What Happened to the Japanese Vendors At Grand Central Market Will Break Your Heart... and glue it back together again

Gentle reader,

Greetings from your friendly historic Los Angeles sightseeing tour company, now offering digital programming until we can again organize groups to gather and explore the city we love.

Tomorrow at noon we go live with A Cultural History of Grand Central Market, 1917-2020, and you can watch this webinar all week at your leisure. Researching this one gave us the bittersweet opportunity to look back at the market’s business records that we helped to get donated to the Huntington Library a few years back.

Assuming we’d be at the Huntington doing research every Tuesday for the rest of time, we only pulled a couple of the acid-free boxes containing the accessioned documents… and then the world shut down.

But there is a story in every file folder, and in those Grand Central Market files we found annotated fruit and vegetable stall leases that document a chilling moment in American history.

Vendors with Japanese ancestry have done business at Grand Central Market from opening day, in October 1917. In March 1942, Executive Order 9102 was signed, and the Japanese and Japanese-American community in Los Angeles had just days to liquidate their assets before reporting to transportation stations on the way to internment.

Several leases, neatly typed and tucked into their envelopes long ago, tell the tale of these forced financial transactions, and the Anglo names of the new vendors. Cross-referenced to the market’s own photo archives, which included a major documentation push circa 1940, we can find the specific stalls and the people who would be sent away.

It’s all heavy, heartbreaking stuff, especially when you can look into their faces and see the evident pride they took in their business.

But look closer: the leases have an unexpected reward. They note the sales, but also the dates after the war when the returning internees took their market stalls back.

There is so much work still to do in the Grand Central Market business files, and since we’re not scholars of Japanese American internment, it will be somebody else who does the heavy lifting . But it is exciting to see evidence of an unknown narrative of the Japanese-American experience in Los Angeles, and the role that our beloved Grand Central Market played in welcoming the displaced citizens back home where they belong.

Tomorrow we’ll share some of these powerful documents, along with a rich history of the marketplace at the corner of Third and Broadway, and bring out some special guests to share their personal market tales. So join us, do!

Next Saturday, December 12, we’re looking across Hill Street from Grand Central Market for A Cultural History of Angels Flight Railway, 1901-2020. The wee funicular is among the last and loveliest survivors of old Bunker Hill, and it has seen some things. We’ll share wild tales of Edwardian innovation, misguided redevelopment, film noir cameos, deadly amateur engineering and fevered preservation advocacy, all in a celebration of the recently restored treasure.

And just announced for December 19, we’re joined by architect and historian Alan Hess for an exploration of the coolest, kookiest and most California-istic of architectural styles, The Weird World of Programmatic Los Angeles Architecture. We’ll set our time machine for the 1920s, when creative retailers and cooks crafted buildings that were designed to get a passing driver to pull over and pull out their wallet. Shaped like hats and flower pots, tamales, zeppelins, chili bowls, cameras, owls, windmills, oil cans, sailing ships, puppy dogs, grand pianos, Egyptian sphinxes, mushrooms, hot dogs, coffee pots, icebergs, even crashed aircraft, these cheap confections weren’t meant to last—and yet a few survive today. Let’s go find ‘em, and scare up stories about the strange landmarks we’ve lost.

You’ll get a little clue about what to expect from the Grand Central Market, Angels Flight and Programmatic Architecture webinars from tonight’s Facebook Live preview.

Stay tuned as we roll out a new webinar program each Saturday. And remember if you can’t watch live or need to leave mid-stream, you can watch the recording for one full week. There’s still time to see The United States of Preservation: Esotouric’s Ohio River Valley Virtual Vacation Road Trip through Saturday night, including Richard’s vintage chair collapsing under him live on the air!

Bunker Hill, Charles Bukowski, Raymond Chandler, Black Dahlia, Dutch Chocolate Shop, Bradbury Building, Tunnels, L.A. Times Bombing and 13 Uncanny Crimes & Mysteries are now available On-Demand. And we’d love to see you tomorrow at noon for A Cultural History of Grand Central Market, 1917-2020.

yours for Los Angeles,

Kim & Richard


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We're dark until public health officials determine that groups can gather safely. But in addition to weekly webinar programs, we've got 138 episodes of the podcast You Can't Eat The Sunshine free to download for armchair explorers, and videos of the Downtown L.A. LAVA walking tours, plus Cranky Preservationist videos.


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