International Institute of Los Angeles | Los Angeles Conservancy
International Institute of Los Angeles, 2011. Photo by Omar Gonzalez

International Institute of Los Angeles

The International Institute was established in Boyle Heights in 1914 as a branch of the YWCA (Young Women’s Christian Association). Its mission was to “serve women and girls coming from Europe and the Orient and to assist the foreign communities in their adjustment to life in this country.” One of the Institute’s earliest projects was to meet Japanese picture brides at the L.A. Harbor and help them resettle into their new lives in Los Angeles.

In April 2019, the property was listed for sale, leaving its future uncertain. In August 2019, the Boyle Heights Community Partners nominated the building for local Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM) recognition. The Conservancy helped prepare and supported the nomination. In May 2021, the International Institute of Los Angeles was added to the City's Historic-Cultural Monument program. 

The International Institute came to this site in the 1920s, but this building was completed in 1932. It is Spanish Colonial Revival in style, with white stucco walls and a red tile roof. The building features two courtyards, one at the front behind the wall along Boyle Avenue, and one just inside the doors.

The architects of this building were Webber & Spaulding, one of the most prominent architecture firms in Los Angeles in the 1920s. They were known for their elegant Spanish Colonial Revival projects in San Marino, Claremont (at Pomona College), and Palos Verdes.

The Institute offered a place for immigrants to gather for special events and holidays, and the courtyard was often a centerpiece of their annual International Day Festival that showcased dances, food, and customs of the many cultures in Boyle Heights and fostered greater cross-cultural understanding.

As a charitable women’s organization, the International Institute was one of several community service agencies that were along this block of Boyle Ave by the 1920s.

In addition to the Hollenbeck Home for the Aged, the Japanese Sisters Home for Children, and the Volunteers of America Girls and Boys Home were located on either side. They operated from buildings that were once the grand residences of prominent individuals, and reflected the strong philanthropic dedication of the Boyle Heights community. While those buildings are no longer here, the International Institute and Hollenbeck Palms remain.

After the turn of the 20th century, Boyle Heights became an important point of entry for a number of people moving to Los Angeles from other parts of the world. Both before and after World War II, Boyle Heights was Los Angeles’ most diverse community, with significant concentrations of residents who were of Mexican, Japanese, Jewish, African American, Russian, Armenian, Basque, and Italian descent.

The International Institute served as a resource and community center for the many groups that called Boyle Heights home. The Institute helped recent immigrants to navigate the court system, sort through hospital and medical needs, apply for citizenship, and secure employment.

Operated by and mostly serving women, the staff during the 1920s provided translation services in sixteen languages, including the major European languages as well as Armenian, Russian, Turkish, Japanese, Chinese, and Arabic, and others were available on-call for additional languages.

For more than a century, the Institute has offered services that reflect the broader global events of the day. From assisting Japanese families following evacuation orders after Pearl Harbor, to the resettlement of refuges from the Cuban Revolution and Vietnam War, the International Institute continues to help families become self-sufficient and to promote cross-cultural understanding.

In addition to this site in Boyle Heights, it now has over 25 centers and offices throughout central and southern California.

Constructed in 1931, the International Institute of Los Angeles (IILA) is significant for its associations with Progressive Era reform, women’s social movements, and patterns of immigration in Los Angeles. The property is also significant for its associations with the development of the Boyle Heights neighborhood. The IILA moved its headquarters to Boyle Heights in 1915 and purchased 435 South Boyle Avenue in 1924. It commissioned the Webber & Spaulding building on the same site in 1931. As a polyglot community center for immigrant women, the property is emblematic of Boyle Heights’ ethno-racial diversity prior to World War II.

The property meets the registration requirements outlined for “Women-Serving Institutions and Organizations” in SurveyLA’s Citywide Historic Context Statement: Women’s Rights in Los Angeles, 1850-1980. It is identified in and meets registration requirements outlined for “Property Types Associated with Community Organizations, Social Services, and

Institutions” in SurveyLA’s Citywide Historic Context Statement: Japanese Americans in Los Angeles, 1869-1970. Lastly, it is identified in and meets registration requirements outlined for
“Education” in SurveyLA’s Citywide Historic Context Statement: Latino Los Angeles Historic Context Statement. 

In addition, the property at 435 S. Boyle Avenue is an excellent example of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture in an institutional setting and a rare example in Boyle Heights. The building embodies the distinguishing characteristics of the style, including irregular footprint, brick construction, interior courtyard, red barrel tile, wood balcony, and decorative ironwork. To learn more about the significance of the property, click here.