Manzanar National Historic Site celebrated the long-awaited grand opening
of its Interpretive Center and Park Headquarters on April 24, 2004, in
conjunction with the 35th Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage sponsored by the
Manzanar Committee. Located in a historic auditorium constructed by internees
in 1944, the facility includes 8,000 square feet of exhibits, two small
movie theaters, park offices and a bookstore operated by the new Manzanar
History Association. Exhibits and audio-visual programs rely extensively
on oral histories, historic photographs, and primary source documents
to interpret "One Camp. Ten Thousand Lives; One Camp. Ten Thousand Stories."
Entrance to the Manzanar War Relocation
NPS Photograph, Manzanar National Historic Site
Manzanar War Relocation Center was one of 10 camps at which Japanese-American
citizens and resident Japanese aliens were interned during World War
II. Located at the foot of the imposing Sierra Nevadas in eastern California's
Owens Valley, Manzanar has been identified as the best preserved of
these camps. In 1942, almost 120,000 Japanese Americans were forced
from their homes in California, western Oregon and Washington, and southern
Arizona in the single largest forced relocation in U.S. history. Many
would spend the next three years in one of the relocation centers across
the country run by the newly-formed War Relocation Authority (WRA).
Most of those relocated were American citizens by birth. Many were long-term
U.S. residents, but not citizens, because of discriminatory naturalization
laws. Since all Japanese Americans on the west coast were affected,
including the elderly, women, and children, Federal officials attempted
to conduct the massive incarceration in a humane manner. However, by
the time the last internees were released in 1946, these Japanese Americans
had lost homes and businesses estimated to be worth, in 1999 values,
4 to 5 billion dollars. Deleterious effects on Japanese-American individuals,
their families, and their communities, were immeasurable.
The Manzanar Relocation Center was located at the former
farm and orchard community of Manzanar. Begun in March of 1942, major
construction on the center was completed within six weeks. On March
21 the first 82 Japanese Americans made the 220-mile trip by bus from
Los Angeles. By mid-April, up to 1,000 Japanese Americans were arriving
at Manzanar daily and by July Manzanar's population was nearly 10,000.
Over 90 percent of the evacuees were from the Los Angeles area; others
were from Stockton, California, and Bainbridge Island, Washington.
Manzanar street scene, rows of camp houses, 1943
Photograph by Ansel Adams, courtesy of Library of Congress (LC-DIG-ppprs-00284)
After initial construction, all additional buildings
at Manzanar were completed using paid evacuee labor. The central developed
portion of the relocation center covered an area of approximately 540
acres, and initially included eight watchtowers, a five-strand barbed
wire fence, and military police compound. Paved or oiled roads divided
the center into 67 blocks, including 36 residential blocks, two staff
housing blocks, an administrative block, two warehouse blocks, a garage
block, and a hospital block. Also built by evacuees were a dehydration
plant, Judo and Kendo buildings, a lath house, three orphanage buildings,
and two outdoor theaters.
Each of the residential blocks contained 14 20-foot-by-100-foot barracks,
a mess hall, a recreation hall, two communal bathhouses, a laundry room,
an ironing room, and a heating oil storage tank. All of the buildings
were constructed of wood frame, board, and tarpaper. Although the barracks
buildings and block layout were standardized, the evacuees personalized
their surroundings by adding sidewalks, entries, rock-lined pathways,
gardens, and small ponds. Some evacuees hand-dug basements under their
barracks. Many of the residential blocks also had a large community
pond, garden complexes, sports courts, and some had playground equipment.
The barracks and recreation buildings were also used for churches, a
general store, a sporting goods store, a canteen, gift shops, a beauty
parlor, a barber shop, a dressmaking shop, a shoe repair shop, a watch
repair shop, a flower shop, a mail order counter, a laundry, and, after
April 1943, a photography studio. Recreation areas included a nine-hole
golf course and several community parks including Rose Park with domestic
rose buds grafted to native root stock. Eventually, it included more
than 100 species of flowers, two small lakes, a waterfall, a bridge,
a Japanese tea house, a Dutch oven, and pine trees.
People leaving one of the barracks
buildings that was adapted for a Buddhist place of worship, winter
Photograph by Ansel Adams, courtesy of Library of Congress
Manzanar was the site of one of the most serious civil
disturbances to occur at the relocation centers, the "Manzanar Riot"
or "Manzanar Revolt." The revolt erupted in December 1942 following
months of tension and gang activity between Japanese American Citizens
League (JACL) supporters of the administration and a large group of
Issei and Kibei.
On November 21, 1945, Manzanar was the sixth relocation center to close.
Salvage of the relocation center's buildings and materials was administered
by the War Assets Administration. By December, except for a few buildings
in the administration and staff housing area, Manzanar was completely
dismantled. The remaining buildings were used for a Veterans Housing Project
at the end of the 1940s before the buildings were removed. Inyo County
purchased the relocation center auditorium after the center closed and
leased it to the Independence Veterans of Foreign Wars who used it as
a meeting hall and community theater until 1951. It was then used by the
Inyo County Road Department until purchased by the National Park Service
Mrs. Yaeko Nakamura holding hands with her two daughters,
Joyce Yuki Nakamura and Louise Tami Nakamura, walking under a
Japanese style pavilion in a park in Manzanar, 1943
Photograph by Ansel Adams, courtesy of Library of Congress
During World War II the relocation was justified as a
"military necessity." However, some 40 years later, the United States
government conceded that the relocation was based on racial bias rather
than on any true threat to national security. President Ronald Reagan
signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 that provided redress for Japanese
Americans. The following year President George Bush issued a formal
apology from the U.S. government. Manzanar was designated a National
Historic Site in 1992. For more information, visit the Manzanar
National Historic Site webpage.
Garnier Building (Chinese American
Museum) | Portland Buddhist Church
Kyoto Gardens of Honolulu Memorial Park | Manzanar
National Historic Site
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Montpelier is the subject of an
online-lesson plan produced by Teaching with Historic Places, a
National Register program that offers classroom-ready lesson plans on
properties listed in the National Register. To learn more, visit the
Teaching with Historic Places home page.
Images for top banner from NPS Historic Photograph
Collection (Rainbow over Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, by Thomas
C. Gray, [HPC-001345]) and the Palau Historic Preservation Office.
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