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Toriumi Portrait Restored to Memorial Plaque

The repaired monument to the late Rev. Howard Toriumi at First and Judge John Aiso streets in Little Tokyo. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

Rafu Staff Report

A plaque in Little Tokyo honoring the late Rev. Howard Toriumi (1916-1987), which is believed to have been vandalized in December, has been repaired.

The vandal or vandals removed an etched image of Toriumi, who led Union Church in the ’60s and ’70s.

Located on the northwest corner of First and Judge John Aiso streets, near the California Japantown Landmark and the Aiso Street Garage, the plaque was dedicated in 2012. It is across the street from the former Union Church site, which is now Union Center for the Arts.

Michael Okamura of the Little Tokyo Historical Society announced last week that the restoration work was completed by Bob Tanabe of TLC Renovation Inc. Union Church donated $424 for the new portrait plate.

“The $300 installation work expense is being covered by an anonymous donor who feels, ‘This should be about the reverend, his legacy and the plaque, not us, so it’s important to us that we not be identified,’” Okamura said.

“Thank you for all the good work you do. The history of Little Tokyo is too important to be forgotten. Some of my earliest memories are of visiting Downtown with my parents and shopping at stores that no longer exist or that have moved. Your work helps keep those memories alive.”

Bill Watanabe of LTHS, who helped establish the Toriumi tribute, told The Rafu Shimpo, “Once we got the new image plate, none of us knew how to replace it onto the plaque in a more secure way without damaging the plate. We needed someone with contractor experience, and I found Bob Tanabe’s ad in The Rafu Shimpo and he agreed to do the job.

“He recommended using a strong epoxy cement and also two screws bored into the bronze plaque to try to discourage future acts of vandalism. We are hoping this will work out for the long haul — fingers crossed!”

The inscription on the plaque reads, “He was a dedicated leader who galvanized the community and helped save Little Tokyo from the wrecking ball during the turbulent redevelopment years of the 1960s-70s. He established several community service organizations that expanded and flourished.

“After WWII incarceration at Topaz Relocation Center in Utah, he graduated from Princeton Seminary and served as senior pastor of Union Church of Los Angeles from 1961-79.”

Although there is foot traffic where the plaque is located, the vandalism apparently went unnoticed for some time before it was reported.

Okamura urged the community to be vigilant in monitoring for any vandalism of the plaque and other LTHS naming sites — the Toyo Miyatake relief at the Sakura Crossing apartments on San Pedro Street and Toyo Miyatake Way; the Aoyama Tree plaque next to the Japanese American National Museum’s National Center for the Preservation of Democracy and the city parking lot whose entrance is on Judge John Aiso Street; and the Sei Fujii Memorial Lantern at Japanese Village Plaza’s Second Street entrance.

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