Preserving Landmark Building Reaps Dividends
Photo by Bobak Ha'Eri
Constructed in 1896, the three-story Far East Building is one of the most significant buildings in the Little Tokyo Historic District. The Far East Building and the Historic District were witnesses to the birth, growth and development of what was then the largest Japanese American community in the mainland United States during the 1920s and 30s. Closed in 1994 due to damage from the Northridge earthquake, the following year the building was declared a National Historic Landmark. In 2002, the W. M. Keck Foundation awarded a grant to the Little Tokyo Service Center to renovate the Far East Building and provide a range of services on-site.
Today, the Far East Building houses Little Tokyo Service Center’s DISKovery Center, a 20 computer technology training facility located on the ground floor. During the last 10 years, the DISKovery Center has helped over 2,000 students bridge the digital divide with basic computer and Internet skills, filmmaking and digital video production. (See an example of student work at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_MSch9Bg2E&feature=player_embedded) The building’s ground floor also features a café, which provides jobs and contributes to the economic vitality of Little Tokyo.
The top two floors of the building contain 16 units of affordable housing for low-income adults, including eight units set aside for the formerly homeless. Current resident, Carey Westbrook came to Los Angeles from Colorado hoping to continue working as an actor. When he lost his day job, he became homeless and ended up on the streets of Little Tokyo. While he was able to find a new job, Carey still needed housing. Fortunately, Little Tokyo Service Center had just completed renovating the Far East Building, and Carey became one of the first new residents. Today, he works at Hillside Memorial Park and is also the building’s on-site caretaker.
In 2004, the Far East Building project was awarded a Los Angeles Conservancy Award for Historic Preservation. Before its renovation, the Far East was the last vacant building on First Street in Little Tokyo. Its rebirth contributes to the revival of the Historic District and to the Little Tokyo community as a whole, providing social and economic benefits to a new generation of the downtown community.