Old homies pay tribute to handball, history and a woman named Michi

On Saturday morning, over steaming bowls of menudo served in Styrofoam bowls, the members of the Southern California Old Timers gathered within the brick walls of the Maravilla Handball Court in East Los Angeles. This group of mostly older, former prisoners and veteranos from barrios across Southern California had come here not only to attend their 20th Annual Menudo Breakfast. They were also here as part of an effort to preserve the handball court, built in the early 1920s, and to honor its history and the memory of Michi Nishiyama and her husband, Tommy Shigeru, the Japanese-American couple who ran the place and the adjacent grocery store for decades.

The court on Mednik Avenue served as an unofficial recreation center, gathering place, gambling hall and, at times, refuge not only for members of the Maravilla Handball Club but for nearby residents and members of the Lomita Mara and other gangs.

“The attraction was the game plus the people,” said Ronnie Villegas, 59, who grew up in the housing project across Mednik Avenue. “It was a safe place to come from the projects and from the police. It was a shelter. They [cops] would look in the door but wouldn’t come in.”

When word came down that Maravilla Handball Court might be sold, some former and current residents decided to try and save the wedge-shaped community landmark, said Amanda Perez, founder of the Maravilla Historical Society. “It was built by homies and the community brick by brick.”

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Photos by Rick Morton, the Maravilla Historical Society & The Eastsider

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