Historic Resource Study/Special History Study
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In the War Department's Final Report, DeWitt observed that the sites selected for assembly centers "proved to be reasonably adequate for the purpose." He noted that the original intention "was to house evacuees in Assembly Centers for a much shorter period than that which proved to be the case." For "extended occupancy by men, women, and children whose movements were necessarily restricted, the use of [hastily constructed cantonment-type] facilities of this character" was "not highly desirable." However, there was, according to the general, "no alternative." "Modifications and additions effected during the course of operations," according to DeWitt, "tended largely to overcome the natural disadvantages inherent in the confinement of a large community within a limited area." DeWitt noted that assembly center construction by the Corps of Engineers

generally followed those specifications established for Army cantonments. Of course, numerous refinements were included adequately to provide for the housing of family units. Considerable augmentation was essential because of the necessity for providing separate utilities for men and for women and children. [5]

In most cases, adaptive use of existing structures at the assembly centers was limited, being used primarily as warehouse facilities, offices, infirmaries, or large mess halls. Some buildings, however, were utilized for evacuee work projects, schools, repair shops, and recreational activities.

Although a few existing buildings were modified for use as living quarters, apartment space was largely provided through new construction. The type of buildings erected for this purpose was substantially uniform. Theater of operations type barracks with suitable floors, ceilings, and partitions were built at most centers, Where possible, living quarters were grouped in blocks, each having showers, lavatories, and flush toilet facilities. Generally, blocks consisted of fourteen barracks. The capacity of each block varied, but the norm was between 600 to 800 persons. In the larger centers, there were up to 48 blocks. Where practicable, a kitchen and mess hall were provided for each block, In some centers, notably Santa Anita, Tanforan, and Portland, existing facilities were adapted for use as mess halls in which larger groups of evacuees were fed at a single facility At Santa Anita, for instance, the 25-acre camp was divided into seven sections, each with a post office, a store, a mess hall, and showers. [6]

Although most assembly centers were located at fairgrounds or racetracks, their design and construction varied. In Portland's Pacific International Livestock Exposition Pavilion, for instance, virtually all the evacuees were housed under one roof because the pavilion covered 11 acres and provided living quarters for 3,800 people. Puyallup had four separate housing areas — three were originally parking lots and one was the fairground itself. At Santa Anita and Tanforan, the stable areas were renovated and modified to provide "apartment" space.

Where existing structures Were inadequate to provide housing for community services, DeWitt noted that new buildings were built. At Tanforan, for instance, 169 new buildings were constructed. Infirmaries, each with a laboratory, surgical room, and kitchen, were established at each of the smaller assembly centers, and, in the larger centers, hospitals were constructed. Laundries, equipped with stationary wash tubs and ironing boards, canteens, post offices, dental clinics, barber shops, warehouses, administration buildings, recreation halls, and reception areas were built or created by adaptation of existing buildings. Hot water was initially in short supply at most assembly centers, but this "deficiency" was soon "augmented." Play fields, recreational halls, and fire stations were equipped "with the necessary items." [7]

Housing for military police at each center was provided in an area separate from the assembly center "barbed-wire" enclosure for the detainees, Where existing accommodations could not be adapted for this purpose, barracks were constructed as were "auxiliary installations." Although DeWitt claimed that these facilities were ordinarily "similar to those used by evacuees," there is evidence that facilities for the military police were more substantial than those for the evacuees.

Following transfer of the evacuees to the WRA-directed relocation centers, assembly center facilities were occupied by various Army units, most serving "as service schools for the various Army branches, such as ordnance, signal corps, quartermaster and transportation corps." DeWitt noted that the assembly centers were "more ideally suited for troop use than they were for the housing of families." [8]

WCCA policy allotted a 10-foot x 20-foot space (200 square feet) per married couple. Family groups inside the centers were to be kept together, and families would share space with others only if it were unavoidable. To meet these needs, units were to be remodeled if necessary, and each was to be furnished with "standard Army steel cots," mattresses, blankets (a minimum of three per person), and pillows. Each unit was to have electrical outlets. However, the speed of evacuation and the shortages of labor and building materials, such as lumber, meant that living arrangements did not always conform to WCCA policy. At Tanforan, for instance, bachelors who did not live in the renovated stables occupied a huge dormitory under the racetrack grandstand, an enormous room with 350 to 400 beds along one wall with less than two feet between each bed. [9]

Despite the problems associated with the sites and facilities at the assembly centers, the Red Cross representative who visited the centers at the Army's request concluded, taking into account his own experience in housing large numbers of refugees, that as a whole the evacuees were "comfortably and adequately sheltered." He stated:

Generally, the sites selected were satisfactory with the possible exception of Puyallup, where lack of adequate drainage and sewage disposal facilities created a serious problem. . . In studying the housing facilities in these centers, it is necessary to keep in mind that the job was without precedent, and that the sites were selected and buildings completed in record-breaking time in the face of such handicaps as material and labor shortages and transportation difficulties. [10]

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Last Updated: 01-Jan-2002