|I. Magnin Building storefront|
Myron Hunt, 1941
Los Angeles, California
This week we are taking a look at how immigrants shaped the city Los Angeles. Christopher Hawthorne is our guide for this three-part look at how Korean, Chinese, and Latino immigrants altered the face of urbanism in the "City of Angels." Today we look at Koreatown, with the help of Mr. Hawthorne's fascinating article "Koreatown's Cool Old Buildings Point To L.A.'s Future." What makes this story so fascinating is how older buildings have been repurposed for use by the Korean community instead of being demolished.
One such club is the S-Bar, located in architect Myron Hunt's I. Magnin building on Wilshire Boulevard. S-Bar and the businesses located in the Wilshire Galleria cater mainly to a Korean and Korean American clientele not only keeps the building economically viable but also has saved the Art Deco landmark from a date with the wrecking ball. Mr. Hawthorne writes, "The relationship between the nightclub and the building suggests the peculiar respect-jostling, energetic and impious-Koreatown shows the architecture of its how city." He observes, "If K-town increasingly resembles empire on the march, gobbling up new territory by the week, it is not an empire made of bricks and mortar. It is a net draped over the existing cityscape, a net of signage and light, easily stretched and infinitely expandable. It fills, cloaks or remakes spaces in the city others had abandoned or forgotten about."
|K-town shopping center|
The first Koreans came to Los Angeles in the nineteen century, in small group that included Presbyterian evangelists. They first settled on Bunker Hill and later near my alma mater USC. In the sixties, thanks to relaxed federal immigration laws, Koreans began arriving in larger numbers. Many found housing and/or opened businesses in the one-time glamourous mid-Wilshire area. Rents were very low and there were an available number of buildings, including those in the Art Deco mode and post-World War II glass and steel towers. "The buildings were not in great shape," declared Katherine Yungmee Kim, author of a recent book on Koreatown. She adds, "And dome them are still not in great shape. But they're intensely beautiful." Yes, they are.
|Friendship Motor Inn, near Koreatown|
The stability of the neighborhood was destroyed during the 1992 riots which exposed a deep schism between the Korean and African America communities, whom the merchants saw as intruders or worse. Hundreds of business were burned during the week-long violence. Although the destruction convinced many Korean Americans to sell their businesses or head for the suburbs, including developer and entrepreneur Kee-Whan Ha. Mr. Ha owned a small chain of Hannam supermarkets at the time of the riots and would later buy the Wilshire Galleria. As the rampage intensified, he took to Radio Korea to exhort the merchants to stay and defend their businesses, by force if necessary. "Don't go home," he begged. "Protect your business. Your business is your life." Following his own plea, Mr. Ha drove to his store on Olympic Boulevard, stood on the roof with friends and family, gun in hand ready to defend his store. Mr. Ha's plaint, "Don't go home," suggested a truism then and now, many Koreans who own businesses live elsewhere. Currently, the residential population of the community is 52 percent Latino, 21 percent Korean, 7 percent Caucasian, and 5 percent African American.
Stiles O.Clements, 1928
|The Line Hotel|
|Artist's sketch of the Ambassador Hotel|
Myron Hunt, 1921
Another thing that has become apparent, as a result of these lovely restorations, is a denser Los Angeles, alarming for some; appealing for others. Architect and developer Christopher Pak, responsible for the 22-story Solair apartment tower above the Wilshire and Western Avenue subway station, said "the neighborhood was drawing new residents, many of the them college students or recent graduates from Seoul, who want urban amenities even if that means living in small spaces. Mr. Pak continues, "For them...quality of life is not a big house and a backyard...It's time. If they can walk downstairs and get breakfast or go to the market, instead of spending 20 minutes each way driving, that's a big advantage." Blogger concurs with this idea of quality of life.
|Wilshire Boulevard Temple c.1939|
|Koreatown at night|