Ozawa Boarding House/ Obayashi Employment Agency and Joyce Boarding House/ Ozawa Residence | Los Angeles Conservancy
564 (l) and 560 (r) N Virgil Ave. Photo by Lindsay Mulcahy

Ozawa Boarding House/ Obayashi Employment Agency and Joyce Boarding House/ Ozawa Residence

In 1914, Tsyua and Sukesaka Ozawa purchased a recently-built home at 564 N Virgil Avenue. 564 Virgil, and the next-door property at 560 Virgil, were part of a nascent Japanese community known as the Madison/ J Flats neighborhood in East Hollywood. Sukesaka and Tsyua Ozawa were part of the first waves of migration of Issei, first generation Japanese immigrants, to arrive in Los Angeles. First congregating in Little Tokyo in the late nineteenth century, by the 1910s Japanese immigrants began to form residential enclaves throughout the city.  

As migration to the Madison/ J Flats neighborhood swelled in the 1920s, the Ozawas and their next-door neighbor at 560 Virgil Ave converted their homes into a boarding house. Boarding houses were popular as affordable residences for Japanese immigrants and often doubled as employment agencies. They served as places of community connection and cultural expression in an era where Japanese Americans were excluded from many parts of white Los Angeles.  

By 1942, the Ozawa family ran both 564 and 560 N Virgil. Boarders, mainly single men working as gardeners in private residences, enlivened the homes and patronized Japanese shops along the Virgil corridor. This community fabric was violently severed at the onset of World War II when Japanese Americans were forcibly removed from their homes, businesses, and communities. The Ozawas were incarcerated at a camp in Heart Mountain, Wyoming. Their homes were stewarded by neighbors for the duration of the war.  

In the post-war period, 564 N. Virgil Ave became an anchor to reunite family members and help their community rebuild. The Ozawas, who owned the properties through 1980, had a lasting influence on the neighborhood. The family developed four additional properties in the neighborhood and were actively involved in institution building in the neighborhood. 

Today, single Japanese American men continue to call 564 Virgil Ave home. These residents continue an almost one-hundred-year legacy in the building known for provided community and security for Japanese and Japanese Americans in East Hollywood. 

Hear from boarding house tenants and Conservancy staff about why this building matters here:

 

In 1909, Tsyua Ozawa left Tagata-gun in Japan’s Shizuoka Prefecture to sail across the Pacific. The image of her future husband and life rested on one picture of Sukesaka, standing in a tuxedo in the middle of a field surrounded by laborers. When she arrived in Los Angeles, she saw what the picture elided: Sukesaka as one in a line of laborers who posed for a picture in the same passed-around suit to send back to Japan.

Sukesaka Ozawa had immigrated from the Shizuoka Prefecture in Japan in 1902 as one of the many young single Japanese men who left their homes between 1868 and 1910. Issei, or first-generation Japanese immigrants, would build the U.S. railroad, maintain white homes and businesses, and transform California’s agricultural economy. Tysua was one of the 20,000 “picture brides,” women whose immigration was arranged by families or matchmakers with photos, that arrived in the United States between 1908 and 1920. These women ushered in a period of stabilization and growth in the Japanese/ Japanese American. Despite land and immigration laws and restrictive housing covenants, residential enclaves emerged in Boyle Heights, Sunset/ Cahuenga (Central Hollywood), Madison/J Flats, Uptown (now Koreatown), as well as more suburban agricultural communities in San Pedro, Venice, and Pacoima/Sun Valley.

The arrival of Japanese women and early settlement patterns in the period between 1911 and 1924 spurred the development of Japanese-led organizations and commercial ventures. The J Flats neighborhood was anchored by a several institutions in the prewar years, including the Christ Presbyterian Church (Choro Kyokai) and language school (Choro Kyokai Gakuen) at 4011 Clinton Street and the Soshi Jiku Japanese language school at 464 N. Westmoreland Ave. Commercial ventures including the boarding houses, Fujiya and Co. grocery store, and other retail stores developed along Virgil Ave to support the nearby residential populations. These sites served as places of community connection and cultural expression in an era where Japanese Americans were excluded from many parts of white Los Angeles.

 By 1940, the Ozawa family lived with ten Japanese lodgers, mostly single male gardeners, at 564 Virgil. In 1938, Sukesaka and Tsuya’s son George Ozawa married Shizuka Mochizuki, a resident of 560 Virgil Ave and soon after the Ozawas purchased 560 Virgil to make space for their growing family. However, growing anti-Japanese sentiment at the onset of World War II dramatically altered the family’s plans. The Ozawas were forcibly removed from their home and were incarcerated at Heart Mountain, Wyoming from around 1942 to 1944. During this time Pastor Box from a nearby church served as power of attorney of their property. Upon leaving Heart Mountain, the Ozawas and their relatives listed 564 Virgil Ave as their place of return. 

The buildings are identified with the residential development of the Japanese American community in the Madison/ J Flats, labor history of Japanese American gardeners and laborers, and the reestablishment and continued growth of Japanese American community post- WWII. Three generations of the Ozawa family, representing the Issei, Nisei, and Sansei generations, owned and operated 564 N Virgil from 1914 through around 1980 and 560 Virgil from around 1940 to 1980. The buildings are is a striking example of a family's fortitude, resilience, and community support in the face of the U.S. Government's targeted anti-Japanese policies. Women such as Tsuya Ozawa and her daughters in law Shizuka and Doris Ozawa were integral in the establishment and longeivity of the boarding house. 

From 1900-1930 boarding houses served as an important and affordable type of residence for Japanese immigrants, largely single men who worked as laborers and gardeners. Constructed amidst xenophobic and racist policies and practices, boarding houses also stand as physical manifestations of the ways Japanese immigrants formed community and networks of support. The way Black, Mexican American, and white neighbors supported their incarcerated Japanese American neighbors during WWII and resettlement after the war demonstrates the strength of the multiracial Madison/J Flats neighborhood. 564 and 560 Virgil are the only extant identified boarding houses to serve Japanese Americans in both the pre and postwar periods. An even greater rarity is 564 Virgil's continued use as a boarding house for single Japanese American men today.

The building is a wood frame construction with single rooms on either side of a main hallway and shared bathrooms. The building's construction and organization are typical of the small boarding houses and hotels operated by Japanese families serving Japanese immigrant men. The kitchen, located in the former single-family dwelling attached to the back of the boarding house, also reveals the evolution of the building from a typical early 20th century residential structure to serve a growing Japanese American population.

Photo courtesy M2A Milofsky Michali & Cox Architects

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