Explore Asian American Landmarks & Monuments in Los Angeles

Discover the rich and important history of Asian Americans in Los Angeles
Bruce Lee statue

Bruce Lee statue in Chinatown's Central Plaza | Photo: @yagoddamnright

Los Angeles is home to some of the largest Asian American enclaves outside of their native countries. Generations of Asian immigrants have helped make L.A. one of the most diverse cities in the country. From historic buildings to museums, monuments and more, read on for landmarks and points of interest that tell the rich and important history of Asian Americans in Los Angeles.

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“Journeys” exhibit at the Chinese American Museum | Photo: Michael Locke, Flickr

CHINATOWN

Chinatown is one of L.A.'s most popular tourist destinations, located in Downtown L.A. near the city's civic and cultural center. L.A.'s first Chinatown was razed in the early 1930s to build Union Station. In June 1938 a new Chinatown celebrated its grand opening as the first such neighborhood in the U.S. that was actually owned by Chinese residents. Today the historic neighborhood is experiencing a dining and nightlife renaissance, with a mix of old school restaurants and modern hotspots like David Chang's Majordomo.

One of Chinatown's most photographed monuments is the 7-foot statue of Bruce Lee, located in Central Plaza. The late martial arts star once owned a studio in Chinatown - it's located a short walk from the statue at 628 W. College St. Another statue in Central Plaza honors Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the Chinese revolutionary leader who is considered the "founder of modern China." The statue was erected in the 1960s by the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association.

Nearby is the Chinese Celestial Dragon mural originally painted in 1941 by Tyrus Wong. The legendary artist, who passed away in December 2016 at age 106, was renowned for his work in film, particularly as the lead artist on Disney's Bambi.

Located near Chinatown at El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument, the Chinese American Museum (CAM) is the first museum in Southern California dedicated to examining America’s cultural and ethnic diversity through the Chinese American experience and history. CAM is housed in the Garnier Building, the last surviving structure of L.A.’s original Chinatown. Origins: The Birth and Rise of Chinese American Communities in Los Angeles is a permanent exhibition celebrating the growth and development of Chinese American enclaves from Downtown L.A. to the San Gabriel Valley.

Japanese Village Plaza in Little Tokyo

Little Tokyo Japanese Village | Instagram by @misrble

Little Tokyo

With roots dating to the 1880s, Little Tokyo is a major cultural and civic center for Japanese Americans living in Southern California. One of only three official Japantowns in the United States, Little Tokyo spans about five city blocks in Downtown L.A., bounded on the west by Los Angeles Street, on the east by Alameda Street, on the south by 3rd Street, and on the north by 1st Street, including the block north of 1st and west of Alameda. Little Tokyo was declared a National Historic Landmark District in 1995.

The Japanese American National Museum (JANM) is internationally recognized for its commitment to exploring America’s ethnic and cultural diversity by presenting and sharing the experience of Japanese Americans with exhibitions, public programs, an award-winning museum store and resource center. The permanent exhibit, Common Ground: The Heart of Community chronicles 130 years of Japanese American history, beginning with the early days of the Issei pioneers through the World War II incarceration to the present. Among the notable artifacts on display is a Heart Mountain barracks, an original structure saved and preserved from the concentration camp in Wyoming.

Opened in 1980, the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center (JACCC) is one of the largest ethnic art and cultural centers in the U.S. Its facilities include the Center Building, the 880-seat Aratani Theatre, JACCC Plaza (designed by Isamu Noguchi), and the award-winning James Irvine Japanese Garden.

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Go for Broke Monument in Little Tokyo | Instagram by @roundstoneo

Located a short walk from JANM, the Go For Broke Monument is the first memorial of its kind on the U.S. mainland. The 40-foot black granite circle is engraved with more than 16,000 names of Japanese American soldiers and officers who served overseas during World War II. "Go for Broke" was the motto of the all-Nisei 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the most decorated unit in the history of American warfare. Opened in 2016, the Go For Broke National Education Center's Defining Courage Exhibition is an interactive learning experience that explores the concept of courage through the lives of young Japanese Americans during World War II, and asks modern visitors to act with similar courage in their own lives.

The Space Shuttle Challenger Monument at Weller Court features a 1/10th scale model of the Challenger that stands 27 feet high, mounted on a pedestal with a 7-foot base. Each side of the base consists of black granite with a bronze commemorative plaque. The front plaque is dedicated to Astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka and the side plaques are dedicated to the Challenger crew and the U.S. Space Program, respectfully.

