First Street North Still Only
Viable Location for Rec Center


Despite the assurances of renowned architect Hayahiko Takase that the Little Tokyo Recreation Center could be built underground in such a way that it will not disrupt the planned Central Avenue Art Park or create additional noise for East West Players, elitist forces are conspiring to keep the Rec Center off the city-owned block north of First Street.

Although Takase's plan for an underground Rec Center effectively addresses the concerns that the Japanese American National Museum, the Geffen Contemporary Museum, East-West Players and the Go For Broke Monument had raised previously about the proposed presence of the Rec Center on First Street North, the City of Los Angeles still has not granted the Rec Center a lease because JANM and the Geffen have expressed their disapproval of the project to LA City District Nine Councilwoman Jan Perry.

At the heart of the Rec Center controversy is a conflict between two very different visions for Little Tokyo. One vision expresses a goal of status--Little Tokyo as a tourist destination with elite museums as the centerpiece. In this vision, the presence of actual Japanese Americans is largely unnecessary except to donate money and volunteer hours at JANM. In the vision supported by NCRR and many others, however, Little Tokyo is seen as a living community rather than as a commodity. As the cultural, historical and geographical home for Japanese Americans in the greater Los Angeles area as well as for many people of other ethnicities, Little Tokyo needs affordable housing, a recreation center and many other amenities to address the needs of the people who live, work and gather in Little Tokyo.

Councilwoman Perry has encouraged the Little Tokyo Service Center to consider the former location of St. Vibiana's Cathedral on the block bordered by Second, Los Angeles and Main Streets. However, neither the city nor developer Tom Gilmore has been able to secure the land. Only one of the three parcels of land at the St. Vibiana's location has been purchased, and this single parcel is not big enough by itself to accommodate the Rec Center. Unless the other two parcels at the St. Vibiana's site can be secured, First Street North is the only viable location for the Rec Center.

For updates on the Rec Center, visit or call 213/473-1690.

More community support.

Community banner shows support for the Little Tokyo Recreation Center.

500 attend public comment session in July

Latest Development...New Recreation Center Plans!

At the last Little Tokyo Community Council meeting on July 30, a new plan for the Recreation Center was presented by Mr. Takase who has been working with the Coalition for the past 8 years coming up with new designs for each new site (see article). This new plan answers all of the concerns about noise, parking and proximity to the Veterans’ Monument. In fact this plan adds more parking than the Art Park plan does. We applaud Mr. Takase’s creativity and sincere desire to resolve the problems. He said,” I love our community. I am proud of our community. It makes me sad to see it divided into two parts.” He also stated that “it’s an architect’s duty to find a way to accommodate both an Art Park and gym together on the same block.”

NOTE an August 17th article from the Los Angeles Times about the new rec center plans is included following this story

Architect Unveils New Rec Center Plan


Click Above to Enlarge
Hayahiko Takase, project architect for the Little Tokyo Recreation Center, unveiled a new concept that would place the gymnasium complex underground at First Street North at a meeting Tuesday of the Little Tokyo Community Council held at the Japanese American National Museum.

Takase, whose projects include the Kajima Building, Higashi Hongwanji Temple and New Otani Hotel. said the new plans came out of a brainstorming session held July 17 with Takase, Bill Watanabe, Dean Matsubayashi of Little Tokyo Service Center and architect Michael Enomoto of Gruen Associates. Takase said it was an attempt to find a solution to the current impasse between proponents of the proposed rec center and Central Avenue Art Park projects.

“One week after the July 10 (public) meeting. we had a brainstorm session and had a long discussion what to do. Michael Enomoto almost murmured. what if we buried our building, put it completely underground.” said Takase.

Click Above to Enlarge
The new plan which had yet to be pre-sented to 9th District Councilperson Jan Perry would place the entire six-court facility under the site where the Art Park would be constructed. At press time, a representative from Perry’s ofñce was unavailable for comment. Among the concerns expressed about the previous rec center plan was that noise from the gym would disrupt performances at the Union Center for the Arts and that the building would disturb the sanctity of the Go For Broke Monument.

