Telling the Stories of Internment – Reflections from the Western Office

Posted on: February 20th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

It is remarkable to consider the sheer range of people and communities impacted by Executive Order 9066. In honor of yesterday’s Day of Remembrance, we wanted to share some of the work the Western Office has done to preserve historic sites related to Japanese-American internment in World War II. While this is by no means a complete list of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s involvement in this issue, the examples below showcase the wide variety of places affected by the internment order. This includes homes and stores abandoned during the War, as well as the internment camps, often located in extreme climates and operated as prisons for ordinary citizens.

The protection of these places allows us to tell an important, though tragic, story in American history. It was a time when the highest powers of our government disregarded the constitutional guarantees of a group based on their race and our highest court turned its head. More than two-thirds of those detained were American citizens, many of whom would later serve their country. The crime that caused a person to be interred, as Justice Jackson famously observed in his dissent in Korematsu v. United States, was “merely of being present in the state whereof he is a citizen, near the place where he was born, and where all his life he has lived.”

Here a few of the points of contact we’ve been honored to have:

Manzanar National Historic Site, Independence, California
Manzanar was one of ten internment camps operated by the War Relocation Authority. The National Historic Site, operated by the National Park Service, received a $150,000 grant in 2005 to restore its perimeter fence from Save America’s Treasures (SAT), a partnership between the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the White House Millennium Council.

Tule Lake Segregation Center, Newell, California
In 2002 the National Trust awarded the Tule Lake Committee a grant to develop a strategic action plan for preservation of the property. In 2009, the Tule Lake Segregation Center was declared part of the new "World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument." It is hoped that the Monument designation will increase national attention to the preservation needs of the remaining buildings at Tule Lake.

Poston Internment Camp Buildings, Parker, Arizona
In 2003, we gave the Ahakhav Tribal Preserve a grant to hire a consultant to facilitate a three-day workshop to develop strategies to restore and preserve the existing Poston Internment Camp buildings, including an adobe school building. Participants included members of the Colorado River Indian Tribes, former internees, and residents of Parker. In 1942, 18,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry were sent to three concentration camps at Poston.

Honouliuli Gulch, Oahu, Hawai’i
The Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai’i, Honolulu, in June 2007 was awarded a grant to help conduct an archaeological survey of the site of a former WWII interment camp at Honouliuli on Oahu (1943-1945). The survey recently completed includes detailed site mapping, feature and artifact recording, photography and narrative descriptions.

The Harada House, Riverside, California
In 1915 Jukichi Harada, a first generation Japanese immigrant, purchased the c.1880 Harada house and deeded it to his American-born children. Though the State tried to prevent the transfer based on the grossly restrictive Alien Land Law, Harada succeeded in convincing the California Supreme Court to permit the transfer. In 1942 the Harada family was “relocated” to internment camps from the modest house and returned to it again after the war, occupying it until 2000. Today the house is a National Historic Landmark. In 2003, the Riverside Municipal Museum received a grant from the Western Office to support a facilitated visioning workshop for the preservation, interpretation, and financial sustainability of the Harada House. Director Anthea Hartig serves on the advisory committee for the house to this day.

Far East Building, Los Angeles, California
In 2002, Little Tokyo Service Center Community Development Corporation was awarded a grant from the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Fund for Historic Interiors to support an interior preservation plan and cultural interpretation of the 1909 Far East Building. Owned by a Chinese family, the Far East was able to stay open during the relocation of Japanese Americans during WWII and remains a symbol of Chinese- Japanese friendship.

For those interested to learn more, a definitive resource for understanding Japanese Internment is Jeff Burton’s landmark study “Confinement and Ethnicity."

– Brian Turner

Brian Turner is the law fellow at the Western Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.