By ELLEN ENDO, Rafu Shimpo
For 67 years, the little church on Union Avenue has served the local Filipino American community as a place of worship, occasional social center, and meeting place. On Oct. 6, the city’s oldest Filipino church took its place as an historic touchstone when it was officially nominated to the National Register of Historic Places.
Former California State Assemblymember Warren Furutani delivered the keynote speech at the recent event celebrating the nomination, calling to mind a journey he took in the mid-1960s with a fellow activist, the late Victor Shibata, that led to the first-ever Manzanar Pilgrimage in 1969 and eventual designation of the wartime concentration camp as a National Historic Site.
Furutani emphasized the importance of recognizing and preserving historic cultural structures and places that “provide an atmospheric view of what happened and become touchstones for a community and for our youth.”
Los Angeles City Councilmember David Ryu paid tribute to “the pioneers who came before us, who struggled, who worked,” adding, “The stories behind these walls matter.”
Long before the church was constructed in 1951, the Christian Church/Disciples of Christ denomination formed the Filipino Fellowship in 1928. The Fellowship held meetings in an apartment house adjacent to four bungalows on Bunker Hill near Hope Street and Grand Avenue, where Disney Concert Hall now stands.
Reflecting on history, journalist Abner Galino writes, “In the late 1920s (when) many restaurants and bars bore signs that said, ‘No dogs, no Filipinos,’ early Filipino settlers found shelter under the roofs of (those) four bungalows. Racial discrimination was so strong that even some churches refused to admit Filipinos.”
Announcement of the National Register nomination was made during the Historic Contexts Community Symposium. The context identifies buildings, structures, objects, sites, cultural landscapes, and historic districts that are significant for their association with important people, events, historic trends, activities, organizations, etc.
According to the L.A. Historic Resources Survey published last spring by the City Planning Department, among more than 140 sites being considered for their historic context is the former home of early Rafu Shimpo publisher H. Toyosaku Komai at 1346 W. 37th St. Others include the Obayashi Employment Agency at 564 N. Virgil Ave. and the Joyce Boarding House at 560 N. Virgil.
In Little Tokyo, Kouraku Restaurant, Fugetsu-do, Mikawaya, S.K. Uyeda Department Store, Anzen Hotel Supply and Hardware, Fukui Mortuary, and the Sumitomo Bank Building (Kajima Building) are among those identified for their historic cultural significance. More are Flower View Gardens (1801 N. Western Ave.), Grace Pastries, Holiday Bowl, Kubota Nikkei Mortuary, Satsuma Imports on Sawtelle Boulevard, and Kashu Realty on Jefferson Boulevard.
Symposium sponsors included the Asian and Pacific Islander Americans in Historic Preservation (APIAHiP), Department of City Planning, Office of Historic Resources, and the Filipino Christian Church. Organizers hope that designation of the Filipino church will open the door to other historic cultural properties that may qualify for the Register.
Participating in a panel discussion as part of the symposium were: moderator Michelle Magalong; Kristen Hayashi, Japanese American National Museum; Eugene Moy, board member, Chinese Historical Society of Southern California; Christina Park, representing Koreatown; Building and Safety Commissioner Joselyn Geaga-Rosenthal, representing Historic Filipinotown; and Chancee Martorell, executive director, Thai Community Development Center.
The National Register is the official list of the nation’s historic places worthy of preservation and is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America’s historic and archeological resources.