As of 2017, the new plan is set to extend into Little Tokyo's most historic area: First Street North. However, only the northside of First Street North is protected by both state and federal ordinances, leaving historic businesses like Bunkado vulnerable.
For Simonian, the responsibility of maintaining a historic legacy rests with Little Tokyo’s oldest businesses and institutions.
“For the few of us that remain,” explained Simonian. “We get to become more and more important, just because of the history that we represent.”
That history is one of innovation and community. Japanese immigrants began establishing businesses on First Street North more than a century ago. While the light bulb was beginning to light up the streets of the United States’ urban centers, new residents built Little Tokyo out of mochi-shops, tintype photo-studios, and their own community newspaper, the Rafu Shimpo, which still exists today.
This development of Little Tokyo is also marked by displacement. In the early 1950s, just a few years after Little Tokyo’s residents had returned from internment camps, the city destroyed one-fourth of the community’s business districts, along with the homes of nearly 1,000 residents, to make way for former LAPD headquarters at Parker Center.
In the 1970s organizations affiliated with The Los Angeles Department of City Planning began a 30-year-old initiative to transform Little Tokyo into a cultural destination. Today, the stylized Japanese Village Plaza, one of their projects, is a popular place for Instagram photo shoots and cultural festivals.
“It’s turned into a place where foodies come to eat and hipsters come to buy clothes,” Simonian said. “People are choosing to come here to have fun and I think that’s absolutely delightful.
Some community members argue that this change should not come at the cost of the community’s heritage. Sustainable Little Tokyo, a coalition of 3 community non-profits, began a petition urging councilmember Jose Huizar and Mayor Eric Garcetti in their vision for First Street North in April. The advocates also want the Little Tokyo Service Center to be selected as the community developer.
“We are the public and it’s public land,” says Scott Oshima, lead Community Organizer for Sustainable Little Tokyo. “We should get a say in what is built there.”
While planning for the Civic Center Master Plan is still underway, the city has begun other development initiatives. On April 20th, the city broke ground on a series of public improvements that will bring bring 50 curb ramps, 56 pedestrian lights, 104 planted trees, continental crosswalks at six intersections, two new traffic signals and more than 22,000 square-feet of sidewalk repairs.
“For generations it has been one of the City of Los Angeles and DTLA’s premier destinations, a true Los Angeles’ treasure,” said Huizar at the ceremony. “These upgrades will vastly improve the pedestrian experience so that locals and visitors can continue to enjoy Little Tokyo.