Evergreen Hostel



Hostel in east Los Angeles that housed Japanese Americans returning from concentration camps in 1945–46. One of the first hostels to open on the West Coast, it was also one of the largest and most highly regarded.

The Evergreen Hostel was located in the Forsythe Building on 506 North Evergreen Avenue in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of east Los Angeles. Built in 1914, the Mission Revival style building was the home of a Spanish Mission Home and School for Spanish and Mexican girls. With America's entrance into World War II, the Presbyterian Mission Board, which owned the building, made it available to the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) for a rent of $40 a month. The AFSC initially used it as temporary housing for Japanese Americans evicted from Terminal Island at the end of February 1942.[1]

Japanese Americans were forcibly removed from the West Coast states in the summer and fall of 1942 and held in concentration camps. Though "loyal" Japanese Americans were encouraged to leave the camps for jobs, colleges, or military service, they are not allowed to return to the West Coast until the beginning of 1945. As thousands of Japanese Americans began to return to the coast, they faced a severe housing shortage in many areas; as a result, many religious organizations began to open hostels that could serve as temporary shelter for the returnees.

Anticipating the need for housing, the AFSC and Presbyterian Church were able to gain use of the Forsythe Building again, which had been used by the army for the past two years, which had "left [it] in a sorry state," according to Esther Rhoads, who would manage the hostel for the AFSC. Over a two-month period, over one hundred volunteers "painted walls, restored the plumbing and fixtures and placed furniture contributed by friends." The Evergreen Hostel officially opened on March 1, 1945, and was likely the second hostel to open on the West Coast, after the AFSC's Pasadena Hostel that had opened in January. The large building included separate dormitories for men and women along with a few smaller rooms for individual families. The initial capacity was set at between 60 and 75, with the capacity increasing to over 100, with the arrival of additional furniture provided by the War Relocation Authority (WRA) that had been used in the concentration camps. The property also included a large yard along with various meeting and living areas inside the building. As with many other hostels, guests were charged $1 a day for room and board, with the price going up to $1.50 for those who were employed and with children paying half price. Guests were also expected to help with housework. Rhoads, who had lived in Japan for twenty years prior to the war and who spoke fluent Japanese, and Rev. Sohei Kowta of the Presbyterian Church served as the directors. Though run by religious organizations and offering religious services, the hostel was open to all. Like many other hostels, Evergreen also offered assistance with finding jobs and housing.[2]

The Evergreen Hostel proved popular, with a June 1945 AFSC report citing an average of 81 residents per day since its opening, with a total of over 750, making it likely the most populous hostel in Southern California and one of the largest on the West Coast. Though cited as having the best facility of any Southern California hostel in 1946 field reports by Tom T. Sasaki, accommodations were still basic. As Kats Kunitsugu recalled in a later oral history interview,

Well, it was almost like camp in that all we had was a bed and a little stand where we kept our personal belongings, and it was more or less the honor system for everyone. You left your belongings there, and being Japanese, we were all very honest. Nobody took anything. We never had that kind of problem. There were some house rules about what time you had to be in by and things like that. But they fed you, and it didn't cost very much to live there.

In a 2012 interview, Christie O. Ichikawa remembered that "they had beds lined up. And then you were given duties, you were on a list. And like tomorrow you and so many people had to make the sandwiches for the workers and you have to do this, you have to do that."

Writer Hisaye Yamamoto was another former resident of Evergreen Hostel. By February 1946, the Evergreen was averaging some 120 guests a night. It was one of eight hostels in Los Angeles still operating at the end of 1946.[3]

The Forsythe Building still stands and is on a list of resources "identified as potentially eligible for individual designation" in a report by the Los Angeles Department of City Planning.[4]

Authored by Brian Niiya, Densho

Related Articles

For More Information

Copeland, Jeffrey C. "Stay for a Dollar a Day: California's Church Hostels and Support during the Japanese American Eviction and Resettlement, 1942–1947." M.A. thesis, University of Nevada, Reno, 2014.

