Manzanar Timeline (under construction)

The Manzanar National Historic Site

    In February 1985, Manzanar was designated a National Historic Landmark, but without federal recognition as an Historic Site, the area was unprotected. In March, 1992, House Resolution 543 (Pub.L. 102-248; 106 Stat. 40) was signed into law making Manzanar a National Historic Site. This act of Congress established the Manzanar National Historic Site "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." Five years later, the National Park Service acquired 814 acres (329 ha) of land at Manzanar from the City of Los Angeles.

    The site features an Interpretive Center housed in the historically restored Manzanar High School Auditorium, which has a permanent exhibit that tells the stories of the prisoners at Manzanar, the Owens Valley Paiute, the ranchers, the town of Manzanar, and water in the Owens Valley.

    “...Stories like this need to be told, and too many of us have died without telling our stories," Embrey said during her remarks at the Grand Opening ceremonies for the Manzanar National Historic Site Interpretive Center on April 24, 2004. "The Interpretive Center is important because it needs to show to the world that America is strong as it makes amends for the wrongs it has committed, and that we will always remember
Manzanar because of that.”

    The site, which has seen 766,999 people visit from 2000 through 2010, features restored sentry posts at the camp entrance, a replica of a camp guard tower built in 2005, a self-guided tour road, and informational markers. Staff offer guided tours and other educational programs, including a Junior Ranger educational program for children between four and fifteen years of age.

    The National Park Service is reconstructing one of the 36 residential blocks as a demonstration block. One barrack will appear as it would have when Japanese Americans first arrived at Manzanar in 1942, while another will be reconstructed to represent barracks life in 1945. A restored World War II mess hall was moved to the site from Bishop Airport in 2002 will be open to visitors in late 2010.

    In late 2008, historically appropriate vegetation was planted near the Interpretive Center. The Manzanar National Historic Site also unveiled its virtual museum on May 17, 2010 and continues to collect oral histories of former prisoners and others from all periods of Manzanar's history.  To visit the MNHS webpage, visit:

                                                                                                           Adapted from article by Gann Matsuda on Manzanar in Wikipedia

Manzanar History

    A sparsely populated, windy geography known as the Owens Valley, was made famous by the late Ansel Adams through his magnificent photographs of the Sierra Nevada mountains. It became even more widely publicized when a town called Manzanar was built on its desert floor during World War II.                                                                    

    Once the lands of the Owens Valley Paiute and later a thriving farming community in the early 1900’s, Manzanar laid dormant after water was diverted to the Los Angeles basin for its growing population.

    In 1942, when the U.S. government went looking for a site far from the West Coast in which to imprison persons of Japanese ancestry, they leased the land from the City of Los Angeles for approximately $75,000 over a three-year period.

    Manzanar, officially called the Manzanar War Relocation Center, began as an “assembly center” under U.S. Army control. Construction began in March 1942 and the camp was quickly filled with more than 10,000 former residents of Bainbridge Island, Washington and Terminal Island, California, followed by those persons of Japanese ancestry expelled from the Southern California area with more than 70% from the Los Angeles area. The War Relocation Authority took control of Manzanar on June 1, 1942 and operated the camp until it closed in November 1945.
The camp, which consisted of 36 blocks of barracks within a confined area of one-square mile, was the scene of many hardships as men, women, and children sought to establish some semblance of normal life while attempting to overcome the trauma of forced evacuation and facing an uncertain future. It was the resourcefulness and labor of the camp
population, which turned Manzanar into a habitable place for the remainder of their enforced stay.

    Manzanar had some unique features for a wartime city. It was the only camp with an orphanage, called “Children’s Village.” It was also the only site in California which had an advanced sewage and water filtering system, dismantled when the camp closed. The surgical and nursing team developed at the Manzanar Hospital became the training center for nurses whose study was interrupted by the evacuation. It was there that they completed their training, graduating with a recognized degree to practice nursing on the “outside.”

    The apple trees for which Manzanar was named, had been abandoned prior to the war. They were pruned, fertilized and watered by Issei farmers during their internment, providing delicious apples for the internees. Many varieties that grew there are no longer available on the market.

                                                                                                      Under the terms of the lease with the City of Los Angeles, which owned the land at Manzanar, the campsite was returned to its original condition. Barracks were auctioned off to returning veterans, and to businesses in nearby towns, such as the still existing Willow Hotel. All that remains today are the auditorium, the stone guardhouses, the cemetery and hundreds of trees planted by the internees.

    In 1972, after a year-long campaign led by the Manzanar Committee and the Japanese American Citizens League, Manzanar was designated California State Historic Landmark #850. It would take another year of negotiation before the wording was approved. 

    In April 1985, the National Park Service, Department of Interior designated Manzanar as a National Historic Landmark. The plaque was presented to the City of Los Angeles during the pilgrimage program on April 27, 1985.

    H.R. 543, introduced by Congress member Mel Levine, received considerable support in Congress. The bill passed on February 19, 1992, the 50th anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066, designating Manzanar as a National Historic Site. The 23rd Annual Pilgrimage held on April 25, 1992 brought more than 2,200 participants to celebrate the designation.

    The original auditorium was restored by the National Park Service as a state-of-the-art Interpretive Center, which had its grand opening in 2004. In addition to telling the story of the internment camp experience, the exhibit covers the history of pre-camp communities which lived on the land, such as the Owens Valley Paiute, farmers, rancher and miners.


Ryozo Kado, the original stones mason in Manzanar, installed the State Historic Landmark plaque in 1973.

“As the rock gardens, the pleasure parks and the ponds brought solace to the internees beneath the high majestic Sierras, so can the Manzanar National Historic Site be a healing source for the devastation of the human spirit which we all experienced, not only for the JA community, but for America as well.  

                                                                                                                         Sue Kunitomi Embrey

2004 Interpretive Center dedication. Sue Embrey’s Dedication speech can be heard here.  Transcript can be read here.