Today, an engineering firm calls No. 4 Main St. home. But for the better part of the 19th century, the building was a hotel, a general store, and a social center for the Japanese community in Lodi.
The Lodi Historical Society honored the Hinode-Miyajima General Store and Hotel with a ceremony and plaque unveiling in front of the building on Saturday. It has earned preservation status because it was the first Lodi business owned by Japanese pioneers.
Maria Elena Serna hosted the ceremony, which featured a benediction from the Rev. Katsu Kusunoki of the Lodi Buddhist Church and energetic drummers from Stockton Bukkyo Taiko.
"Preservation is alive and well in Lodi," said Serna.
The building joins Carnegie Library and the railroad station as preserved sites in town.
Mayor JoAnne Mounce congratulated the society and recalled her days growing up in Lodi and walking through Japantown with her friends.
"I saved my pennies to buy Japanese candy, and I miss that so much," she said.
San Joaquin County Supervisor Ken Vogel gave the Lodi Historical Society a certificate of recognition for their work digging up and sharing the history of the building.
It was first the Hinode Store, a wood-framed building that went up in 1890. In 1896, the building burned down, but another one made of sturdier concrete was built in its place that same year. The structure still stands today, along with a children's wading pool, hibachis (Japanese outdoor cooker) and ofuro (soaking tub).
In 1911, the building became the Miyajima General Store, owned by Shokichi Wakai, and the Miyajima Hotel, owned by Kenichi Tamura. At this time, the hotel was a boarding house, bar and cardroom. Kenichi Tamura handed the business over to his brother Kosao in 1938 when he returned to Japan. Both businesses existed until Japanese families were evacuated to Rohwer, Ark. in 1942.
The families returned after the war and Kosao Tamura reopened the hotel. When he died, his widow and Kenichi Tamura's widow ran the hotel until 1985.
The Morita family then bought the place, but it sat dormant until 1997. That's when Smith bought the building to house his engineering firm.
Smith had no idea of the history of the place when he began restoring it to its former glory.
"It had so much character, we had to just follow it along," he said. Later, when the story of the building became known, Smith opened the doors of Michael Smith Engineering to historians, preservation groups and a curious public.
Nobi Tamura attended the ceremony on Saturday and recalled the years when he lived upstairs while his mother, Tomoyomi Tamura, ran the boarding house.
"This is all here honoring the hotel," he said. "It's great. The whole family is here."
The extended Miyajima family wore matching shirts with the family crest printed in red and black.
Toshiye Hasegawa showed her grandchildren the place where she was born. Her father was Kenichi Tamura, and Hasegawa attended Garfield and Lincoln schools growing up.
In 1938, the family returned to Japan so the children could learn Japanese more naturally, she said. She worked for three years in the civil service for the U.S. Army before the family returned to California in 1984.
"I remember, it seemed so much wider when I was small," said Hasegawa, pointing to a narrow walkway connecting the backyard to Main Street.
Donna Graves, director of Preserving California Japantowns, watched the ceremony with a smile. Graves recalled some local hesitation to the idea of preserving the building when it was first brought up six years ago, but said that sentiment has faded. She was thrilled that Lodi has taken such an interest in one of about 50 pre-war Japantowns that still exist.
"So many of the California Japantowns are scattered around a city. This is the only one where a whole stretch is intact, where you can look at the street and picture the scene," said Graves.
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at firstname.lastname@example.org.