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Japantown Historic Landmark

Jan 26, 2021

The Japanese YWCA/Issei Women’s Building is significant for its association with Japanese American (Nikkei) women, the African American civil rights movement, and LGBTQ history and the LGBTQ rights movement. The building is also significant as the work of master architect Julia Morgan. Simply put, it is both aesthetically beautiful and culturally bountiful, and fully deserving of landmark status.

Founded in 1912, San Francisco’s Japanese YWCA was the first independent Japanese YWCA in the United States. At the time of its founding, Japanese women were barred by segregationist policies from use of the facilities at the city’s main YWCA building. In response, Issei (immigrant generation) women established the YWCA to address the needs of the community’s women and children.

Completed in 1932, the building was designed by Julia Morgan and funded through money raised by the Japantown community and donations from the national and San Francisco YWCAs. At the time of its completion, California’s Alien Land Law prevented Japanese immigrants from owning the property, so the women asked the San Francisco YWCA to hold title to the property in a trust for the Nikkei community.

During this period, the building served as the location of the San Francisco chapter of the Committee on Racial Equality (CORE) and was the site of numerous meetings, gatherings and events to advance African American and LGBTQ civil rights and multiple political and social causes. Civil Rights pioneer Bayard Rustin, during his time in San Francisco, organized against segregation in public facilities, housing covenants, and discrimination, using 1830 Sutter as the base of his organizing activities.

The Japanese YWCA/Issei Women’s Building is further connected to LGBTQ history through the building’s ties to the pioneering Mattachine Society, one of the earliest LGBTQ organizations in the United States. In 1954, the society’s first convention was held at 1830 Sutter, historic in its movement of previously cloistered discussions in small group settings into public spaces, which found home at 1830 Sutter.

Of the pioneering social movements that have taken hold in our city, so many have historic connections to this property. I want to thank the many people and advocates who have elevated the importance of this building and brought this effort to the Board, including

  • Historic Preservation Commissioner Diane Matsuda,

  • Cathy Inamasu, Executive Director of Nihonmachi Little Friends

  • Sandy Mori and Steve Nakajo of the Japantown Task Force,

  • Paul Osaki of the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California

  • Frances McMillen. Senior Planner with the Planning Department

  • And many other Japantown advocates and community leaders

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