I posted early in March about the old Japanese American community around Sawtelle Avenue attaining official status at City Hall — and the backstory that includes Sawtelle once being the name of a wild little incorporated city along the streetcar line west of Los Angeles. Well, today the community and City Councilman Mike Bonin called a flag-raising of sorts to unveil the official blue signs. I didn't get out to the Sunday ceremony, but we were on Sawtelle to eat last night (at ROC Kitchen) and grabbed a likeness of the new signs on a banner outside the Japanese Institute of Sawtelle (above).
In the LA Times this weekend, Westside reporter Martha Groves talked to some longtime residents and got the story behind the busy corner at the heart of Sawtelle Japantown.
Midori Yamaguchi opened an eponymous variety store in the 1950s, and her son Henry, 84, recalls helping amid the shelves filled with fabric, calligraphy brushes, rice paper and sweets. Youngsters would hang out in the candy aisles while playing hooky from Japanese language and culture classes at the institute.
A few years ago, Yamaguchi sold the property, at the corner of Sawtelle and Mississippi Avenue, to Manny Salzman, who came to West Los Angeles as a teenager from Uruguay and began frequenting Sawtelle’s restaurants and shops in the mid-1980s.
Salzman built nine roomy apartment units atop several commercial spaces and named the complex Yamaguchi in honor of the beloved store and family.
Two trendy eateries — ROC Kitchen (dumplings and other Taiwanese specialties) and Seoul Sausage Co. (Korean fusion) — are among his ground-floor tenants.
You might better know the building as the home of Tsujita LA Artisan Noodles and Coffee Tomo — two spots that are always crowded.