clock menu more-arrow no yes
Zoot suiters at a Grand Jury hearing following the riots
Zoot suiters at a Grand Jury hearing following the riots
Los Angeles Public Library photo collection

Mapping LA’s Zoot Suit Riots

It is one of the darkest chapters in Los Angeles history

View as Map
Zoot suiters at a Grand Jury hearing following the riots
| Los Angeles Public Library photo collection

Some of the worst racial violence in Los Angeles history occurred 77 years ago, when American servicemen launched racially-motivated attacks against Mexican-American youth in what is today known as the Zoot Suit Riots.

Sailors, soldiers, and marines on leave from World War II beat up minority youth wearing baggy “zoot suits,” a symbol of cultural pride during a time of heavy racial tension and segregation. The oversized suits also flew in the face of wartime fabric restrictions, which offended many of the servicemen during a period of patriotic zeal.

Zoot suiters fought back, writes KCET, but they “they bore the brunt of the violence,” which broke out June 3, 1943 and lasted nearly a week. Below are some of the most crucial sites relating to this dark time in LA history.

Read More

1. Sleepy Lagoon

Copy Link
5400 Lindbergh Ln
Bell, CA 90201

An important precursor to the riots was a killing at Sleepy Lagoon less than a year earlier. On August 1, 1942, José Diaz was murdered near the lagoon, in what is now the city of Bell (no trace of the once-popular swimming hole remains today). Rather than launching a typical investigation, the LAPD indiscriminately rounded up more than 600 Latino youth (including the three pictured here) and indicted 22 alleged members of the 38th Street Gang. This event later became the subject of the play Zoot Suit, by Luis Valdez.

Los Angeles Public Library photo collection

2. Los Angeles County Hall of Justice

Copy Link
211 W Temple St
Los Angeles, CA 90012

In the trial following the murder of José Diaz, Judge Charles Williams Fricke denied defense attorneys the opportunity to communicate with their clients while the court was in session and forbade the defendants from changing clothes or cutting their hair for the duration of the trial. He argued this would allow the jury to better understand their character. The mass trial, which “fostered an atmosphere of hate and prejudice towards the Mexican American community,” ended with 17 convictions, including three life sentences. These were eventually overturned after a citizen’s committee formed to appeal the convictions based on the blatantly biased courtroom proceedings.

Youth and their families celebrate after the acquittal.
Bettmann Archive

3. Aragon Ballroom

Copy Link
8 Navy St
Venice, CA 90291

Only a week prior to the outbreak of citywide rioting, a number of Mexican-Americans dancing at the Aragon Ballroom on the border of Santa Monica and Venice were attacked by a mob of American servicemen and bystanders after rumors spread that a sailor had been stabbed. An LAPD officer later said that “the only thing we could do to break it up was arrest the Mexican kids.”

Los Angeles Public Library photo collection

4. Main Street

Copy Link
699 N Main St
Los Angeles, CA 90012

One of the inciting incidents that led to rioting occurred on May 31, when a group of servicemen walking along Main Street, probably just south of Chinatown, near Downtown LA, encountered a group of young women and boys wearing zoot suits. The details of what happened next are a little hazy, but sailor Joe Dacy Coleman came away with a broken jaw. Word of the fight spread quickly among servicemen.

Los Angeles Public Library photo collection

5. Frank Hotchkin Memorial Training Center Los Angeles Fire Department

Copy Link
1700 Stadium Way
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(855) 522-5233

On June 3, the riots began in earnest when around 50 armed servicemen left the Naval Reserve Armory in Chavez Ravine, now the LAFD Frank Hotchkin Memorial Training Center, and headed into the streets of Downtown Los Angeles to avenge the beating of Coleman.

Los Angeles Public Library photo collection

6. Aztec Recording Company

Copy Link
103 E 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90012

Violence continued the nights of June 4 and 5, with confrontations between servicemen and zoot-suiters occurring all over the city. Some military personnel began targeting anyone who looked to be of Mexican descent. On June 5, a group of musicians from El Paso was assaulted as they exited the Aztec Recording Company located on Third and Main.

Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

7. Herald and Express Building

Copy Link
1220 S Figueroa St
Los Angeles, CA 90015

Servicemen were in many ways encouraged by local press. The Hearst-owned Herald and Express published inflammatory stories, including one that warned of 500 “zooters” planning to “kill every cop” they came across. The Los Angeles Times applauded rioters for teaching zoot suiters a “lesson.”

Herald and Express Building.
Los Angeles Public Library photo collection

8. Sixth Street Bridge

Copy Link
E 6th St. / Whittier Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90021

By June 6, violence had spread from Downtown into Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles. The next night brought the worst of the rioting as servicemen traveled as far as Watts searching for zoot suit-wearing young men.

Gangs of American sailors and marines armed with sticks during the Zoot Suit Riots.
Getty Images

9. 12th and Central

Copy Link
1334 S Central Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90021

As rioting spread into predominantly black neighborhoods, some Latinos joined with black residents to mount a resistance, with hundreds gathering near the Coca Cola plant on Central Avenue. Years later, participant Rudy Lleyvas told an LA Times reporter: “Toward evening, we started hiding in alleys. Then we sent about 20 guys right out into the middle of the street as decoys... They started coming after the decoys, then we came out. They were surprised. It was the first time anybody was organized to fight back.”

Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

10. The Orpheum Theatre

Copy Link
842 S Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90014
(877) 677-4386
Visit Website

On June 7, Vincente Morales and his girlfriend attended a show at the Orpheum Theatre. Sailors there dragged him out of the building, stripped him of his clothing, and beat him unconscious. When he came to, LAPD officers arrested him for disturbing the peace.