Founded in 1965, East West Players is the nation’s longest-running professional theatre of color and the largest producing organization of Asian American artistic work. EWP’s mainstage is the David Henry Hwang Theatre, housed within the historic Union Center for the Arts on Judge John Aiso Street.

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Rendering courtesy of Korean American National Museum

KOREATOWN

Located west of Downtown L.A. and south of Hollywood, Koreatown is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Encompassing roughly three square miles, the area was once the epicenter of Golden Age Hollywood, home to the Ambassador Hotel, the Cocoanut Grove and the Brown Derby. Today, Korean and Latino populations contribute to Koreatown’s rich cultural diversity. K-town is also known for having one of the largest concentration of nightclubs and 24-hour businesses and restaurants in the country. Even frequent visitors have only scratched the surface of this vibrant district.

The Korean American National Museum (KANM) was founded in 1991 to plan and operate the nation’s first and only institution devoted to preserving, studying, and presenting the Korean American community’s cultural heritage. Located at the intersection of 6th Street and Vermont Avenue, the future home of KANM is part of a seven-story mixed use project. The two-story, 30,000 square-foot museum is scheduled to open in 2019.

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Koreatown Pavilion Garden | Instagram by @livektown

The 5,000 square-foot Koreatown Pavilion Garden is a traditional Korean gazebo with a small garden on the northeast corner of Olympic and Irolo. Formally known as Da Wool Jung ("harmonious gathering place"), the Pavilion was built by South Korean craftsmen in January 2006. Although Korean immigrants started arriving a century ago, it wasn’t until the 1960s that modern Koreatown began to emerge with a grocery store that was located across from the Pavilion.

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"Gintong Kasaysayan, Gintong Pamana" in Historic Filipinotown | Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Historic Filipinotown

Formerly known as Little Manila, Historic Filipinotown was one of the first areas to be cultivated by Filipino immigrants during the early part of the 20th century. The enclave was created through a resolution proposed by then-council member Eric Garcetti on Aug. 2, 2002. The district is bounded by Hoover Street on the west to Glendale Boulevard on the east, Temple Street on the north and Beverly Boulevard on the south. Like other ethnic enclaves, the population of "Hi Fi" has changed to reflect L.A.'s cultural diversity - of the 600,000 Filipinos living in Greater L.A., about 10,000 live in Historic Filipinotown.

Established in 1998, the Pilipino Workers Center (PWC) provides services and resources that help meet the immediate needs of Pilipino workers and their families while organizing for long-term change. PWC also offers 90-minute tours of Hi Fi in a vintage 1944 Sarao Motor Company Jeepney. The first Sunday of every month, PWC welcomes Sunday Jump, the only Filipino-founded open mic series in Historic Filipinotown.

Overlooking Unidad Park on Beverly Boulevard, Gintong Kasaysayan, Gintong Pamana ("Filipino Americans: A Glorious History, A Golden Legacy") is the largest Filipino American mural in the country. The 150'x30' mural was painted by artist Eliseo Art Silva when he was 22 years old. According to the artist, "...the mural encapsulates 5,000 years of Filipino and Filipino American history; the design is divided into two parts: the first is historical (represented by the outline of a fish at sea), leading up to the awakening of Filipino national and political consciousness; the second part is dominated by a huge bird with significant Filipino-Americans on its wings, the farm workers on the bottom left and the youth and community on the right." 

Located at Lake Street Park, the Filipino American WWII Veterans Memorial was unveiled in November 2006. The first monument dedicated to the 250,000 Filipino and 7,000 Filipino American soldiers who fought for the U.S. in World War II, the monument consists of five slabs of polished black granite and commemorates the history of Filipino veterans, from WWII to immigration to their subsequent fight for equality. Inscribed in the front of the memorial is a quote by Faustino “Peping” Baclig: “Bataan was not our last battlefield. We are still fighting for equity.”

On May 5, 1998, the L.A. City Council designated the Filipino (Disciples) Christian Church as Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument No. 651. Per Wikipedia, the Filipino Christian Church is the only Historic-Cultural Monument with Filipino origins designated by the City of Los Angeles. The church is notable for its German Gothic Revival and Craftsman architecture.

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Ray and Mike Buhen | Photo by Jim Staub, courtesy of Tiki-Ti

Tiki-Ti

Opened by legendary bartender Ray Buhen on April 28, 1961, Tiki-Ti is a world-famous tiki bar located on Sunset Boulevard at the border of Los Feliz and Silver Lake. Ray was one of the "Four Boys” of the original Don the Beachcomber, which gave birth to the global tiki movement when it opened in Hollywood at the end of Prohibition. The Four Boys were four Filipinos who worked endlessly behind the scenes creating secret syrups, squeezing fresh juices, and carving ice to make drinks that would become tiki classics. After leaving Don the Beachcomber, Ray built a following at other famous Polynesian hotspots like the Seven Seas in Hollywood and The Luau in Beverly Hills before he opened Tiki-Ti.

