September 20, 2020 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

Affordable Housing Coming to Historic Japanese American Building?

Developer wants to add 50 units of housing to Nikkei Hall

By Sam Catanzaro

A historic building in Santa Monica with ties to the city’s Japanese community may soon include over 50 affordable housing units.

Nikkei Hall, located at 1413 Michigan Avenue, was built in 1957 following the return of Japanese Americans to Southern California after World War II. The name of the hall takes it name from the term Nikkei which means people of Japanese ancestry.

“During the resettlement period following the conclusion of Word War II, people of Japanese ancestry (Nikkei) worked to meet their basic needs for housing, employment, and more generally, to rebuild their lives and reestablish their place in society. They had previously lost everything due to the forcible removal from their homes and incarceration into internment camps,” reads a report from the Santa Monica Landmark’s Commission.

To aid in the rebuilding effort after the war, in 1951, Santa Monica Nikkei Kai purchased the property on Michigan Avenue and later constructed the Santa Monica Nikkei Hall community center in 1957. The location was selected because Santa Monica’s Nikkei population had primarily settled in the area surrounding the property.

“There were no other such buildings in Santa Monica at the time of its purchase which also preceded the widespread creation of a network of Japanese American Community Centers around Los Angeles in the 1960s,” the Landmarks Commission wrote in their 2018 designation of the property as a Landmark. “Santa Monica Nikkei Hall is significant for its association with the City’s Japanese American community for approximately 60 years.”

The center closed in the early 2000s and now 20 years later developer EAH Housing has its eyes on the property.

According to plans recently submitted to the Landmark’s Commission, the development–known as The Laurel–would entail the construction of a four-story building on the property with 58 apartments (including 57 permanent supportive housing units), 12 parking spaces and ground-floor amenities.

A rendering of the proposed development. Photo: EAH.

“This unused property will be transformed into homes for people with the greatest need,” said James Kemper, housing program manager for the City of Santa Monica.

Plans call for preserving a large portion of Nikkei Hall, while also including a commemorative plaque acknowledging the history of the property and possibly including a restoration of the center’s former garden.

The purchase of the property by EAH was financed with an $8,300,000 million loan from Santa Monica’s Housing Trust Fund.

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