A neighborhood diner regarded as the oldest continuously operating Japanese restaurant in Los Angeles has been listed as a historic-cultural monument by the City of Los Angeles.
Last week the LA City Council voted unanimously in favor of a proposal by the Los Angeles Conservancy and the Boyle Heights Community Partners that gives that designation to the Nishiyama Residence/Otomisan Japanese Restaurant property in Boyle Heights.
The application detailed how the modest Queen Anne style single-family house and the one-story vernacular commercial building in front are historically significant “for its association with early Japanese American settlement patterns in Boyle Heights” and for its association with “commercial development along the East First Street streetcar line in the 1920s.”
The home was built on First Street by the Nishiyama family in 1890, when Los Angeles was fast becoming home to the largest Issei (Japanese immigrant) population in California. In 1925, then-owner Ryohei Nishiyama moved the house to the rear of the lot and constructed the commercial building facing E. 1st Street, where the family originally operated a grocery store.
The Nishiyamas were incarcerated after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, and like thousands of Japanese citizens were interned until 1946. They eventually retained their East First Street property and In the 1950’s the commercial building was converted to an eatery that became, in 1956, Otemo Sushi Cafe.
Local businessperson Yayoi Watanabe acquired the restaurant in the mid-2000s and has been operating it as Otomisan since then, maintaing the eatery’s original red button tufted booths, built-in wood cabinets, laminate wood paneling, and counter seating.
The historic-cultural designation ensures that the Nishiyama/Otomisan buildings will require city permits before any partial demolition, significant alteration or removal.
In 2011, Boyle Heights Beat teen journalist Daniel Vidal wrote this feature about Otomisan:
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