Footnotes

  1. Martha Groves, "Los Angeles Begins Survey of Historic Buildings," Los Angeles Times, April 7, 2009, accessed on January 15, 2015 at http://articles.latimes.com/2009/apr/07/local/me-city-survey7; SurveyLA: Boyle Heights Pilot Survey Report, prepared by Architectural Resources Group, Inc. for City of Los Angeles Department of City Planning's Office of Historic Resources, April 2010, accessed on January 15, 2015 at http://www.bhnc.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/SurveyLA_Boyle_Hts_Report1.pdf; Jeffrey C. Copeland, "Stay for a Dollar a Day: California's Church Hostels and Support during the Japanese American Eviction and Resettlement, 1942–1947," (M.A. thesis, University of Nevada, Reno, 2014), 25.
  2. Esther B. Rhoads, "My Experience with the Wartime Relocation of Japanese," in East Across the Pacific: Historical and Sociological Studies of Japanese Immigration and Assimilation', edited by Hilary Conroy and T. Scott Miyakawa (Santa Barbara, Calif.: American Bibliographic Center-Clio Press, 1972), 127, quotes on 138; Copeland, "Stay for a Dollar a Day," 86; Tom Sasaki, Report #29, "Evergreen Hostel," Aug. 9, 1946, The Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement: A Digital Archive, Bancroft Library, University of California Berkeley, call number BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder W 2.11:1, accessed on January 15, 2015 at http://digitalassets.lib.berkeley.edu/jarda/ucb/text/cubanc6714_b315w02_0011_1.pdf; American Friends Service Committee (AFSC): Japanese-American Relations Committee Information Bulletin Number 16, June 10, 1945, Online Archive of California, accessed on January 15, 2015 at http://www.oac.cdlib.org/view?docId=ft6b69n9gt;NAAN=13030&doc.view=frames&chunk.id=d0e2293&toc.depth=1&toc.id=d0e2277&brand=oac4.
  3. AFSC, June 10, 1945; Tom Sasaki, Report #26, "Buddhist Churches," August 6, 1946 and Report #29, August 9, 1946; Katsumi (Hirooka) Kunitsugu interview by Leslie Ito, April 22, 1998, REgenerations Oral History Project: Rebuilding Japanese American Families, Communities, and Civil Rights in the Resettlement Era : Los Angeles Region: Volume II, edited by Japanese American National Museum, Chicago Japanese American Historical Society, Japanese American Historical Society of San Diego, and Japanese American Resource Center/Museum (San Jose), p. 256, accessed on January 15, 2015 at http://content.cdlib.org/view?docId=ft358003z1;NAAN=13030&doc.view=frames&chunk.id=d0e10902&toc.depth=1&toc.id=d0e10902&brand=calisphere; Christie O. Ichikawa interview by Sharon Yamato, January 10, 2012, Segment 19, Densho Digital Archive, accessed on January 15, 2015 at http://archive.densho.org/Core/ArchiveItem.aspx?i=denshovh-ichristie-01-0019; Greg Robinson, "The Great Unknown and the Unknown Great: The Life and Times of Hisaye Yamamoto, Writer, Activist Speaker," Discover Nikkei, March 14, 2012, accessed on January 15, 2015 at http://www.discovernikkei.org/en/journal/2012/3/14/hisaye-yamamoto/; Tom Sasaki, Report #134, "Living Conditions in the Trailer Camp and Hostels," Nov. 12, 1946, 1, The Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement: A Digital Archive, Bancroft Library, University of California Berkeley, call number BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder W 2.11:3, accessed on January 15, 2015 at http://digitalassets.lib.berkeley.edu/jarda/ucb/text/cubanc6714_b315w02_0011_3.pdf.
  4. SurveyLA: Boyle Heights Pilot Survey Report, 6, 20.