Original web design: Jenni Kuida,
This website is hosted by theJapanese American Network www.janet.org
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 “Childrens 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.
The Manzanar Committee
In December 1969, a group of about 150 people, mostly young, mostly Japanese American, drove by car and bus to a place between Lone Pine and Independence, California. The place we had come looking for was Manzanar, one of ten concentration camps in which the Japanese were interned during World War II.
This was, we thought, our first Manzanar Pilgrimage. The bitter cold and biting wind gave us our first lesson on how life must have been for the internees. Our humility was reinforced when we learned that what we had brashly called our "first" pilgrimage was for two Issei ministers, their 25th—Rev. Sentoku Maeda and Rev. Shoichi Wakahiro are gone—but their spirits live on.
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.
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.
The Manzanar Committee, which has sponsored the pilgrimage for more than 38 years, is an all-volunteer committee, incorporated under the laws of the State of California as a non-profit educational organization. We invite your support, your energy, and your participation as a Manzanar Committee member. All donations are tax-deductible.
You may contact the Committee at:
1566 Curran St.
Los Angeles, CA 90026