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Sawtelle, Los Angeles

Wadsworth Theatre
Coordinates: 34°01′50″N 118°27′48″W / 34.03056°N 118.46333°W / 34.03056; -118.46333
Country United States
State California
County Los Angeles
City Los Angeles

Sawtelle /sɔːˈtɛl/ is a neighborhood in West Los Angeles, on the Westside of Los Angeles, California. The short-lived City of Sawtelle grew around the Pacific Branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, later the Sawtelle Veterans Home, and was incorporated as a city in 1899. Developed by the Pacific Land Company, and named for its manager W. E. Sawtelle, the City of Sawtelle was independent for fewer than 30 years before it was annexed by the City of Los Angeles.

Sawtelle is noted for its thriving Japanese American community, busy restaurants and arthouse movie theaters. It has strong roots in Japanese-American history. In recognition of its historical heritage, the area was designated Sawtelle Japantown in 2015.[1]


A Los Angeles Pacific Railroad streetcar on Santa Monica Boulevard in Sawtelle, 1890

Early history

The future site of Sawtelle has been an important location in the Los Angeles Basin for centuries, due to its abundant spring water. The village of Kuruvungna, translated as "place where we are in the sun," has been inhabited for thousands of years by the Tongva people, centered on the Kuruvungna Village Springs. The springs still flow today, although they are constrained by urban development, especially their vicinity to University High School.[2]

The first Europeans to visit the area were Gaspar de Portolá and his party, who camped in the area in 1769.[3] Portolá and his party encountered an active community amidst lush greenery, centered on the springs.[4]: 34–38  In 1839, the future site of Sawtelle was included in the Rancho San Vicente y Santa Mónica, a 33,000-acre (130 km2) rancho granted to Francisco Sepúlveda II. By 1874, the owners of the land were Robert Symington Baker and John Percival Jones.[5]: 345 

The Pacific Branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, an old soldiers' home, opened in 1888 in the vicinity. The institution grew steadily, and the continuous expansion of the veterans' home prompted the construction of multiple railroad lines to the complex.[6][7] With the growth of the Pacific Branch, the residents of the established city of Santa Monica quickly began objecting to the veterans' large economic and political influence, as well as their drunkenness. After an 1895 Santa Monica school board election was decided by the votes of the veterans, the Santa Monica school district boundaries were redrawn to exclude the veterans' home. Despite this animosity by Santa Monica, other parties remained interested in the area, with its large population of veterans drawing federal pensions.[8]: 198–200 


In 1896, the Pacific Land Company purchased a 225-acre (0.91 km2) tract, just south of the veterans' home, and hired S. H. Taft to develop a new town. When the Pacific Land Company attempted to secure a post office for the new town, the postal authorities objected to the name "Barrett," after veterans' home manager A. W. Barrett, on account of its similarity to the city of Bassett. In 1899, the name of the town was formally changed to "Sawtelle," after Pacific Land Company associate W. E. Sawtelle, who became the company president in 1900.[5]: 347–349 

The Pacific Branch served as an attraction for both tourists and local real estate speculators. In 1906, the Pacific Branch became a stop on the Los Angeles Pacific Railroad's “Balloon Route”,[9][10] a popular tour of local attractions conducted by an entrepreneur who escorted tourists via a rented streetcar, often from downtown Los Angeles to the ocean and back.[11] In 1905, residential lots and larger tracts in the new Westgate Subdivision, which joined “the beautiful Soldier’s Home”, and which were owned and promoted by Jones and Baker’s Santa Monica Land and Water Company, were for sale.[12] The new community of Sawtelle developed around the Pacific Branch when veterans’ families, as well as veterans themselves who were drawing relief, settled there.[13] Most of Sawtelle thus grew up after the veterans home was established.

