a feature-length movie, she escaped from her “master” and gained her freedom. By 1890 Biddy was one of the richest land-owners in downtown L.A.!
Biddy, who could neither read nor write, was generous with her great wealth and when the L.A. River flooded its banks in the 1890s, she provided food for hundreds of homeless flood victims. She is also the founder of the First AME Church (known nationally as the FAME Church — one of the most famous black churches in America) and the JACCC courtyard was the original site of the FAME Church of Los Angeles. The church quickly outgrew the location and moved to a larger facility.
2) The property was eventually sold to the Azusa Street Mission in 1906 and became the first Pentecostal church in the entire world! From 1906 to1912, this church was known for what is called the “Azusa Street Revival” — probably one of the greatest events in the history of Christianity since the Protestant Reformation of Martin Luther! Go ahead and Google it — I do not exaggerate this experience one bit!
The Azusa Street Mission helped start hundreds of churches throughout the world and in fact, **every** Pentecostal and Charismatic church in the world today (with over a half-billion believers) traces its beginnings to this one church!
There are about 15 million Mormons in the world, and most people know the story of Brigham Young and the founding of the Mormon Church. Yet, the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement is more than 30 times bigger but hardly anyone knows about Rev. William J. Seymore (go ahead and Google him) and the church he founded in what is now Little Tokyo.
The church gradually faded away and the building that stood on the lot was destroyed in 1932, but even now, thousands of Pentecostal pilgrims come from all over the world to see the site of the former Azusa Street Mission.
3) The property was eventually transferred to the JACCC and in 1983 became the Noguchi Plaza, which is marked with two huge stone sculptures in the middle of the courtyard. The plaza and the stone sculptures were designed by one of the most famous visual artists of the latter 20th century, Isamu Noguchi. Go ahead and Google him and you will see a sample of the artworks of Noguchi showcased in many of the most prominent museums and public spaces in the world. I can remember walking in New York’s Central Park and seeing one of those sculptured stones at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; and I saw another similar stone at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
Today, the JACCC Noguchi Plaza is one the most familiar gathering sites in the Nikkei and local downtown communities. Many events have been held there since 1983, including concerts, carnivals, banquets, sumo matches, and much, much more.
The site has a fabulous history — and is a central part of our Nikkei community and heritage. Stop and ponder these things the next time you come to the JACCC Plaza — and you can Google it while you’re there!
Bill Watanabe writes from Silverlake near downtown Los Angeles and can be contacted at [email protected] Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.