Michael Maltzan. the architect of the Art Park also made a presentation to the Community Council. Echoing earlier comments at the July 10 public hearing, he explained his concept for the park as an extension of Little Tokyo, with rows of cherry trees extending out of the park towards the trees recently planted on Central Ave.

“What we were trying to do was imagine a way of creating a park that was both at the center of the block and in the sense was a frontyard for all the businesses and institutions.” said Maltzan. “We’ve looked at trying to imagine certain elements standing as an icon for the different participants around the park. So the cherry trees in a sense would really stand for Little Tokyo mov-ing into the park.”

Following Maltzan’ s presentation, Takase said he was impressed by the Art Park proposal and supported both an Art Park and a rec center.

“I really want to have an Art Park in this space,” said Takase. “But on the other hand, we need a rec center for kids. So it’s an architect’s duty to find a way to accommodate both an Art Park and gym together on the same block.”

Takase said he worked “day and night for four days to come up with the plan and found inspiration from a simi-lar concept designed by Japanese archi-tect and Pritzker Architecture Prize win-ner Tadao Ando.

First Street North stakeholder repre-sentatives, including George Takei, chairman of
the Japanese American National Museum and Colonel Young, Oak Kim (ret.),

chairman of the lOOth/ 442nd/MIS \VWII Memorial Founda-tion were in attendance at
the meeting, along with Tom Kamei, president of the Japanese Chamber of
Commerce, Brian Kito, president of the Little Tokyo Pub-lic Safety Association and
Frances Hashirnoto. president of the Little To-kyo B usiness Association, and
represen-tatives from Nikkei Student Union and Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress.

Speaking after the meeting, Takei said he was “intrigued” by Takase’s plan and praised the architects ingenuity. The JANM chair asked the architect ques-tions about sound proofing and passage-ways for local businesses to remove trash. Other concerns raised included where air conditioning units would be placed and the underground gym’s prox-imity to water pipes and the local water table. The architect said he believes that the technical issues can be worked out.

“lts a great creative problem solv-ing attempt and I hope that it can be worked out. Obviously it’s in the very early stages. but the details can be cre-atively solved.’ said Takei. “With this conceptual plan comes a very high price tag. So that’s going to be another area that we all have to think about. But if this will get us past this unfortunate di-visiveness, and it all should have been avoidable ... I do applaud Mr. Takase for his creative problem solving.”

Col. Kim expressed concerns that the Children’s Museum of Los Angeles would obstruct the Go For Broke Monu-ment. A representative from CMLA was not present at the meeting.

“We’re going to fight anything that is going to he big and diminishes the value of the monument,’ said Kim to the Rafu Shimpo. ‘When the Children’s Museum idea came up. which was only about 3 or 4 years ago. we agreed to the concept of the Childrens Museum mov-ing into the Art Park. Two locations were mentioned. One was on Temple and Alameda and the other was Temple and Judge John Also. We voted for the Temple and John Aiso because we didn’t want it too close to the monument, over-shadowing it.

Takase estimated that the under-ground plans could add an additional $2 to $2.5 million above the initial es-timates of $8.8 million. He also esti-mated that the structure would be 76,000 square feet and would have to be built at least 26 feet deep to accomodate the basketball courts. Takase emphasized that he felt that the additional expense would pale com-pared to the cost of land.

“I think this is the last chance for the recreation center group to build a rec center. If we miss this chance, we will never build a rec center, forever. Because even if the city is nice enough to find another site, it takes time—2 to 3 years at least. In the meantime land prices are going up,” said Takase.

August 17, 2002 Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES Gym Proposal Takes Plans Underground Development: A compromise would put Little Tokyo facility 26 feet below ground and replace a parking lot with an art park. It also would increase the cost.


Proponents of a Little Tokyo recreation center embroiled in an exhausting eight-year struggle hope their latest proposal for a gym gets buried--literally. In a tug of war that has split a community accustomed to consensus, an unusual proposal to construct the entire recreation center underground with the 3.5-acre Central Avenue Art Park project on top could prove the best compromise for the multiple parties involved.