Annexation by Los Angeles

The city of Los Angeles was steadily growing in the early 20th century, with the annexation of both incorporated and unincorporated land in Los Angeles County, empowered by its water supply from the newly constructed Los Angeles Aqueduct.[14] Sawtelle residents began discussing the possibility of annexation in 1913, and voted for annexation on May 14, 1917, by a margin of three votes. The annexation was opposed by the city Board of Trustees, and was quickly contested in court by residents who claimed that they were not properly informed about Los Angeles' municipal debt. While the case was still pending in court, Los Angeles staged a coup.[8]: 223–226 

The Los Angeles Police Department raided Sawtelle City Hall early on a Friday morning in 1918, seizing most of the city records, including the seal and the safe. One notable exclusion was the meeting minutes of the city Board of Trustees, which were in the personal custody of a trustee. Despite the seizure of City Hall by Los Angeles, the Sawtelle trustees held meetings in the council chamber for two months, until they moved to the home of the City Clerk in April 1918. The City of Sawtelle functioned as a government-in-exile for over two years, holding regular meetings, and unsuccessfully attempting to organize elections.[8]: 223–226  The California Supreme Court declared the annexation invalid in September 1921, ending a conflict described by the Los Angeles Times as “one of the longest and most bitter fights in the history of municipal governments in the State."[15] The Board of Trustees returned to City Hall on November 1, where they found that Los Angeles had taken their new firehoses and most of the chairs.[16]

Despite their initial success, the Sawtelle city officials who resisted the annexation were replaced in the next municipal election by a slate of pro-annexation candidates. A second annexation referendum was held on June 2, 1922, and passed by a margin of over 800 votes.[8]: 223–226  Sawtelle officially became a part of the City of Los Angeles in July 1922, in the 36th annexation in the city's history.[17]

Interwar period (1930s to 1950s)

Sawtelle's history is in part defined by its Japanese American community, which formed as a response to exclusionary policies in other areas of Los Angeles. Many of Sawtelle's early Japanese residents took up farming, despite a lack of bank loans and land ownership restrictions from the California Alien Land Law. By 1941, 26 garden centers were in operation in Sawtelle, most operated by Japanese immigrants and their descendants.[18]

These are remnants of a larger Japanese American presence in the area before the population was disrupted by World War II, when many were displaced by Japanese-American internment.[18]

The 1950s through the present day

There is some gang activity within the area, but it has decreased considerably since the early 2000s. The Sotel 13 gang has claimed Stoner Park and its surrounding community as its territory since the 1950s,[19] and as of 2012 gang graffiti could still be found throughout the neighborhood.[20]


Sawtelle, 1921

The name Sawtelle may refer to a larger district that is part of Los Angeles, a smaller unincorporated area of Los Angeles County that by definition is not part of the city of Los Angeles, or a combination of these, sometimes known as the Sawtelle area. The name has also been used to refer only to the Veterans Administration complex, including the modern hospital (West Los Angeles Medical Center) and north of Wilshire Boulevard, the former site of the historical Sawtelle Veterans Home and outbuildings.

The incorporated area of Sawtelle, to the south of the unincorporated area, includes the Sawtelle neighborhood, a 1.82-square-mile (4.7 km2) district of Los Angeles. It is roughly bounded by the Interstate 405 freeway to the east, National Boulevard to the south, Centinela Avenue to the west, and Bringham Avenue, San Vicente Boulevard, and the V.A. grounds on the north. Greater Los Angeles Health Center is in the unincorporated area.[21] The area extends about 1.0 mi (1.6 km) to either side of Santa Monica Boulevard, running westward about 1.3 miles (2.1 km) from Interstate 405 (the San Diego Freeway) and Sawtelle Boulevard, toward Santa Monica, ending at Centinela Avenue. Because the incorporated Sawtelle area now represents the northern part of West Los Angeles, it is bounded on the north by Brentwood and Westwood, which bound West Los Angeles. To the south is the rest of West Los Angeles, which is not considered part of the Sawtelle district.

The smaller unincorporated area of Sawtelle is 576.5 acres, or 0.90 sq mi (2.3 km2), and completely surrounded by Los Angeles. On the south, the unincorporated area abuts the Sawtelle city district that is now part of West Los Angeles and the greater city of Los Angeles. On the north, it is bordered by Brentwood and Westwood. This unincorporated area consists of six parcels near the intersection of the San Diego Freeway and Santa Monica Boulevard, owned either by the US government or the state of California. A private utility company owns the seventh parcel. This area is under the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors' zoning control within the Third Supervisorial District.[22] The unincorporated area contains the Wilshire Federal Building, the Los Angeles National Cemetery, the Wadsworth VA Hospital/West Los Angeles Medical Center, and many smaller federal office buildings.

The entire Sawtelle area includes portions of ZIP Codes 90049, 90064, and 90025 and all of ZIP Code 90073 (a P.O. ZIP Code within the 90025 area, used exclusively by the West Los Angeles Medical Center/Veterans Affairs Wadsworth Medical Hospital).

