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A HISTORICAL JOURNEY – The Move to Little Tokyo - 1964-1988

Updated: Jun 14, 2022

By Carolyn Tokunaga

With the tremendous growth, the expansion of the physical plant, and a new name which reflected the merger of the Methodist Episcopal Church and Evangelical United Brethren Church in 1968, “Centenary United Methodist Church,” had the people and space for all of its ministries. The organizations flourished, evangelism and home visits continued to bring newcomers to Christianity. It was a period of active participation in all church events.

There were fellowship teas, family dinners, Thanksgiving basket deliveries, huge church picnics, two day carnivals/bazaars, church clean ups, and yard sales.

During this period the boys’ and girls’ clubs continued their growth with the last group of boys born in 1971 and girls born between the years 1972-1975. By the end of the 1980s the last of the kids were young adults. This wonderful program of faith building, friendship development, fellowship and service would come to its conclusion.

Centenary continued to run Kusayanagi Hall as a boarding home. From its opening in 1954 to its closing in 1983, the residents enjoyed the beautiful Japanese garden with a goldfish pond among the towering pine trees, a spacious dining room and a lounge with television. Dedicated managers provided care, nourishment, and sometimes even haircuts. The home provided a safe and loving community for the elders.

35th and Normandie had been Centenary’s home for over 50 years but safety had become a major concern. Break-ins of cars and of church buildings necessitated the hiring of a guard. Ed Gamble was on the premises almost 24 hours daily. Night funeral attendees were walked to their cars. The old church buildings also had termites and some structural issues that needed addressing. Centenary once again began to consider the possibility of a new home.

In addition to the safety issues, during the 1970s, as church members began moving out of the Crenshaw area, leaders felt that Centenary’s future would be limited by staying in the current location. When a possible merger with LaTijera UMC was proposed, the option to move there was explored and several worships were held there but ultimately it was decided that Centenary would sell its property and buy and build.

In 1979, commercial real estate developer Al Taira was planning a multi-use area on the block that Centenary currently occupies. He wanted a religious occupant and agreed to have Centenary as that entrant. Eventually that became a reality and Centenary was able to purchase the lot we now occupy.

With the commitment made to move to Little Tokyo, fundraising became a necessity. In 1977, Mark Kiguchi chaired the Long Range Building Fund in anticipation of a move and became the first Building Committee Chairperson in 1981 with Mits Nozaki as Co-Chair. In 1982, an Easter Building Fund Kick-Off Luncheon was held at the New Otani Hotel and fundraising began in earnest. In October, the United Methodist Men sponsored a special event that raised $128,000. In 1983, Rev. Jonathan Fujita and Tak Minei of the Nichigo Division went to Japan to contact sources to raise funds. Mrs. Yuri Inouye donated the sale of the Yasaki Family Home and in appreciation for his time at Kusayanagi Hall, Mr. Meishi Kitsunai bequeathed his estate to Centenary and donated a sizeable monetary amount from the sale of his unique sumie paintings.

With fundraising proceeding under the leadership of Ron Hasegawa and later Ed Tamura, a Groundbreaking Ceremony was held on June 12, 1984 at the 3rd and Central location.

In Novermber 1984, the 35th and Normandie site was sold to Abundant Life Christian Church for $838,000. Kusayanagi Hall was sold that same year for $200,000. The Building Fund was growing!

With the properties sold and church items placed in storage (included were the stained glass window from the 35th and Normandie sanctuary and the cornerstone from the building), Centenary accepted the gracious offer from Maryknoll Catholic Church to share its premises. In June 1985, Centenary’s 60 years at 35th and Normandie came to an end with the last Sunday worship.

During the three years (July 1985-September 1988) at Maryknoll, Sunday worship continued to be celebrated. Alternating between the Chapel and gym, the Issei and Nisei congregations raised their voices in thanksgiving, words of encouragement and praise were heard from the pulpit, and the spiritual life of the church continued.

Church activities continued in a different way. Because of space limitations, Sunday School classes were combined, a few of the Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs and youth continued to gather in their temporary home. The bazaar was still held and Centenary folks pitched in to help at Maryknoll functions. Church organizations like the United Methodist Men and United Methodist Women met in members’ homes, ready to regroup with the completion of the new building on 3rd and Central.

During this period, the women of the Rainbow Circle worked on the “Centenary Favorites” cookbook. They busily compiled and tested recipes, observed and then jotted down measurements as Issei members cooked traditional dishes. In October 1986, the first printing of 5000 cookbooks rolled off the presses. By the end of the year, a second printing was necessary. The cookbook met a very real need in the community. The complex dishes for Oshogatsu (New Year’s) were now readily available in easy to do recipes.

“This cookbook is dedicated to the future of Centenary United Methodist Church. In this 90th Anniversary year, Centenary is making plans to build a new church in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo where the church had its historic beginning. All proceeds from this cookbook will go toward the Centenary Building Fund.”

With fundraising still continuing, Kaz Saito stepped in as Building Committee Chairperson and in 1986 the purchase of the 3rd and Central property was completed for $1,839,942. A month long Christian Stewardship Finance Program was instituted that year and a three-year pledge commitment raised $834,612. In October 1987 a building construction contract was signed and on November 21 a Construction Groundbreaking for the building was held at the site followed by a Celebration Worship at Maryknoll.

Father Robert Reiley and Maryknoll were welcome hosts during those 3 years of transition and Centenary is deeply indebted to them for making this period one of care and compassion. On October 2, 1988, the first Sunday Worship Service was held in the New Multi-Purpose Church Building. Centenary had a new home in Little Tokyo!

Our Ministers: 1964-1988

During this period of growth, change and transition, Centenary was guided by strong spiritual leaders. Their calming presence, their commitment to maintaining the strong spiritual life and missions of Centenary, and their patience and guidance carried the church through these years.

Issei Ministers: Rev. Thomas Machida (1954), Rev. Dr. J. K. Sasaki (1967), Rev. Jonathan Fujita (1970), Rev. Paul Matsumoto (1984 interim), and Rev. Hidemi Ito (1985)

Nisei Ministers: Rev. John Yamashita (1952), Rev. Edward Iwamoto (1966), Rev. J. K. Sasaki (1966), Rev. Dr. Tosh Tatsuyama (1969), Rev. Peter Chen (1970). Rev. Paul Hagiya (1975), and Rev. George Nishikawa (1983)

Assisted by: Minister of Education and later Associate Minister Rev Roy Sano (1966), Minister of Education Jim Conn (1970), and Minister of Education Rev. Grant Hagiya (1975)

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