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

Updated: Jun 14

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.