California Fool’s Gold — Exploring Gardena

Street in Gardena
A typical street in Gardena with strong Japanese character

This here entry’s about Gardena. To vote for other Los Angeles County communities to be the subject of future entries, click here. To vote for Los Angeles neighborhoods, click here. To vote for Orange County neighborhoods, vote here.

Gardena Sign

Gardena (in Japanese, ガーデナ; in Korean, 가데나 ) is located in the South Bay or South LA region, depending on your definition. It’s a bit odd to consider it South Bay, since it’s not on the water. However, there’s a perception that it’s unlike the rest of South LA, which is erroneously thought of as being much more homogenous than it is.

Map of GardenaPendersleigh & Sons‘ Official Map of Gardena

surrounded by the slender Harbor Gateway to the east and south, Torrance to the southwest, Hawthorneto the northwest, West Athens to the north, and Alondra Park to the west. In recognition of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (and on account of it being voted for by readers), I took the CARDIS on a trip, joined by first time traveling companions Matt and Cheryl. We got some eats (‘n’ drinks) at Azuma andFuraibo, some groceries and goods at Marukai, and deeply inhaled the strawberry scented (and hot) air inSanrio Surprises.

Rancho San Pedro  William Starke Rosecrans
            Rancho San Pedro                    William Starke Rosecrans

In 1784, a Spaniard, Juan José Dominguez, was given a portion of land in reward for his military service which was named Rancho San Pedro in what was formerly a Tongva hunting and fishing area. Anyway, it passed into the hands of the Mexicans afterward, and ultimately was taken by the US. The first Anglo settler was mostly a Civil War veteran, Ohioan William Starke Rosecrans, who established Rosecrans Rancho there in 1869. In 1887, he was followed by another veteran, Kentuckian Spencer R. Thorpe. The name “Gardena” is said to have been proposed by Thorpe’s daugher, Nettie.

Japanese Cabbage Farmer in Gardena  Japanese Farm Workers in Gardena - 1924

That year, a railway line to Gardena was established and over the next couple of years, many more Anglos came to ranch and farm in the area.

Los Angeles and Redondo Railway Company Freight and Ticket Office in Gardena, c. 1890s
Los Angeles and Redondo Railway

In 1904, Englishman John Bodger established Sweet Pea Farm in the town, then home to 1,000 residents. Another large portion of the farmers and gardeners were Japanese who’d mostly arrived from Hawaii.

Strawberry Festival

Due to the acres of berry farms, the city was nicknamed “Berryland” and there used to be an annual Strawberry Day Festival and Parade. Although the Laguna Dominguez slough and channel fed the area and gave it its green character, it was filled in in the 1920s. Nonetheless, Gardena today still boasts several nurseries and parks that reflect its past. Gardena [along with the neighboring communities of Strawberry Park (to the northwest) and Moneta (to the south)] was incorporated into the City of Gardena in 1930.

Marukai

Japanese-Americans have long been integral to the fabric of Los Angeles. J-Towns have sprung up around the Southland in Torrance, Boyle Heights, Monterey ParkPasadena, San Pedro, Terminal Island, Compton, Long Beach and Sawtelle, and Gardena (although, as far as I know, only two have acquired nicknames that reflect their Japanese-ness, Little Tokyo and Little Ōsaka).

Gardena Buddhist Church
Gardena Buddhist Church

In 1911, the Japanese Association founded the Moneta Japanese Institute. After the end of Japanese internment, many J-towns disappeared, but in Gardena, many Japanese-Americans returned to their former home after regaining their freedom. In the 1970s and ’80s, Gardena saw a massive influx of even more Japanese. Today, at over 60,000 residents, Gardena still has a strong Japanese and Pacific Islander presence, making up roughly 27% of the population. Gardena is also approximately 25% black, 12% white and 32% Latino. Mexican and Japanese are the main ethnicities.