At a meeting on Monday afternoon with councilwoman Jan Perry, whose 9th District includes Little Tokyo, the gym's supporters hope to convince her that down below is the place to go. In a recent letter to Bill Watanabe, executive director of the Little Tokyo Service Center, the nonprofit group that is spearheading the gym proposal, Perry indicated a willingness to pursue a "totally underground project" as long as the group follows building procedures in a timely manner and addresses the concerns of all current stakeholders in the area, known as 1st Street North.

David Nagano, member and former president of the Little Tokyo Recreation Center Board, called the letter "closer than anything we've ever had" to securing a site for the recreation center. With Perry's support, the gym's proponents believe the City Council will grant them permission to build on the site. If plans move ahead, proponents say, the recreation center could open in 2005. But before anyone has permission to begin construction, the city must find another location for a temporary parking garage on the site, which houses about 1,000 spaces for the Los Angeles Police Department and City Hall.

Perry so far has played referee in the conflict, convening and moderating a pair of heated public forums in Little Tokyo in June and July that were attended by hundreds of people. During the debates, representatives from the Veterans of the 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team, East West Players, Japanese American National Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art's Geffen Contemporary endorsed an art park, saying it would add serenity to the site. The park, scheduled to be built with city and private funds, would be overseen by a coalition of various groups and is envisioned as a peaceful gathering space, with greenery and perhaps sculpture. Though the World War II veterans worried that the proposed gym would tower over their Go For Broke monument, which would have stood just a few steps away, the East West Players fretted over noise levels that could disrupt performances, as well as a lack of parking and blocked access.

Gym supporters, unfurling two long banners splattered with children's handprints, called for a 36-foot-tall recreational building squeezed between the future site of the Children's Museum of Los Angeles and the Union Center for the Arts. They had a downsized, 2-acre art park in mind.

A few weeks after the contentious verbal battles, recreation center architect Hayahiko Takase made an informal pitch to the Little Tokyo Community Council for an underground recreation center. The latest drawings from Takase, who also designed Little Tokyo's New Otani Hotel, show a six-court gym nestled 26 feet below ground, with auxiliary rooms used for lockers, computer classes and a senior citizens' lunch program. Also underground are 168 parking spaces. In a design much like a suspension bridge, the center's roof hangs from a series of steel wires and posts protruding above ground.

An alternative design--which would virtually erase any evidence of the building's supporting structures above the grass--relies on a 10-foot truss just below ground to anchor the courts. "By putting it underground, it would no longer be too tall, too big, too close or too noisy," Watanabe said of the proposed 45,000-square-foot gym. But it would be more expensive. At $40 to $45 more per square foot, the recreation center's price tag could inflate from about $9 million to more than $11 million, said Dean Matsubayashi, the service center's project manager. There are also two sets of utility lines running underground across the site, which Takase said the building could avoid, and a water table that comes up to 23 feet in some areas. Takase said the building could be waterproofed by using asphalt walls and sump pumps.

Current leasers who so ardently opposed the gym's above-ground plan have approached this new development with cautious optimism, stressing they must study the plan in detail. "We'll absolutely be open to discussion," said Michael Maltzan, architect for the art park. "Everybody will take a significant look." Though Christine Sato-Yamazaki, executive director of the Go for Broke Educational Foundation, hesitated to immediately weigh in on the plan, Daniel Mayeda, former co-president of the East West Players' board of directors, said the new proposal addresses their previous concerns and deemed it "very favorable." Battered by a drop in tourism after Sept. 11, many 1st Street business owners welcome any plan that will draw people to Little Tokyo. "It's been so bad lately," said Sanae Furuki, who has owned Family Mart, which is located just south of the site, for 15 years. "We need people; that's it." Many neighboring restaurant managers agreed--theorizing that even those consumed with running around underground must trot up some time to dish out dollars for a hot meal.