The intersection at Sawtelle and Sepulveda Boulevards is virtually unrecognizable to those who knew its former self. Seventy years ago, the only feature linking past to present was the streets' telltale curves, and the constant presence of Ballona Creek, flowing somewhere in the background.
Back then, Sawtelle was still a dirt road, and although some developments were already beginning to crop up, it was mostly small shops and some houses tucked away into Sepulveda's southwestern end.
The majority of the territory was farmland. Stretching westward in vast tracts, aerial maps of the day show cleanly divided plots with nothing interrupting them but the sharp cuts in the earth where Sawtelle bumps into Sepulveda.
This layer of history–telling the story of Culver City before it officially was Culver City—features that Californian narrative of immigration, this time, with distinctly Issei faces.
Between 1920 and 1925, Japanese immigration to the Westside jumped from 3,500 to 10,700. Latent racial tensions of the times relegated nearly all these incoming thousands to gardening and farming.
The northern arm of Sawtelle–that branch that stretches between Santa Monica and Pico Boulevards—was known then, and continues to be known today, as a vibrant Japanese-like town, a "Little Osaka."
Still, it was the southern arm of Sawtelle–where the street curves east, running right into Sepulveda—that played host to the Issei livelihood.
Aerial maps from as late as 1947 show the land dominated by farmers, then playing host to beets, beans, celery and barley instead of single-family homes and a Jack-in-the-Box drive-thru.
As part of an oral history project conducted by the Japanese Institute of Sawtelle, local resident Rose Honda recalls her family's interaction with the land.
"My father would go out for gardening," Honda remembered, "And my mother would go to some farm in Culver City to pick beans. Maybe it was John…what was his name? Sakioka?" Honda asked.
"Sakioka," Fumi Tsuruya finished for her. "They had a farm out there. You know where Hughes Market is? I think the Sakiokas owned all that."
In fact, the Sakiokas, headed by their father Katsumasa "Roy" Sakioka, worked the land from 1920 to 1942 but were unable to own any of it, as the laws of the day forbade Japanese immigrants from becoming U.S. citizens, and prohibited anyone but a citizen from owning land.
It wasn't until after the war, and after nearly four years in the internment camp at Manzanar, that the Sakiokas returned and, via their American-born sons Jack and John, were able to buy up the land they once worked.
By the late 1940s, 80 westside acres belonged to the Sakiokas. That is, until half their property was earmarked for the development of a junior high school at Sawtelle and National Boulevards. Agreeing to sell, they were granted 80 more acres, this time deeper into Culver City, Venice, and Gardena.
Still, the Sakiokas' days with the land were coming to an end. Little by little, the family sold their holdings and relocated into Orange County, where the Sakioka name would make headlines some 40 years later when Roy, with $325 million in tow and at 92 years old, was named on Forbes' list of the wealthiest individuals in the country.
By 1952, the vast tracts of farmland that dominated the landscape at Sawtelle and Sepulveda were effectively supplanted. New homes were cropping up on land where vegetables once grew. Developers and concrete eventually tamed the Ballona Creek. And a new strip mall, barely under construction, sat at the nexus of an increasingly busy intersection.
Do you have pictures or know history from Sawtelle and Sepulveda's intricate past? Please share in the comments.