Koreatown, Western Ave

Photography and audio by Larry Ho

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Behind high, bland walls at a Koreatown temple, the Yun girls are princesses for the day.

In honor of the Lunar New Year, Grace, 2, and Cindy, 3, wear new hanboks so richly petal-pink that they would be the envy of young Sleeping Beauties and Cinderellas anywhere. Their shoes left at the temple door, they wait to bow to elders and receive "lucky money" in return.

The 3,000-member Korea Sah Buddhist Temple, once a social hall for Czech Americans, is now watched over by hand-carved and painted Buddhas and bodhisattvas. Such transformations are common in this dense, lively neighborhood west of downtown Los Angeles that is home to a quarter-million people, many of them immigrants from Asia, Mexico and Central America.

Koreatown can feel like a visual din of symbols. Signs outside tea houses, restaurants and beauty shops are mostly in Korean, mystifying English- and Spanish-speaking commuters idling on car-clogged Western Avenue. But more multilingual signs are turning up as business leaders lobby to make Koreatown as welcoming to visitors as Chinatown and Little Tokyo.

At the Galleria Food Court, bilingual menus tout barbecued chicken and steaming fish soups. Posh condominium towers at Wilshire Boulevard draw well-heeled young residents. And at the nearby Le Cercle Super Club, an ever-more-diverse crowd of almost-grown-up princesses and princes dances the night away.

--Deborah Schoch

What is Street Scenes?

Southern California is a vast land of neighborhoods. Drive Olympic Boulevard in Los Angeles, for example, and you'll encounter industrial blocks, the garment district, Koreatown, West L.A. bungalows and the burgeoning entertainment district at the eastern end of Santa Monica.
But most of us don't spend time driving from neighborhood to neighborhood--so L.A. Times photographers have done it for us. Throughout the summer, we'll spotlight their portraits of a variety of neighborhoods, ranging from the Fairfax District to Newport Harbor.

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