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[graphic text] Manzanar National Historic Site


[Photo] Entrance to the Manzanar War Relocation Center today
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.

[photo] Manzanar street scene, rows of camp houses, 1943
Photograph by Ansel Adams, courtesy of Library of Congress (LC-DIG-ppprs-00284)

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.

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.


[Photo] People leaving one of the barracks buildings that was adapted for a Buddhist place of worship, winter 1943
Photograph by Ansel Adams, courtesy of Library of Congress (LC-DIG-ppprs-00359)
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.

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.

[photo] 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 (LC-DIG-ppprs-00352)

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 in 1996.

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.


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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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