Tozai
Tozai Shopping Center

Gardena is widely known for its Japanese food but, as this list of Gardena eateries suggests, there is a variety to be found at joints and there are a lot of Korean eateries, Hawaiian joints and BBQ places. Some of the better known restaurants and other food-related places include Azuma, Hakata Ramen Shinsengumi, Ahsah, Ana’s La Gran Fonda, California Fish Grill, Jay-Bee’s House of Fine Bar-B-Que, Kanpachi,Rascals Teriyaki Grill, Kau Kau Korner, Sushi Boy, Kiraku Ramen, El Rocoto, California 90, Pho Gardena, Pho So 1, Pho Long, Sakuraya, Meiji Tofu, Chikara Mochi, Giuliano’s, Sakae Sushi, Polla a la Brasa, MamMoth Bakery, Jade’s Bakery, La Villa, Bruddah’s, Spoonhouse Bakery, Otafuku, Sea Empress, California Rice Center, Umemura, Daruma Izakaya, Akane Chaya, Kotohira, Classic Burger, Old Time Noodle House, Furaibo, Burnt Tortilla, Rainbow Donuts, A Taste of Jamaica, Fish City, Big Star Cafe, Tokyo Grill, Tottino’s, La Perla and the Murakai Supermarket.

Pacific Garden Mall
Pacific Garden Mall
Hotel Pacific Garden
…and yes, the Pacific Garden Hotel for the overnight shopper

Today, much of Gardena’s character remains, not surprisingly, green and Japanese, as evinced by Sanrio Surprise, Hide’s Shiatsu, Pacific Square Shopping Center, Tozai Shopping Center, Masfukai Park and the Gardena Buddhist Church (established in 1926).

Nightlife in evidence takes place mostly at bars like Club Momo, Gaku, Moa, Wild Card, Yes, The Desert Room, Club Diva, The Aloha Room, Celeb, Ray’s Place, Marty’s and A Sung. Of course, there’s karaoke at 501 Music Studio, Suzuran, Donna’s, Fantasia, Daruma Izakaya and Sing Sing, for those interested in checking out the local music scene.

The most famous musician born in Gardena is not an aspiring karaoke singer, but rather noted jazz saxophonist Art Pepper. In other Jazz-in-Gardena news, in August the city hosts The Gardena Jazz Festival. The only rock band that I know of from Gardena is The Pretty Kittens, an all-girl rock band in the 1960s.

Bookoff

And although Bookoff is mostly about books (with a huge Manga section), they also had a pretty impressive selection of Japanese Dramas and film, as well as a bafflingly organized music selection. Even Matt, a librarian by trade, could not figure out the system, but we did eventually find the Judy and Mary CD we were looking for. As Cheryl was rung up, the cashier put her money in bowl and said something in Japanese. Cheryl nodded although none of us understood what was going on.

Video Japan Exterior
Video Japan Interior

Amoeba Hollywood boasts a pretty impressive collection of Japanese Cinema but nothing compared to the rental store Video Japan. As Cheryl perused the horror films (note to Cheryl: High School Killer), Matt waxed philosophical about Japanese actress Sora Aoi.

Gardena’s been a shooting location for several films. For the years it existed, The Ascot Park Speedwaywas featured in films quite often, appearing in Roar of the Crowd; the Bowery Boys film, Jalopy; the Elvis film, Spinout; as well as the Jack Hill film, Pit Stop; Gone in 60 Seconds; A Very Brady Christmas; and an episode of CHiPs. Ascot was also the site of the annual USAC Turkey Night Grand Prix midget race on Thanksgiving. It was closed in the 1990s and fewer films have been shot in Gardena ever since.

Los Angeles and Redondo Railway Company Freight and Ticket Office in Gardena
Gardena Boulevard back in the day
Other film locations include the Marine/Redondo Green Line station, which was seen in Heat, and The Pet Haven Cemetary & Crematory served as The Happier Hunting Grounds in The Loved One. H.B. Halicki was obviously a fan of Gardena. He premiered Gone in 60 Seconds and also filmed portions of The Junkmanthere. Gardena was also featured in Ed Wood, Mulholland Dr., Run if You Can, Money to Burn, The Abominable…, Fragments (aka Winged Creatures), the Deborah Gibson vehicle Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, The Grind, Flossin and Palmer Chandler’s Kitchen Catastrophes. Actor Toby Holguin was born in Gardena. Gardena has been featured on TV a couple of times, once an episode of Hot Rod TV and once on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, which featured Jay-Bee’s in the episode “Real Deal BBQ.” One of the radio station call-ins in CB4 was from a listener in Gardena too.

*****

Eric Brightwell is a writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities; however, job offers must pay more than slave wages as he would rather write for pleasure than for peanuts. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in AmoeblogdiaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art Museum, Form Follows FunctionLos Angeles County Store,Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles TimesHuffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

10 thoughts on “California Fool’s Gold — Exploring Gardena

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s