Map of Sawtelle addition to the city of Los Angeles


Bus service in Sawtelle is primarily provided by Los Angeles Metro Bus and Santa Monica Big Blue Bus, with additional service from Culver CityBus. The Metro E Line runs along the south side of the neighborhood, with its Sawtelle stop at the Expo/Bundy station.[23] The Westwood/VA Hospital station of the D Line Extension is expected to open in 2027, connecting the future Westwood/VA Hospital station to Downtown Los Angeles via Koreatown.[24]

Sawtelle is part of LA Department of Transportation's Slow Streets program.[25] By limiting car traffic and prompting drivers to slow down, the pilot program was implemented to reclaim neighborhood roads for pedestrians, joggers, children and people with disabilities. The neighborhood was rated one of Los Angeles's 10 most walkable neighborhoods in 2017.[26]

Sawtelle Boulevard is a major thoroughfare, and is the center of the local Japanese community.[27] Other major streets in Sawtelle include Santa Monica Boulevard and Olympic Boulevard; freeway access is provided by the Santa Monica Freeway and the San Diego Freeway.

Arts and culture

Sawtelle is home to two independent arthouse movie theaters that are important cultural institutions to greater Los Angeles's film community. The Nuart Theatre was built in 1929. It showcases domestic and foreign independent films and holds regular screenings of The Rocky Horror Show and other midnight movies. Laemmele Royal Theater, originally known as the Tivoli, was built in 1924 and is one of Southern California's last remaining single-screen theaters in daily operation.

The Village recording studio, located on Butler Avenue, has been used by many iconic artists. Albums recorded at The Village include Steely Dan's Aja, Frank Zappa's Joe's Garage, and Bob Dylan's Planet Waves. Many major motion picture and television soundtracks were also recorded here, including O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Toy Story 2, Walk the Line, The X Files, Wall-E, The Shawshank Redemption. It has a famous mural on its south wall.

The Japanese Institute of Sawtelle, a cultural center for West Los Angeles's Nikkei community, is on Sawtelle's southern edge, on Corinth Avenue.[28]

Stoner Park is a natural hub of the Sawtelle neighborhood with its attendant tennis courts, children's playground, skate plaza, seasonal outdoor pool, recreation center and Japanese garden. It is at the end of Stoner Avenue.


University High School

Public Schools

Sawtelle is part of the Los Angeles Unified School District

These elementary schools serve the incorporated Sawtelle area:[citation needed]

  • Brockton Avenue School
  • Richland Avenue Elementary School
  • Nora Sterry Elementary School
  • Westwood Elementary School (in Westwood)[citation needed]

These middle schools serve the Sawtelle area:

The Sawtelle area is within the University High School attendance district.[29]

Private Schools[30]

  • Arete Preparatory Academy
  • Brawerman Elementary School
  • New Horizon School
  • New Roads Elementary School
  • Park Century School
  • Saint Sebastian School
  • Southern California Montessori School
  • Wildwood School

Asahi Gakuen, a weekend Japanese supplementary school system, operates its Santa Monica campus (サンタモニカ校・高等部, Santamonika-kō kōtōbu) at Daniel Webster Middle School in Sawtelle. At one time all high school classes in the Asahi Gakuen system were held at the Santa Monica campus.[31][32] In 1986, students took buses from as far away as Orange County to go to the high school classes of the Santa Monica campus.[33] As of 2024, Asahi Gakuen's Santa Monica, Orange, and Torrance campuses have high school classes.[34]

"Old soldiers" observing Memorial Day at the cemetery in the early 20th century

Veterans Administration hospital, office buildings, and national cemetery

West Los Angeles [VA] Medical Center, 11301 Wilshire Blvd., built in the unincorporated Sawtelle area in 1977. Previously called VA Wadsworth.

The grounds of the former Veterans Home, which was established in 1888, along with a cemetery and hospital for former soldiers and sailors, is also referred to as Sawtelle. This area, containing former hospital and apartment buildings and the historical veteran's home, and now converted to research and office space, is mostly north of Wilshire Boulevard. Since 1977, this area has formally included the Veterans Affairs (VA) Wadsworth Medical Center (now the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center),[35] which is south of Wilshire Boulevard from the former veteran's home site (see illustration above). This major hospital serves as part of the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System. The veterans home and hospital areas are both located west of the modern Interstate 405 freeway (San Diego Freeway), which bisects this federal parcel of land. It was part of a controversial plan in the 1960s, in which the property was proposed to be exchanged for Hazard Park in Boyle Heights, which would become home to a new VA hospital. The plan was shelved after seven years because of heavy public opposition.,[36][37] and instead, the present West Los Angeles Medical Center was built as the new hospital, in 1977.