The marquee at the Orpheum Theatre.
Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

11. Los Angeles City Hall

Copy Link
200 N Spring St
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 485-2121
Visit Website

The riots finally began to subside after June 8, when military officials restricted servicemen from traveling into Los Angeles. The next day, the Los Angeles City Council responded by passing a resolution that banned the wearing of zoot suits on public streets.

Los Angeles Public Library photo collection

1. Sleepy Lagoon

5400 Lindbergh Ln, Bell, CA 90201
Los Angeles Public Library photo collection

An important precursor to the riots was a killing at Sleepy Lagoon less than a year earlier. On August 1, 1942, José Diaz was murdered near the lagoon, in what is now the city of Bell (no trace of the once-popular swimming hole remains today). Rather than launching a typical investigation, the LAPD indiscriminately rounded up more than 600 Latino youth (including the three pictured here) and indicted 22 alleged members of the 38th Street Gang. This event later became the subject of the play Zoot Suit, by Luis Valdez.

5400 Lindbergh Ln
Bell, CA 90201

2. Los Angeles County Hall of Justice

211 W Temple St, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Youth and their families celebrate after the acquittal.
Bettmann Archive

In the trial following the murder of José Diaz, Judge Charles Williams Fricke denied defense attorneys the opportunity to communicate with their clients while the court was in session and forbade the defendants from changing clothes or cutting their hair for the duration of the trial. He argued this would allow the jury to better understand their character. The mass trial, which “fostered an atmosphere of hate and prejudice towards the Mexican American community,” ended with 17 convictions, including three life sentences. These were eventually overturned after a citizen’s committee formed to appeal the convictions based on the blatantly biased courtroom proceedings.

211 W Temple St
Los Angeles, CA 90012

3. Aragon Ballroom

8 Navy St, Venice, CA 90291
Los Angeles Public Library photo collection

Only a week prior to the outbreak of citywide rioting, a number of Mexican-Americans dancing at the Aragon Ballroom on the border of Santa Monica and Venice were attacked by a mob of American servicemen and bystanders after rumors spread that a sailor had been stabbed. An LAPD officer later said that “the only thing we could do to break it up was arrest the Mexican kids.”

8 Navy St
Venice, CA 90291

4. Main Street

699 N Main St, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Los Angeles Public Library photo collection

One of the inciting incidents that led to rioting occurred on May 31, when a group of servicemen walking along Main Street, probably just south of Chinatown, near Downtown LA, encountered a group of young women and boys wearing zoot suits. The details of what happened next are a little hazy, but sailor Joe Dacy Coleman came away with a broken jaw. Word of the fight spread quickly among servicemen.

699 N Main St
Los Angeles, CA 90012

5. Frank Hotchkin Memorial Training Center Los Angeles Fire Department

1700 Stadium Way, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Los Angeles Public Library photo collection

On June 3, the riots began in earnest when around 50 armed servicemen left the Naval Reserve Armory in Chavez Ravine, now the LAFD Frank Hotchkin Memorial Training Center, and headed into the streets of Downtown Los Angeles to avenge the beating of Coleman.

1700 Stadium Way
Los Angeles, CA 90012

6. Aztec Recording Company

103 E 3rd St, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

Violence continued the nights of June 4 and 5, with confrontations between servicemen and zoot-suiters occurring all over the city. Some military personnel began targeting anyone who looked to be of Mexican descent. On June 5, a group of musicians from El Paso was assaulted as they exited the Aztec Recording Company located on Third and Main.

103 E 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90012

7. Herald and Express Building

1220 S Figueroa St, Los Angeles, CA 90015
Herald and Express Building.
Los Angeles Public Library photo collection

Servicemen were in many ways encouraged by local press. The Hearst-owned Herald and Express published inflammatory stories, including one that warned of 500 “zooters” planning to “kill every cop” they came across. The Los Angeles Times applauded rioters for teaching zoot suiters a “lesson.”

1220 S Figueroa St
Los Angeles, CA 90015

8. Sixth Street Bridge

E 6th St. / Whittier Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90021
Gangs of American sailors and marines armed with sticks during the Zoot Suit Riots.
Getty Images

By June 6, violence had spread from Downtown into Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles. The next night brought the worst of the rioting as servicemen traveled as far as Watts searching for zoot suit-wearing young men.

E 6th St. / Whittier Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90021

9. 12th and Central

1334 S Central Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90021
Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

As rioting spread into predominantly black neighborhoods, some Latinos joined with black residents to mount a resistance, with hundreds gathering near the Coca Cola plant on Central Avenue. Years later, participant Rudy Lleyvas told an LA Times reporter: “Toward evening, we started hiding in alleys. Then we sent about 20 guys right out into the middle of the street as decoys... They started coming after the decoys, then we came out. They were surprised. It was the first time anybody was organized to fight back.”

1334 S Central Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90021

10. The Orpheum Theatre

842 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90014
The marquee at the Orpheum Theatre.
Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

On June 7, Vincente Morales and his girlfriend attended a show at the Orpheum Theatre. Sailors there dragged him out of the building, stripped him of his clothing, and beat him unconscious. When he came to, LAPD officers arrested him for disturbing the peace.

842 S Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90014

11. Los Angeles City Hall

200 N Spring St, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Los Angeles Public Library photo collection

The riots finally began to subside after June 8, when military officials restricted servicemen from traveling into Los Angeles. The next day, the Los Angeles City Council responded by passing a resolution that banned the wearing of zoot suits on public streets.

200 N Spring St
Los Angeles, CA 90012