On March 3, 1992, President George H. W. Bush signed into Law (Public Law 102-248; 106 Stat. 40) an act of Congress providing for the establishment of Manzanar National Historic Site. The act provided that the site be administered by the Secretary of the Interior as a unit of the National Park System.
Manzanar National Historic Site, consisting of approximately 550 acres (814 acres if pending legislation is approved), lies in Owens Valley. an arid desert expanse at the eastern base of the Sierra Nevada in eastern California. Situated in the rain shadow of the imposing Sierra Nevada at the base of 14,375-foot Mount Williamson, Manzanar has a harsh climate of extreme temperatures, high winds, and severe dust storms. The site is situated 212 miles north of Los Angeles on the west side of U.S. Highway 395, 12 miles north of Lone Pine and 5 miles south of Independence, the seat of Inyo County and the location of the national historic site's present temporary headquarters.
Congress stated the purpose of the national historic site in its establishment act. The national historic site was established "to provide for the protection and interpretation of the historical, cultural, and natural resources associated with the relocation of Japanese Americans during World War II."
To accomplish this purpose the Secretary of the Interior was empowered to administer the site in accordance with the provisions of law generally applicable to units of the National Park System, including the establishing act of the National Park Service, approved August 25, 1916 (39 Stat. 535; 16 U.S.C. 1, 2-4), and the National Historic Sites Act of August 21, 1935 (49 Stat. 666; 16 U.S.C. 461-67).
The Manzanar War Relocation Center was one of ten permanent centers at which Japanese Americans were confined during World War II. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and subsequent official American entry into the war, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, on February 19, 1942, signed Executive Order 9066 which authorized the Secretary of War to exclude citizens and aliens from designated areas along the Pacific Coast in order to provide security against sabotage and espionage. After an initial effort aimed at voluntary relocation proved to be unworkable, the U. S. Army began to remove persons of Japanese descent and relocate them to temporary assembly centers and then on to relocation camps. These camps were located in desolate areas in seven states: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming. In total, some 117,000 persons of Japanese descent were excluded, removed, and detained as a result of this policy. Manzanar was the first of the permanent Japanese American relocation centers to open, receiving its first evacuees on March 21, 1942.
The 550-acre Manzanar National Historic Site includes much of the one-square-mile evacuee living area, the administrative housing section, and areas where factory/shop, warehouse, hospital, cemetery, and management support facilities were located. The national historic site, however, occupies only a small portion of the land included in the 6,000-acre Manzanar War Relocation Area which included outlying acreage for agricultural production, a reservoir, and water and sewage treatment plant facilities. The evacuee camp or center living area was surrounded by barbed wire fences and guard towers and consisted of 36 blocks each containing 16 wooden barracks divided into rooms or "apartments" for families. At its peak operation, more than 10,000 people were confined at Manzanar.
After the closure of Manzanar in November 1945, the site eventually reverted to its prewar "natural" state as most of the buildings and structures were removed from the site save for four surviving structures. These include two 1942 pagoda-like stone security posts at the camp's eastern or front gate entrance; a 1943 memorial obelisk ("Soul Consoling Tower") in the cemetery just outside the Western boundary of the evacuee living area; and a 1944 large wood-frame auditorium near the eastern perimeter of the camp that was converted for use as a maintenance shop and garage for Inyo County highway department vehicles in the 1950s. In addition, the site retains scattered remnants of the war relocation center, such as numerous concrete foundations, portions of the water and sewer systems, and the outlines of the center's road system gridwork. Perhaps, the most evocative features of the site are the extensive remains of landscaping work stone walkways, planting beds, walls, rock gardens, and modified landforms constructed by the evacuees in an effort to beautify and make more comfortable the harsh desert environment. The entire site is owned by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which purchased the land during the 1920s for its water rights as part of the city's effort to provide a sufficient water supply to the growing metropolis in southern California.
Manzanar National Historic Site also contains a variety of cultural resources associated with the history of human activity in the Owens Valley prior to World War II. These resources include archeological sites associated with the prehistory and history of American Indians in the Manzanar area and those associated with early Euro-American agricultural settlement and land use during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Beginning in 1969, annual pilgrimages to the Manzanar site were sponsored by the Manzanar Committee, a Los Angeles-based community activist group. Manzanar was designated as California Registered Historical Landmark No. 850 in 1972, and a plaque was placed on the sentry post on June 14, 1973, by the State Department of Parks and Recreation in cooperation with the Manzanar Committee and the Japanese American Citizens League. On July 30, 1976, the Manzanar War Relocation Center was listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and in February 1985 it was designated as a National Historic Landmark.
The National Park Service studied the Manzanar War Relocation Center as part of several studies authorized by Public Law 95-348, which established the War in the Pacific National Historical Park. In addition, a Study of Alternatives for Manzanar War Relocation Center was completed by the National Park Service in February 1989. This study identified Manzanar as retaining the most integrity of the ten relocation camps and offering the best opportunities for interpretation of the government's World War II evacuation and relocation program.
The wartime evacuation and relocation of 117,000 persons of Japanese ancestry at relocation centers such as Manzanar is a dramatic and significant event in American history. Manzanar is symbolic of this tragic episode and is a reminder that a nation of laws needs constantly to honor its commitment to the concept of individual liberty and the rights of its citizens. Despite the chilling effect of Executive Order 9066, many Japanese Americans participated in the defense of the United States during World War II. Some were trained at such sites as Camp Shelby, Mississippi, and Camp McCoy, Wisconsin. Others were given Japanese language instruction at the Military Intelligence Service language schools at the Presidio of San Francisco, California, and Fort Savage and Fort Snelling, Minnesota. The contributions of the highly decorated 100th/442d Regimental Combat Team and other Japanese American efforts during the war are deserving of further historical examination and interpretation. 
Last Updated: 01-Jan-2002