Tiki-Ti's signature drink is the Ray’s Mistake, which was accidentally created in 1968 when Ray was making a drink for a customer and realized he had mixed up the syrups. He was about to dump the concoction, but the customer wanted to try it anyway, and liked it enough that it became a menu item. The drink is on special every Wednesday until the toast to Ray at 9pm, when Mike Buhen Sr. rings a bell, raises a glass, and everyone in the packed bar salutes the "Master Ninja," as Ray is affectionately known.

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Apsonsi statue at the entrance to Thai Town | Instagram by @lenateresaphotography

Thai Town

Designated by the Los Angeles City Council on Oct. 27, 1999, Thai Town is a six-block area flanking Hollywood Boulevard between Normandie Avenue and Western Avenue. Over the years, the East Hollywood district has been home to numerous immigrant groups, including Armenians and Latinos - Thai Americans began settling there in the 1960s.

The entrances to Thai Town are marked by statues of Apsonsi (half human, half lion angels in Thai folklore). Apsonsi statues stand at the four corners of Thai Town as "symbolic guardians of the Thai cultural and commercial corridor." Two Kinnara Lampposts - a gift from the Thai government to the city of Los Angeles - are located at Hollywood and Hobart. The area continues to grow - this summer, the Thai Town Marketplace is expected to open at the western gateway.

Besides the numerous Thai restaurants, shops and markets, Thai Town is home to unique points of interest like Charles Bukowski's favorite liquor store, Pink Elephant (1836 N. Western) and the Hollywood & Western Building (aka the Mayer Building) at 5504 Hollywood Blvd. The Art Deco building, which appeared in Double Indemnity and used as a rehearsal studio for Guns N' Roses, was added to the National Register for Historic Places in 2015.

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Giant Robot and GR2 Gallery on Sawtelle Boulevard | Photo courtesy of Giant Robot

Sawtelle Japantown

The Westside neighborhood known as Sawtelle Japantown was officially designated by the L.A. City Council on Feb. 25, 2015. Previously known as Little Osaka, the historic area is home to a sizable Japanese American population and is known for the bustling restaurants and trendy shops centered on Sawtelle Boulevard between Santa Monica and Olympic.

During World War II, the community was disrupted and lives were uprooted because of the Japanese American internment, one of the darkest chapters in American history. A large number of them resettled in Sawtelle Japantown as they reintegrated into society. Today, the neighborhood is represented not only by its Japanese American postwar settlers and their descendants, but by a diverse set of Asians and other ethnicities and backgrounds.

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"Post-It Show 12" at GR2 Gallery | Photo courtesy of Giant Robot

Giant Robot & GR 2 Gallery
Giant Robot opened on Sawtelle Boulevard in 2001 as a retail extension of the groundbreaking Asian and Asian American pop culture magazine of the same name, which ran in print until 2011 and later resurfaced online at Giant Robot Media. Giant Robot quickly gained a following with its mix of arty toys, cute stationery, unusual reading material and casual fashion. GR became a one-stop spot where you could pick up anything from art postcards to Uglydoll plushes, hip sweatshirts and blind box toys.

Two years later, GR2 Gallery opened down the street and became known for showing up-and-comers and established artists with strong, narrative styles. GR2 is perhaps best known for the annual "Post-It Show" which features hundreds of artists that create thousands of tiny works on Post-It Notes. Whether the artist is pop surrealism star Audrey Kawasaki, Simpsons creator Matt Groening, or someone barely out of school, the pieces are all priced the same. GR2 has hosted shows from artists like Luke Chueh, kozyndan, Yoskay Yamamoto and many more. At GR2, art is anything from paintings to games to toys.

Suiho En (“Garden of Water and Fragrance”) Japanese Garden in Van Nuys

SuihoEn (“Garden of Water and Fragrance”) Japanese Garden in Van Nuys | Photo: *PhotoByJohn*, Flickr

Japanese Garden at Woodley Park

Suiho En (“Garden of Water and Fragrance”) is a 6.5-acre authentic Japanese garden fashioned after “stroll gardens” constructed during the 18th and 19th centuries for Japanese Feudal lords. This San Fernando Valley gem was created by Dr. Koichi Kawana to provide beauty, relaxation, inspiration and a better understanding of Japanese culture using reclaimed water. Dr. Kawana designed more than one dozen major Japanese gardens in the United States, including the botanical gardens at LACMA.

