Deep in the heart of Little Seoul

Special to The Times

When South Korea played Togo in the 2006 FIFA World Cup, thousands of Korean Americans flooded the streets of Garden Grove to watch the soccer match on a giant TV screen. But even before the World Cup, Little Seoul, as the area is known, has long served as a center of Southern California's Korean diaspora.

Beginnings

Garden Grove was just a rural village when the railroad came through in 1905, enabling the area to flourish by exporting its orange, walnut, chile pepper and strawberry crops.

After World War II, Garden Grove became one of the nation's fastest-growing cities, as servicemen and their families moved to the city because of its affordable land and inexpensive housing prices; more than 1,000 people per month settled here during the 1950s.

Garden Grove experienced an influx of Korean immigrants in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

And for almost 30 years, Little Seoul has stood strong along Garden Grove Boulevard between Brookhurst Street and Beach Boulevard. In 2002, the City Council designated this stretch the Korean Business District.

What it's about

As Southern California's second-largest Korean American enclave after the one in Los Angeles, Little Seoul and its commercial strip host more than 1,000 shops that offer sundry Korean goods and restaurants.

Little Seoul is also Orange County's official gathering place for Korean festivities.

For the last 23 years, the annual Korean Festival at Garden Grove Park has attracted participants from all over Southern California. The three-day event, which is celebrated in October, includes Korean food, amusement park-style rides, live music and other entertainment, games and dancing.

Insiders' view

Although the Korean population in Garden Grove is relatively small compared with the city's other ethnic groups, Chet Yoshizaki, Garden Grove's economic development director, says that Little Seoul has the highest concentration of Korean American-owned businesses in Orange County.

"Although much of Orange County's Korean community does not live in Garden Grove, Little Seoul is still their base," Yoshizaki said.

Steve Kwon, the general secretary of the Korean American Chamber of Commerce in Garden Grove, says Little Seoul's popularity is based on its close-knit environment and a strong sense of cultural pride.

Little Seoul "feels like home and helps us come together as a community and remember where we came from," he said.

Euiwon Chough, a Realtor with Capital Industrial Properties Inc. and also a member of the Korean American Chamber of Commerce, said Little Seoul is convenient for people who want to live within walking distance of Korean grocery stores and specialty shops.

Chough believes that the future development of the Garden Grove Galleria, a mixed-use project with commercial and residential units on Garden Grove Boulevard, will bolster the city's Korean residential presence.

Housing stock

According to Chough, homes near Little Seoul are eclectic in design and size, and prices run the gamut.

On the market now is a 1,347-square-foot home listed for $479,900. This single-story contemporary was built in 1978 and has three bedrooms, one bathroom and access to a community pool.

A 1,980-square-foot custom contemporary home in a gated community is listed at $659,000. Built in 2000, this two-story house has four bedrooms and 2 1/2 bathrooms.

Report card

Little Seoul is served by the Garden Grove Unified School District.

Children from kindergarten through sixth grade attend Cook Elementary School, which scored 784 of a possible 1,000 on the 2006 Academic Performance Index Growth Report. Jordan Intermediate School and Bolsa Grande High School scored 788 and 758, respectively.


Sources: http://www.cde.ca.gov thecityofGardenGrovewww.ci.garden-grove.ca.us and the Garden Grove Historical Society.

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