Saving Bank of Tokyo

Category: Architecture
Published on Saturday, 07 April 2012 15:16
Written by Laura Meyers

A Remnant of Jefferson Park’s  Japanese American Heritage

The Bank Of Tokyo building (currently the Union Bank) at the corner of Crenshaw and Jefferson has historic roots in the Japanese American community.This mid-century modern building designed by a pair of noted architects, Tosh Terasawa and Arthur O’Leary, was erected to remedy the Japanese Americans’ quest for financial equality in the face of racism, after they were resettled in the Jefferson Park community from the internment camps of World War II.  Jefferson Boulevard had become a thriving business corridor, catering to the Japanese American community during the late 1940s until well into the 1980s.

When this historic building was threatened with complete demolition in order to make room for a parking lot for the development of a Fresh & Easy, the West Adams Heritage Association, WAHA and others objected, and began a series of meetings from August through October with representatives from CIM and West Angelus Community Development Corp. (the developers), Fresh & Easy (tenants), Council District 10, and United Neighborhoods Neighborhood Council (UNNC).  After months of negotiations and meetings, the community was able to reach an agreement with the developers whereby a Fresh & Easy grocery store and a small bank branch building will be erected, and the frontage portion facing Jefferson (about half the building) of the existing Bank of Tokyo will be retained and rehabilitated.

The compromise balances the neighborhood’s desire for a new development at the long-vacant corner of Crenshaw and Jefferson, near the new Expo Line light rail train station, with historic preservation and design that is compatible with not just the adjacent community but also with “New Urbanism” goals of pedestrian-activated streets and transit-friendly development.

“The adaptive reuse of the building will also enhance the overall project on the site,” said WAHA Board member Eric Bronson.

In its appeal papers, WAHA wrote that “The Bank of Tokyo building represents a still-standing piece of community fabric in a neighborhood where much has been demolished. It is reflective of a time both past and present of a neighborhood filled with diverse culture. It is important to work toward goals that ensure the Japanese-American community’s history in Jefferson Park, as expressed through physical structures, is not erased.“