NORMS La Cienega at night

NORMS La Cienega | Photo: NORMS Restaurants, Facebook

Architecture

Helen Liu Fong - Googie Architecture
Googie architecture developed and thrived in Los Angeles, where car culture lent itself to buildings and signage that was noticeable to those those driving along the city streets. One of the pioneers of this style was architect and interior designer Helen Lieu Fong. Born in Chinatown, Fong went to work for the firm Armet & Davis, who were responsible for many iconic mid-20th century diners. She worked on projects like NORMS on La Cienega, Pann's in Inglewood, and Johnie's in the Miracle Mile. Located at Wilshire and Fairfax, Johnie's is a former coffee shop and popular film location, appearing in The Big Lebowski, Reservoir Dogs and more.

I.M. Pei - Creative Artists Agency & 6500 Wilshire
A native of Guangzhou, China, I.M. Pei is one of the world's most celebrated architects. His iconic buildings include the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston; the National Gallery East Building, Washington D.C.; the Louvre Pyramid, Paris; and the Bank of China in Hong Kong. Among his numerous accolades, Pei has been awarded the Pritzker Prize (aka the "Nobel Prize" of architecture) and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.

The L.A. Conservancy describes Pei's 1989 Creative Artists Agency Building in Beverly Hills (9830 Wilshire Blvd) as "Postmodern in style, looking almost like a Classical building massed in three geometric volumes." A nearby Pei building, 6500 Wilshire is regarded as "one of the more extravagant, if architecturally successful, excesses of the 1980s."

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Short rib taco | Photo courtesy of Kogi BBQ

Kogi BBQ

The iconic short rib taco served by the Kogi BBQ truck is the culinary mash-up that launched a thousand food trucks. Co-founded by Chef Roy Choi, Kogi BBQ pioneered the globally inspired menus and active social media presence used by food trucks across the country. The signature taco is made with double-caramelized Korean barbecue short rib, salsa roja made from Korean and Mexican chiles, cilantro-onion-lime relish and chili-soy Kogi slaw, all served over two crisp, griddled corn tortillas.

In his cookbook/memoir L.A. Son: My Life, My City, My Food, Choi describes the moment of creation: “There it was. Los Angeles on a plate. Maybe it wasn’t everyone’s L.A., but it was mine. It was Koreatown to Melrose to Alvarado to Venice to Crenshaw crumpled into one flavor and bundled up like a gift. The elements looked like city blocks. The flavor tasted like the streets. And the look said home.” Choi has since opened several brick and mortar restaurants. If you’re looking for the taco that started it all, follow @kogibbq on Instagram or stop by Kogi Taqueria in Palms.

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Main Dining Room at Matsuhisa Beverly Hills

Matsuhisa

Nobu Matsuhisa is one of the most famous chefs in the world. His restaurants span five continents, with more than 40 locations across the globe. It all began in 1987, when Nobu opened his first restaurant, Matsuhisa on La Cienega in Beverly Hills. His pioneering fusion of Japanese and Peruvian cuisine made Matsuhisa an instant celebrity hotspot - Tom Cruise famously couldn’t get a reservation and Barbra Streisand stood in a line that stretched down the block. Nobu’s signature dish, the iconic black cod with miso, was first served at Matsuhisa. When Matsuhisa first opened, a silhouette of the then 38-year-old Nobu was painted behind the sushi bar. The smoky grey profile is still there over 30 years later, and is now the logo for his culinary empire.

In April 2017, Nobu expanded into the hotel business when he opened the world's first Nobu Ryokan in Malibu. Located adjacent to Nobu Malibu, the 16-room retreat is modeled after a ryokan, or traditional Japanese inn. The 9,200 square-foot property features teak soaking tubs, indoor/outdoor fireplaces, serene outdoor patios, and exclusive bites from Nobu Malibu.

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Korean Bell of Friendship | Photo: Shawn S. Park Flickr

Korean Bell of Friendship

The Korean Bell of Friendship is a massive bronze bell housed in a stone pavilion located in Angel’s Gate Park in San Pedro. The bell was presented by South Korea to the people of Los Angeles in 1976 to celebrate the U.S. Bicentennial and to symbolize friendship between the two nations. The intricately-detailed bell weighs 17 tons, and is 12 feet high with a diameter of 7.5 feet. Four pairs of figures - a “Goddess of Liberty” and a Korean spirit - are engraved in relief on the bell. The bell is housed in a stone pavilion with 12 columns, each one representing an animal of the Korean zodiac. The pavilion, formally known as the “Belfry of Friendship,” is featured in two scenes from The Usual Suspects (1995).