On-line Book
Book Cover
Cover Page


Table of Contents





Brief History

Gila River


Heart Mountain







Tule Lake

Isolation Centers

Add'l Facilities

Assembly Centers

DoJ and US Army Facilities



Appendix A

Appendix B

Appendix C

Confinement and Ethnicity:
Barbed wire divider
An Overview of World War II
Japanese American Relocation Sites

by J. Burton, M. Farrell, F. Lord, and R. Lord

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Chapter 3 (continued)
A Brief History of Japanese American
Relocation During World War II

Relocation Center Layout and Building Design

General plans for the construction of the relocation centers were developed prior to the establishment of the WRA. Initial facilities were constructed by the War Department, which also procured the initial equipment. Per capita construction costs ranged from $376 at Manzanar to $584 at Minidoka. The total construction cost, for all centers, was over $56 million.

The relocation centers were designed to be self-contained communities, complete with hospitals, post offices, schools, warehouses, offices, factories, and residential areas, all surrounded by barbed wire and guard towers. Since the centers were supposed to be as self-sufficient as possible, the residential core was surrounded by a large buffer zone that also served as farmland. As at the assembly centers, the Military Police (MPs) had a separate living area adjacent to the relocation center, to reduce fraternization. The civilian employees also had living quarters available at the camp, but these were usually supplemented by whatever housing was available in the nearby towns.

The layout of the relocation centers varied, but certain elements were fairly constant. The perimeter was defined by guard towers and barbed wire fences. There was generally a main entrance leading to the local highway, and auxiliary routes to farming areas outside the central core. Some of the major interior roads were paved, but most were simply dirt roads that were dusty or muddy depending on the weather.

The layout of the two Arizona relocation centers differed from the others. Located on dead-end roads, rather than along a major highway, there were no watch towers and little or no barbed wire. The Poston Relocation Center consisted of three separate camps at five- mile intervals (Poston I, II, and III) and the Gila River Relocation Center consisted of two separate camps (Butte Camp and Canal Camp).

Plans were based on a grid system of blocks. Block size varied in the non-residential areas such as the administrative area, ware houses, and hospital. The remainder of the central cores were made up of residential blocks separated by empty fire breaks. Each residential block consisted of ten to fourteen barracks, a mess hall, latrines for men and women, a laundry, and a recreation hall (Figure 3.10). Eventually, large sewage systems were built; sometimes these modern facilities (necessary because of the population density of the centers) aroused the ire and envy of the local rural residents who relied on septic systems or outhouses.

Relocation Center barrack blocks
Figure 3.10. Typical layouts of relocation center evacuee residential blocks.
(click image for larger size (~48K) )

The design of buildings for the relocation centers presented a problem since no precedents for this type of housing existed. Permanent buildings were not desired. The military had available plans for semi-permanent "Cantonment"-type buildings and temporary "Theater of Operations"-type buildings. A set of standards and details was developed by the Army, modifying the "theater of operations"-type buildings to make them suitable for housing women, children and elderly people while still meeting the requirements of quick construction, low cost, and restricted use of critical materials.

These standards and details of construction were put in place by the WCCA on June 8, 1942, and provided for uniform construction after that date. However, Manzanar, Tule Lake, Poston, and Gila River were already under construction. Construction also varied because different local Engineer Divisions interpreted the rather vague standards differently, and these local offices were responsible for developing or contracting out the plans and specifications for each center.

Local craftsmen were used, but the requirements were not always stringent; in Millard County, Utah, near the Topaz Relocation Center, the term "Topaz Carpenter" is still a derogatory term, since anyone who showed up at the site with a hammer would be hired. Supplies were also difficult to come by in such large quantities during wartime. In addition, some suppliers were reluctant to use valuable resources for "Japs," making construction somewhat makeshift at times.

The five-room 20 ft by 100 ft plan of the assembly center barracks was supplanted by 20 ft by 120 ft barracks plans with six variably-sized rooms. The barracks thus built followed standard plans, with different sized apartments to accommodate different-sized families and groups of single people. Each barracks had two apartments at each of the following sizes: 16 ft by 20 ft, 20 ft by 20 ft, and 24 ft by 20 ft. Partitions between the apartments extended only to the eaves, leaving a gap between the walls and the roof. Each apartment had a heating unit, either coal, wood, oil, or natural gas. Furnishings included a single drop light, army cots, blankets, and mattresses.

