Asian Americans in Los Angeles Historic Context Statements

Los Angeles is a large and diverse city, and its historic places and landmarks tell many stories. But whose stories are told? Whose history is preserved and remembered? In Los Angeles and across the nation, very few sites associated with Asian American history are designated landmarks at the local, state, or national levels.

To help address this disparity, the City of Los Angeles’ Office of Historic Resources (OHR) secured a two-year National Park Service (NPS) Underrepresented Communities Grant to complete citywide historic context statements for L.A.’s Asian American communities. Los Angeles received the largest grant awarded under this program for this project.

Completed in 2018, the Asian Americans in Los Angeles Historic Context Statements prepared by OHR identify important themes and will help guide the identification and designation of sites with connections to Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, and Thai American communities in Los Angeles from 1850 to 1980. Historic context statements provide a framework for identifying and evaluating historic locations, making them a critical first step in protecting historic places.

Each of the five context statements discusses the waves of immigration and settlement patterns of Asian Americans. They cover the history and development of Chinatown, Little Tokyo, Koreatown, Historic Filipinotown, and Thai Town, as well as areas throughout the city where these groups settled over time.

The project team used data from SurveyLA, L.A.’s citywide historic resources survey, as a starting point in identifying historic resources with significant ties to Asian American history. OHR then assembled an Advisory Committee comprised of leaders in Asian American communities. The committee members represented a wide range of organizations and institutions, as well as scholars and writers in Asian American history. The committee identified significant locations, advised on research sources, and reviewed draft context statements. The City also held community meetings where members of the public gathered to provide input on the contexts’ themes, and to identify additional significant places.

Though not all-encompassing, the context statements identified over 350 individual sites and districts with significant ties to Asian American history, including places associated with important individuals, organizations, businesses, industries, and movements. Themes addressed by the context statement include commerce, religion and spirituality, health and medicine, deed restriction and segregation, community organizations, military history, media, cultural landscape, and architecture.

The context statements resulted in a National Register of Historic Places Multiple Property Documentation Form (MPDF) titled “Asian Americans in Los Angeles 1850-1980” and an accompanying individual National Register nomination for the Filipino Disciples Christian Church (also known as Filipino Christian Church) in Historic Filipinotown. Both were listed in the National Register of Historic Places on January 4, 2019.

While the historic context statements look to Los Angeles’ past, they were created with the future in mind. They lay the groundwork for future landmark nominations, with the hope that individuals or groups can now take the follow-up steps to nominate places with important Asian American heritage for landmark designation. By designating more Asian American heritage sites—too often overlooked—we can continue to tell the full story of L.A.’s history.

The Asian Americans in Los Angeles Historic Context Statements earned a 2019 Conservancy Preservation Award – congratulations to all involved with this important project!