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Neighborhood Spotlight: Sawtelle Japantown

Once the center of Japanese life in Los Angeles, the community — with a coveted location — has evolved into a hip area with universal appeal.

The city of Sawtelle, a small rural settlement on the Los Angeles Pacific Railroad streetcar line, lasted less than 30 years as an independent entity before being absorbed by the annexation-happy Los Angeles of the 1920’s.

By that time, it was already home to the Issei who worked the farms and orchards below Pico Boulevard and, as those gave way to new development, the gardens of the grand homes north of Wilshire Boulevard.

Though L.A. had an oppressive system of discriminatory housing covenants, the area thrived as a center of Japanese life, with Sawtelle Boulevard at its bustling heart. Before the internment of Japanese Americans that occurred in the wake of Pearl Harbor, the stretch of Sawtelle Boulevard between Santa Monica and Pico boulevards had more than 20 plant nurseries, numerous boarding houses and a shopping district with grocery stores, hair salons and gas stations.

Those Issei and Nisei who returned after the war helped create a stable, small-town feel. The advent of the 405 and the rise of Westwood and Century City as employment centers shifted the neighborhood away from a semirural outpost to a bedroom community for the Westside, and the resurgence of the Sawtelle Boulevard corridor in the late 1990’s and early aughts laid the groundwork for the hip, urban residential development that characterizes the neighborhood today.

Known informally for years as Little Osaka — to distinguish it from downtown Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo — the neighborhood last year gained official recognition as Sawtelle Japantown.

Neighborhood highlights

Sawtelle Boulevard: One of the very best streets for Japanese cuisine in L.A., this pedestrian-friendly area also provides an excuse to leave the car at home.

The Japanese Garden at Stoner Park: Created in 1931 and redesigned in 1989 by master gardener Koichi Kawana, this small, tranquil garden along the southeastern edge of busy Stoner Park boasts rows of blossoming cherry trees and harks back to a time when this was a neighborhood of gardeners. The park itself, with its skate park, pool and tennis courts, is a popular destination for neighborhood families.

Location, location, location: Sawtelle’s proximity to the 405, Westwood, Century City, Santa Monica and the Olympic Boulevard tech corridor make it an appealing location for UCLA students and employees, start-up workers and creative types. Soon, the Expo Line will bring two new light-rail stations to the area, putting Culver City and downtown within reach.

Neighborhood challenges

This once sleepy corner of West L.A. is undergoing a building boom that is changing the character of the neighborhood from one of primarily low-density single-family homes to a dense urban environment complete with large mixed-use developments, in-fill housing and mid-rise condominiums. Many of the Craftsman bungalows that date from Sawtelle’s earliest days are being bulldozed.

Expert insights

“Listings are very rare. You need to be glued to MLS or working with an agent and ready to jump on a listing within a day,” said Eric Akutagawa, a third-generation Sawtelle resident whose grandparents moved to the neighborhood from Japan in the 1950’s. He works as an agent with Gibson International. “Act swiftly, and be prepared to compete against multiple bidders above list price, most of them with cash offers,” said Akutagawa.

Market snapshot

Portions of the 90049, 90064 and 90025 ZIP Codes overlap the area. In February, based on 18 sales, the median price for single-family homes in the 90049 ZIP Code was $2.775 million, according to CoreLogic. In the 90064 ZIP Code, the median price based on 11 sales was $1.532 million, and in the 90025 ZIP Code, the median price based on six sales was $1.379 million.

Report card

New West Charter Middle scored 910 out of a possible 1,000 in the 2013 API ranking system. Nora Sterry Elementary earned a score of 814; Richland Elementary had a score of 785; and Brockton Avenue Elementary came in at 778. Magnolia Science Academy 4 scored 761, and University Senior High earned a score of 747.

Source: Los Angeles Times

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