The following story was generously contributed by the Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute’s Sansei Stories weekly workshop and Janet Mitsui Brown. The Sansei Stories workshop encourages writers and storytellers to share their personal narratives about JA experiences.
It’s Mother’s Day 2015, and our family wants to take my 92-year-old mother to brunch — someplace different. I suggested Post & Beam, a new restaurant I heard about, located in our old Crenshaw ’hood. In 2015, we live in different parts of Los Angeles — Mar Vista, Chino Hills and Torrance.
It’s been years since we’ve been to Crenshaw to gather and eat, so why not?
We grew up in Crenshaw and moved into the neighborhood in the mid-l950s. My mother and father met in Manzanar, married in Salt Lake City and relocated to the Westside of Los Angeles. When the move was made, we were one of the first nonwhite families to move into Crenshaw. I remember when we first moved into our home, I could see Caucasian neighbors peeking through the windows at us. Yikes, Japanese are moving into the neighborhood!
But because there were no restrictions, Japanese families familiar to my parents moved in steadily. My parents seemed to know everyone, from camp days, or someone was always related to someone else who knew somebody somewhere.
When we first moved in, there was a Safeway market two blocks from us, and a few blocks away there was a “tinker town” with all kinds of kiddy rides, a hot dog stand and games. I went on my first Ferris wheel ride there and hated it, but the hot dogs seemed special.
Soon, there was a big uproar because “tinker town” was going to be torn down, and a bowling alley was coming up in its place. Nobody knew what that meant, but it soon became apparent that it was a Japanese thing because the owners were JAs. There were Nisei Bowling Leagues that were organized after it was built, and I remember as a young girl, eating French fries with my cousin and seeing Japanese rowdy older girls with special hair-dos, smoking cigarettes and hanging out.
But the best part of this new bowling alley, called Holiday Bowl, was the food it served. It was the first time on the Westside you could get Japanese/Hawaiian-flavored breakfast, lunch and dinner — meals served with rice, some tsukemono or noodles.
Developer Yo Takagaki lived across the street from us, and there was talk that he was going to build a new Japanese center where there were once automobile lots on Crenshaw Boulevard between Coliseum and 39th Street, a few blocks from where we lived.
Within months, he built Crenshaw Square, and in my high school years, it was a popular hangout for Nisei and Sansei. There was the hang-out coffee shop, the beauty and barber shops, dress shops with dresses that fit smaller ladies called Harume, a Tai Ping Singapore lounge that served Chinese food and cocktails, a liquor store named Tags, Jewels by George and various other Japanese stores that specialized in giftware and even wigs, for everyone in those days owned a wiglet. During summers, we were always at the festive carnival, working booths and watching beauty contests, a specialty of Yo Takagaki.
It was in the late-’60s that we started to go to Parkview Women’s Club for dances.
In those days, it was right across the parking lot from Post & Beam restaurant, and as I ate brunch with my family, my mind wandered to those evenings when young college-aged Asians from different parts of L.A. would meet at the club to dance to ’60s music by local JA musicians.
We heard music originating from the ELA band Thee Midnighters, and we loved to dance to anything from the Temptations. We had Parkview and music, reinterpreted by local JA bands, beckoning us to the dance floor. I met my first boyfriend there, and also experienced my first heartbreak with him a few years later.
In the 1970s, I was on my way to San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland to join the Asian American Third-World Movement that was gathering momentum. I was visiting my parents, and they asked me to pick up fried chicken from Golden Bird for dinner.
Golden Bird was a new fabulously delicious fried chicken restaurant on Santa Rosalia, the present site of Post & Beam. As I waited for the chicken order, two men entered the restaurant with bandanas on their faces. With a gun pointing at several others, and me, they told us to shut up and demanded money from the cash register. Holy sxxx. I slowly slid down to a sitting position just in case the guy went crazy, and the next thing I knew, people were screaming, and the two men fled with money from the restaurant.
I don’t remember if I ever got that chicken, but it was the last time I went to Golden Bird. Crenshaw had definitely changed.
But in the next 20 years, Magic Johnson worked his investments in the 1990s, and 20 years after that, here we are in 2015, enjoying Mother’s Day brunch in Post & Beam, a restaurant described by a young, stylish Caucasian waiter as soul food with a twist. We gaze at Debbie Allen’s Dance Academy across the way.
My, my, my, how the neighborhood has changed once again.
We all shared memories that afternoon with our mother and realized you can never give up hope here in Los Angeles.
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