While most Los Angeles residents think of Downtown’s Little Tokyo as the heart of the city’s Japanese American community, Japanese Americans also historically settled in other areas of the city, including Boyle Heights and the Crenshaw District. Often overlooked is the westernmost Japanese American enclave in Los Angeles – the significant concentration of Japanese American businesses and institutions in the West Los Angeles community of Sawtelle.
Japanese Americans settled in the Sawtelle community even prior to its 1922 consolidation into the City of Los Angeles. The early arrivals initially came to the area to work in agriculture fields south of Pico Boulevard or at the nearby Soldier’s Home (today’s Veterans Administration campus).
Takashi and Shizuko Kato inside of nursery they owned and operated, circa 1951.
Japanese American woman in front of the Sawtelle Food Market, circa 1947.
Maintenance gardening was one of the few occupations open to Japanese Americans during these years. By 1941 Sawtelle had 26 Japanese American nurseries, serving the growing nearby affluent communities of the Westside as well as Japanese American gardeners who worked in these neighborhoods.
Though many of these sites have been redeveloped in recent decades, Los Angeles’ citywide historic resources survey, SurveyLA identified two nurseries that still exist today as “legacy businesses” anchoring the Sawtelle business district: O.K. Nursery, now Hashimoto Nursery (1941 S. Sawtelle Blvd.), which opened in 1928, and Yamaguhi Bonsai Nursery (1903 S. Sawtelle Blvd.), which dates to 1934.
For a deeper dive at home:
Search for historic nurseries and significant Japanese American historic sites in other neighborhoods of Los Angeles using the City’s comprehensive inventory of historic resources, HistoricPlacesLA.
To learn more about the history of the Sawtelle community and the forces that shaped the places significant to the Los Angeles Japanese American community, read the Japanese Americans in Los Angeles Historic Context, one of five citywide preservation frameworks developed by the Office of Historic Resources for the city’s Asian American communities.