Bronzeville Club Remembered with Marker in Little Tokyo

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A historical marker in front of the former Uyeda Building shows the location of the Finale Club on First Street in Little Tokyo.

The Los Angeles City Council on Oct. 22 passed a motion to recognize the Finale Club, a famed Bronzeville night spot, with a sign in Little Tokyo.

The sign, which was put up the same day, reads: “The Finale Club, 230½ East First Street, Little Tokyo/Bronzeville. Where jazz greats Charlie Parker and Miles Davis performed together in 1946.”

The Little Tokyo Historical Society said in a statement, “L.A. City Hall moved quickly to commemorate the site at which two of the greatest jazz musicians ever — Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker and Miles Davis — performed together at the Finale Club in March of 1946!

“At the urging of the Little Tokyo Historical Society and a motion made by Councilmember Jose Huizar, a historical marker was posted at 230½ E. First St. in Little Tokyo in front of the former Uyeda Building, which back during and just after World War II was the site of the Finale Club, a jazz breakfast club during the Bronzeville era when Little Tokyo had transformed into an African American neighborhood.

“The L.A. City Council approved the motion to establish his historical marker on Oct. 22, 2019 and immediately the City Department of Transportation went to work to install the sign to let visitors know of this historic location considered so precious for jazz enthusiasts and historians.

“The Little Tokyo Historical Society is appreciative of all those who made this historic marker sign possible — which adds to the colorful history of this neighborhood and the cultural diversity of Los Angeles.”

Serving on the Finale Club Committee were Bill Watanabe, Miya Iwataki, Cindy Abrams, James Okazaki, Yuko Gabe and Robert Shoji, creator of a documentary titled “The Finale Club,” which premiered at the 2018 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival as part of Visual Communications’ “Digital Histories” program.

Charlie Parker and Miles Davis performing together. This was not taken at the Finale Club; filmmaker Robert Shoji has been unable to find a photo of their Finale Club performance.

The motion reads as follows:

“On Feb. 19, 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, resulting in the imprisonment of Americans of Japanese ancestry and Japanese immigrants on the West Coast into 10 internment camps. This forced removal of the Japanese community turned the thriving Little Tokyo community into a shuttered ghost town.

“During this time, large numbers of African Americans were migrating to the West Coast seeking jobs to support the war effort. Although they found employment, individuals faced restrictive housing covenants preventing them from living in many parts of Los Angeles. Little Tokyo, however, did not have such discriminatory housing covenants.

“Many African Americans moved into the newly vacant buildings and began operating businesses in the empty storefronts. Through the WWII years, Little Tokyo became known as ‘Bronzeville.’

“In addition to new businesses, many all-night ‘breakfast clubs’ sprang up in Bronzeville, patronized by jazz musicians and music aficionados. Among them was the Finale Club at 230½ E. First St. Two of the most influential figures in jazz history, Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, frequented these establishments.

“In March 1946, an important moment in jazz history took place when these two extraordinary jazz musicians performed at the Finale Club. A recording of this event is said to be the first live public recording of Miles Davis.

“In recognition of the important historic circumstances of exclusion and discrimination shared by the Japanese American and African American communities that led to the unique creation of Little Tokyo/Bronzeville and to memorialize and educate music lovers about the extraordinary and rare performance of jazz greats Charlie Parker and Miles Davis at the Finale Club, it is appropriate that the city designate this location as ‘Finale Club — Little Tokyo/Bronzeville.’

“I therefore move that 230½ E. First St. be recognized as the site of an important 1940s jazz venue, the Finale Club, in what was known as Little Tokyo/Bronzeville during the WWII era and that the Department of Transportation be directed to fabricate and install a permanent ceremonial sign to this effect at this location.”

The Finale Club Committee (from left): Bill Watanabe, Miya Iwataki, Cindy Abrams, James Okazaki, Rob Shoji, Yuko Gabe.

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