Church Rededicated as Arts Center


As handfuls of tiny squares of rice paper and salt crystals were strewn onto the steps of the old Union Church building in Little Tokyo, the edifice was rededicated as an arts center Tuesday in traditional Japanese style.

Renamed the Union Center for the Arts, the former church will house the East West Players, an Asian American drama troupe; Visual Communications, an Asian Pacific media arts center, and L.A. Artcore, a nonprofit contemporary arts organization.

“It’s a pretty significant building,” said Erich Nakano, a project manager with Little Tokyo Service Center, a nonprofit developer.


The three-story brick structure at 120 N. San Pedro Ave. in the Little Tokyo Historic District, was built in 1923, making it the first Christian church in Little Tokyo, Nakano said.

“The church itself moved in the late 1970s and has been vacant since,” he said.

At the dedication ceremony, blessings representing a panorama of religions were performed by members of the Konko Church of Los Angeles (a Shinto-based church), the new Union Church and a Hawaiian dance troupe.

Also attending the celebration was actor George Takei, best known for his role in the “Star Trek” series and movies, and a member of the East West Players. Takei is helping the drama group raise $1.5 million to build a new theater and rehearsal spaces within the building.

“It’s going to make Little Tokyo a 24-hour place,” Takei said. He said he hopes that the artists who convene at the center will spend their free time at the eateries and bars in Little Tokyo, helping revitalize the community.

While the city of Los Angeles owns the old church, the Little Tokyo Service Center will develop the project, Nakano said. Renovations on the building are expected to cost $3.4 million and will include seismic retrofitting and upgrading for fire protection and disabled access.

Funding for the project is being provided by the city of Los Angeles through earthquake protection bonds, the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency, Ralph M. Parsons Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.


Construction is slated to begin next month and will be completed by the summer of 1997.