The Wilshire Federal Building in unincorporated Sawtelle, California at 11000 Wilshire Boulevard. The building is often mistakenly assumed to be in Westwood, but it sits just outside City of Los Angeles territory.

The Los Angeles National Cemetery, which is located east of Interstate 405, between Sepulveda Boulevard and Veteran Avenue, contains the remains of some 85,000 veterans and family members from the Mexican War to the present. The Wilshire Federal Building (photo at right, description below) is also east of the 405 freeway, immediately south of Wilshire Boulevard and the cemetery.

Wilshire Federal Building

A major stand-alone federal office building in the area is the 19-story Wilshire Federal Building[38] (completed 1969) at 11000 Wilshire Blvd, Westwood, Los Angeles. The federal building is the most prominent symbol of federal power in the Los Angeles area, and is thus a popular site for protests against government policies.

It includes the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Los Angeles field office.[39]


From the 1980 U.S. Census to the 1990 U.S. Census an increase in construction caused the population to increase by 6.7%; the addition of 692 dwelling units increased the units in Sawtelle by 10.6%. The 1990 census stated that there were 14,042 residents in Sawtelle. There was no racial majority at that time. Barbara Koh of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "The racial percentages in Sawtelle in the 1990 Census were virtually unchanged from 1980".[40] In 1990, 48% of the residents were Non-Hispanic White, 26% were Latino or Hispanic, 23% were Asian, and 3% were Black.[40] According to 2005 Los Angeles County government estimates, the population of the unincorporated area of Sawtelle is 634.[41]

Public services

The Los Angeles Police Department operates the West Los Angeles Community Police Station at 1663 Butler Avenue, 90025.[42]

The Los Angeles Fire Department's Station 59, located at 11505 West Olympic Boulevard, provides fire protection for Sawtelle and surrounding areas. In the LAFD's command structure, it is organized in the West Bureau.[43]

The West Los Angeles Regional Branch Library, a branch of the Los Angeles Public Library, is located at 11360 Santa Monica Boulevard.[44]

