Japantown Atlas - Southern California - LA and Boyle Heights

Overview Map of Los Angeles, Little Tokyo and Boyle Heights

This modern map shows the relationship of Little Tokyo to Downtown, Civic Center, the Produce District, and Boyle Heights.

Most of the freeways are modern except for the Pasadena Freeway (Hwy 110) and 101 Hollywood Freeway which date (I think) from slightly before WWII. The tangle of interchanges spared Little Tokyo but took a big bite out of Boyle Heights after WWII. Today's light rail and subway lines are also shown (the Gold Line East extension opens in 2009). E. First St. was one of several main transit routes connecting LA with Boyle Heights – before the streetcars of the 1900s there were cable car lines in the 1870s.

If you look closely you'll see thin, dash-dot lines labeled Main Canal and Zanjas. These were the historic water supply and irrigation ditches that came from the LA River north of Elysian Park; established by the Spanish and Mexican founders, they were maintained well into the American period (this is how they appeared in 1880, according to Blake Gumprecht's book The Los Angeles River. The Main Canal flowed under the intersection of Weller and East First Streets and still appears on the 1906 Sanborn map (by which point the former agricultural uses were giving way to industry, which has now given way in part to lofts and condos. Little Tokyo is down on the old river bottom, plus the fertile, irrigated lands. East First Street was an early corridor of hotels and storefronts through a large-lot residential/agricultural zone before those back areas got developed for industry. Whereas Downtown developed largely above the once-valuable arable land and flood-prone river bottom.

By the time of our study, 1940, the LA River had recently been straightened and channelized for flood control, crossed by numerous stately bridges.

This map will eventually be spun off as an overview map for outlying 1940s Japanese American businesses and community organizations. Many Nikkei lived in racially mixed Boyle Heights; most of the Christian churches and schools were here, and many Nisei attended Roosevelt High School. The directories also list many produce vendors near 7th and Alameda, and hotels on the edge of downtown.

Two other landmarks which will probably appear on the 1940 map are the pre-Union Station railroad depots of the Southern Pacific (2nd or 4th and Alameda) and AT&SF Railroad (2nd and Santa Fe, near the river. They would have been disused by 1940, but helped establish the direction of travel through Little Tokyo to/from Downtown and to/from Southern California for the preceeding 50+ years.