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Slain Hotel Manager Was 'Surrogate Mother and Mentor'

By Ed Fuentes
Published: Friday, January 15, 2010, at 08:43AM
Oyama Ed Fuentes

Councilwoman Jan Perry (left) with June Oyama Lowry (center), the daughter of the hotel manager who was fatally stabbed last week. There hasn't been a crime this violent since the 1970s in Little Tokyo, said Perry.

The daughter of slain hotel manager Hideko Oyama clasped the hand of a friend yesterday as she listened to Lt. Paul Vernon announce that charges had been filed against Jain Hong Li, 39, a Chinese national who police believe killed the 74-year-old. Li is scheduled for arraignment this morning on first degree murder and robbery charges.

June Oyama Lowry told those gathered that she was touched by the outpouring of support from Little Tokyo and Japan during the past week. "My mother worked to be a mentor, a friend, and a mother to these Japanese students and quasi-business people," said Lowry, before quietly allowing tears to fall. "Because she knew they didn't have anybody."

That may be why Oyama felt she was needed at the Chetwood, a small, brick 4-story structure that straddles the edge of Little Tokyo and the Toy District, butted up against warehouses and skid row.

Born in Yamagata, Japan, Hideko Oyama was the only girl out of four children. To the disapproval of her parents, she married a Chinese man and the young couple was shunned, with emotions warming only slightly when June Oyama was born in 1966. Still, the family emigrated to California in 1968 for opportunity, and then Oyama gave birth to a son, who has cerebral palsy.

Oyama worked two jobs as a waitress, then separated from her husband in 1973 to prevent him from abusing her after he began drinking heavily, said Lowry. Left to raise two children on her own, Oyama continued as a waitress, including 20 years at Imperial Gardens Restaurant on Sunset. With one leg shorter than the other due to childhood polio, physical disabilities prevented her from working long draining shifts.

She later became the manager of the Chetwood Hotel, and with Japanese still a primary language, became a surrogate mother to the guests of the hotel. That included students, who made Oyama feel young by helping her simply keep up with things like pop star Lady Gaga.

Lowry was assured by Oyama that felt safe on 4th Street, and never felt a need to take up her offer to live with them in Thousand Oaks. Fiercely independent, Oyama continued working at the Chetwood, including briefly holding a second job at what was then the Mitsuwa market.

Nothing took her away from her duties managing the hotel that housed people who were struggling with their own hardships, except for keeping track of her Los Angeles Lakers, and joining her daughter and her family for holidays and celebrations.

"I know the last 10 years of her life were filled with great moments," says Lowry. "She attended an American wedding, her first baby shower [for] her only grandson, and had a real family here in America."

"Its funny how life is," said Lowry, the only daughter of an only daughter. "I believe that it wasn't a coincidence that the culprit was found on the day of my son's birthday. My mom chose this day, so we can remember and celebrate this day forever. As tragic as this is, we can now celebrate that she is at a better place and at peace forever."


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