In fiction and popular culture

See also


  1. ^ Hirahara, Naomi (April 15, 2015). "Thinking L.A.: How West L.A. became a haven for Japanese-Americans". UCLA Newsroom. Retrieved 2024-02-23.
  2. ^ "Kuruvungna Village Springs: History". Gabrielino-Tongva Springs Foundation. Retrieved 2024-02-24.
  3. ^ Hamilton, Denise (March 30, 2020). "The Secret Sacred Spring in West L.A." Alta. Retrieved 2024-02-24.
  4. ^ Zachary, Brian Curtis (August 2007). The enduring evolution of Kuruvungna: A place where we are in the sun (M.H.P. thesis). University of Southern California.
  5. ^ a b Ingersoll, Luther A. (1908). Ingersoll's century history, Santa Monica Bay cities. Los Angeles: L.A. Ingersoll. LCCN 10014107. Retrieved 2024-02-23 – via Internet Archive.
  6. ^ "Pacific Branch: Los Angeles, California". National Park Service. November 21, 2017. Retrieved 2024-02-26.
  7. ^ "History". VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare. November 8, 2023. Retrieved 2024-02-26.
  8. ^ a b c d Wilkinson, Cheryl L. (2013). "The Soldiers' City: Sawtelle, California, 1897–1922". Southern California Quarterly. 95 (2): 188–226. doi:10.1525/scq.2013.95.2.188. ISSN 0038-3929.
  9. ^ Pacific Electric Westgate Line
  10. ^ Pacific Electric Santa Monica Air Line
  11. ^ Wadsworth Chapel
  12. ^ Loomis, Jan (2008). Brentwood. Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7385-5621-5.
  13. ^ Robbing Veterans of Pension 1904
  14. ^ Wedner, Diane (December 17, 2006). "A coup that stuck". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2024-02-24.
  15. ^ "Sawtelle Ready, Anxious to Join City". Los Angeles Times. November 27, 1913. Cited in Wilkinson 2013, p. 224
  16. ^ Garrigues, George (January 27, 1963). "EARLY MORNING COUP BY LOS ANGELES: Police Seizure of City Hall Starts Sawtelle on Exit Path". Los Angeles Times.
  17. ^ "Annexation and Detachment Map" (PDF). City of Los Angeles. August 2005. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-03-26.
  18. ^ a b Okazaki, Manami (November 4, 2017). "Sawtelle Japantown: A return to one's roots?". The Japan Times.
  19. ^ Romero, Dennis (November 6, 2003). "Gangster's Paradise Lost". Los Angeles City Beat. Archived from the original on 2006-10-20.
  20. ^ Romero, Dennis (January 4, 2012). "David Morales: Sawtelle Shooting Takes Life, Injures Another in West L.A." LAWeekly. Archived from the original on 2013-11-04.
  21. ^ [1] Incorporated Sawtelle boundaries are shown
  22. ^ Sawtelle Zoning Study, Los Angeles County
  23. ^ Central LA/Westside Bus & Rail Service (Map). Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. December 2023.
  24. ^ Nelson, Laura J. (February 12, 2020). "Metro secures $1.3 billion to finish the Purple Line subway to West L.A." Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2020-09-17.
  25. ^ Fonseca, Ryan (May 22, 2020). "LA's Slow Streets Program Is Picking Up Speed (Despite Some Attacks On Signs)". LAist. Retrieved 2020-09-17.
  26. ^ Chiland, Elijah (September 19, 2017). "LA's 10 most walkable neighborhoods". Curbed LA. Retrieved 2020-09-17.
  27. ^ Groves, Martha (March 28, 2015). "West L.A. neighborhood to be recognized as 'Sawtelle Japantown'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2024-02-24.
  28. ^ "A Legacy To Honor, A Future To Build: The Japanese Institute of Sawtelle Renovation Plan 2021" (PDF). Japanese Institute of Sawtelle. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2022-01-04. Retrieved 2024-02-27.
  29. ^ "Pacific Palisades High School Attendance Zone" (PDF). Palisades Charter High School. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-07-16. Retrieved 2023-04-23.
  30. ^ "Sawtelle".
  31. ^ "サンタモニカ校・高等部." Asahi Gakuen. Retrieved on March 30, 2014. "DANIEL WEBSTER MIDDLE SCHOOL 11330 W. Graham Place, Los Angeles, CA 90064 "
  32. ^ "Mapping L.A.: Sawtelle". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2024-02-23.
  33. ^ Puig, Claudia (November 13, 1986). "'School of the Rising Sun' : Surroundings Are American but Classes, Traditions Are Strictly Japanese". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 2020-08-11. Retrieved 2024-02-27.
  34. ^ "Asahi Gakuen: About Us" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2021-10-31. Retrieved 2024-02-27.
  35. ^ [2] Wadsworth VA website
  36. ^ "Victory for Save Hazard Park Assn". Los Angeles Times. September 5, 1969. p. C6.
  37. ^ "Hazard Park Swap Foes Stage Protest". Los Angeles Times. March 6, 1967. p. E7.
  38. ^ Wilshire Federal Building
  39. ^ "Los Angeles Division." Federal Bureau of Investigation. Retrieved on June 9, 2015. "11000 Wilshire Boulevard Suite 1700 Los Angeles, CA 90024"
  40. ^ a b Koh, Barbara (July 7, 1991). "Old-timers lament as nurseries and duplexes give way to pricey condos, making the ethnic neighborhood into just another part of West L.A." Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2024-02-23.
  41. ^ "Los Angeles County, unincorporated population estimates (2005)" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-07-21. Retrieved 2009-06-23.
  42. ^ "West Los Angeles Community Police Station". Los Angeles Police Department. Retrieved 2024-03-16.
  43. ^ "Find Your Station". Los Angeles Fire Department. Retrieved 2024-03-16.
  44. ^ "West Los Angeles Regional Branch Library". Los Angeles Public Library. Retrieved 2024-03-16.

Further reading

  • Fujimoto, Jack (2007). Sawtelle: West Los Angeles's Japantown. Images of America. Japanese Institute of Sawtelle, Japanese American Historical Society of Southern California. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Pub. ISBN 978-0-7385-4797-8.
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Sawtelle, Los Angeles
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