The exterior walls and roofs of the barracks were generally of boards covered with tarpaper on frames of dimension lumber. In the colder climates wallboard was provided for insulation. The raised floors were wooden boards, which quickly shrank and allowed dust and dirt to fly all over the barracks. Eventually, "Mastipave" flooring was provided for use at the Tule Lake, Manzanar, Gila River, and Poston Relocation Centers to help seal the drafty floors. The window configurations varied, but were typically either sliding square windows or double hung, with divided lights. The gabled ends of the buildings had rectangular vents — a standard Army construction detail.

Barracks construction varied only at the Granada and the Arizona centers. At Granada the barracks had weatherized wallboard exterior walls and brick floors. The barracks at the Arizona centers had double roofs for insulation and the Gila River Center even had white wallboard exterior sheathing. Clearly the Gila River Relocation Center, visited by Eleanor Roosevelt in April 1943, was a showplace (Inoshita 1995).

Most other buildings were variations on the same theme. Recreation halls and community buildings were basically the same as barracks, but 20 ft by 100 ft and without interior partitions. Mess halls were 40 ft by 100 ft, and included a kitchen, store room, and scullery.

Block latrine and laundry facilities at the earlier constructed relocation centers differed little from that of the assembly centers. At Manzanar, Poston, Gila River, and Tule Lake there were three separate buildings in each residential block for the men's bathroom, women's bathroom, and laundry. These army-type facilities had no toilet partitions or bathtubs and very little hot water. A separate ironing room was added as an afterthought after numerous power outages. At Tule Lake later- constructed blocks had a combined laundry and ironing room and a combined men's and women's bathroom.

Block latrine and laundry facilities at the relocation centers built after the WCCA standards were established consisted of a large centralized H-shaped structure. One side of the building contained the block laundry, the other side contained the men's and women's bathrooms. The crossbar of the H contained the hot water heater. In addition to the standard toilets, sinks, and communal showers provided in the earlier constructed facilities, the women's bathroom was equipped with toilet stalls and four bathtubs.

Administration buildings were similar to evacuee barracks, but with white clapboard exteriors rather than tarpaper. Staff housing, also with clapboard exteriors, was divided into self-contained one, two, or three bedroom apartments each with its own kitchen and bathroom.

Community buildings such as schools and churches were left to be constructed by the evacuees, who initially used empty barracks for these functions. Often entire blocks of barracks were devoted to schools. The block recreation halls, originally intended for use by that block, were usually converted to other general community purposes, such as churches or cooperative stores.

Buildings that were later designed or built by the evacuees were often far more individualistic, and often built of more permanent materials. For instance, school buildings at Poston were built of adobe brick made by the evacuees. These later buildings were typically set at acute angles to the uniformly gridded relocation center roads.

Agricultural enterprises at all of the centers provided much of each center's food, with surpluses sent to the other relocation centers. However, over 40 percent of the rice produced in the U.S. went to the relocation centers (Smith 1995:185). Most of the centers also had hog and chicken farms, and beef or dairy cows were raised at Gila, Granada, Topaz, and Manzanar (Table 3.4).

Table 3.4.
Relocation Center Agricultural Enterprises, June 1944 (W.R.A. 1944).

Field Acreage Number of
Number of
Number of
Egg Hens
Number of
VegetablesField Crops

Gila River
Heart Mtn4275738731437891830
Tule Lake305856532---

camouflage net factory, Manzanar Relocation Center
Figure 3.11. Camouflage net factory at the Manzanar Relocation Center.
(National Archives photograph)
The relocation centers were subject to the same rationing as the rest of the country. Victory Gardens supplemented the rations and evacuee crews recycled fats, metal, and other material considered vital to the war effort.The WRA intended to have industries supporting the war effort at the relocation centers, but these plans were thwarted by industries and unions who feared unfair competition. The only venture that enjoyed even a modest degree of success was the short-lived manufacture of camouflage nets at three of the centers (Figure 3.11; Smith 1995:176). The Manzanar net factory, supervised by the Corp of Engineers, was closed following a December 1942 riot. Privately run net factories at the Poston and Gila River relocation centers were discontinued in May 1943 after the completion of their original contracts.

Other war-related industries at the relocation centers included a ship model factory at Gila that produced models for use in training Navy pilots and a poster shop at Granada. Other planned industrial projects were put on hold, due to outside pressures and to encourage relocation out of the centers.

Industry for internal use included garment factories at Manzanar, Heart Mountain, and Minidoka, a cabinet shop at Tule Lake, sawmills at Jerome and Heart Mountain, and a mattress factory at Manzanar. In addition, factories for the processing of agricultural products were common at all of the centers. For instance, Manzanar made all the soy sauce it used (Smith 1995:244).

Continued Continue


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