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

Esotouric


Subscribe! In the latest subscriber's edition of this newsletter—$10/month, cheap!—Exploring the Hidden Spaces in Skid Row's Baltimore Hotel—massive Pennsylvania iron infrastructure, a claw foot bathtub graveyard, and a penthouse pad that needs a lot of love. Not a subscriber? Sneak a peek here.

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AND WHAT'S THE NEXT TOUR? WHO KNOWS?!

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.


AND FINALLY, LINKS

Road Trip! Although public bus tours are on hiatus, we still get around on our social distancing road trips around our beloved Los Angeles. Be a virtual backseat companion when you click the #esotouricroadtrip hashtag, on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.

New on the Esotouric blog: We can’t have a proper celebration to protect public health, but the lights are on now at Vermonica, and the urban candelabra belongs to all of us once again. Ian Bowen captured some stunning nighttime time lapse photos.

Our LACMA Lovers League petition urged that Los Angeles City Council not vote on a motion brought by lame duck councilperson David Ryu to green light LACMA's use of public airspace, but allow newly elected councilperson Nithya Raman represent the community interest. (Spoiler: Ryu shoved it through.)

Phoebe Hearst: body snatcher. Can Assemblymember James Ramos' AB275 finally undo the shameful legacy of UC Berkeley's curated corpse collection?

The WPA Art Moderne core campus buildings of Santa Monica High School, immortalized in Rebel Without A Cause, are threatened with demolition for a tax funded remodel. Don't let this marvel be replaced with hideous postmodern academic architecture!

In the market for the perfect holiday bauble for that very special someone? The Selig Building (1931), one of two surviving black and gold Art Deco commercial structures in Los Angeles, and a protected city landmark, can be yours for just $7,500,000.

The tape of the 2020 Los Angeles County memorial service for the unclaimed and indigent can be viewed here.

Corruption Corner: As favored developers pocket huge sums, AHF preserves historic hotels like the King Edward at a cost of about $70K per room—and incoming councilman Kevin de Leon says they're on the right track… A major announcement in the investigation into Jose Huizar's money laundering machine: superseding indictment unsealed, with charges against Deputy Mayor Ray Chan and billionaire developer Wei Huang. You can read the indictment and join us in speculating if new figure "Commissioner 1" is Javier Nunez, removed for corruption in '06, but back in power and acting very weird when arson-plagued German Hospital came up for a BBSC vote in October?… As in Los Angeles, also in San Francisco…. Alissa Walker, writing in Curbed: Jim O’Sullivan, King of the Nimbys, quit because Nithya Raman beat David Ryu in the CD4 election. O’Sullivan, responding in the comments: The City Family is a criminal enterprise that I just sought make obey their own laws. Good luck, Nithya—you’ll need it…. How the City Family feathers its nest: USC-trained Daniel Ahadian learns the ropes in the Los Angeles City Planning Department, starts a land use consultancy, illegally lobbies. His Ethics Commission fine is $45K on $900K. That’s just the cost of doing business. PDF link.