Author Archive

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.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

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.

Grading the Stimulus: What Happened to Federal Funding to Repair Our Schools?

Posted on: February 20th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment

 

Photo taken by Washington, D.C. students through the Critical Exposure program that illustrates the need for funds to rehabilitate school facilities.

The roller-coaster ride that was the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act ended on a downswing for the modernization of our nation’s schools.

Down from the high when the House of Representatives passed a $14 billion school construction bill, preservationists now face an uphill fight for a portion of the state stabilization fund for school repair and renovation.

For my policy job at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, I read newspaper article after newspaper article about school construction. During the weeks that the stimulus legislation was making its way through Washington, it was exciting (and maybe a little worrying as well) to read dozens of media clippings from around the country focusing on school boards that were delaying decisions about their facilities in anticipation of federal money. Exciting because, as a preservationist, I believe that investing in our existing schools and updating them with 21st century technology means that they’ll be around for another 100+ years. On the other hand, I was scared because there was no guarantee that the federal money would ever arrive and actually be spent on school modernization.

Sadly, provisions to modernize some of our worst-off buildings for our neediest children were removed from the Senate version of the recovery bill. However, thanks to a last minute push during the conference period, $8.79 billion was added to the state stabilization fund for K-12 and higher education school repair and renovation.

Photo taken by Washington, D.C. students through the Critical Exposure program that illustrates the need for funds to rehabilitate school facilities.

But even that isn’t as cheery as it sounds.

The final language that President Obama signed into law this week indicates that state stabilization funding “may” be spent on school repair or renovation, and that there are no guidelines on its allocation or use. The decision of whether and how funding should be spent is left completely to the states. Sadly, because preservationists are accustomed to fighting for scraps at the funding table, we shouldn’t be surprised that once again we have our work cut out for us.

In the plus column, there’s $20 billion for a new credit enhancement program in the tax code designed to both improve the ability of school districts to borrow and to reduce the overall cost of that borrowing. But most likely, this will only help the more affluent school districts with the resources to actually pay back the loans.

As many of us know first hand, rehabilitation is labor intensive. That’s why the economists were excited about school modernization; the number crunchers understood that jobs - many jobs - could be created.

But it turns out that those most concerned about the future of our children’s schools didn't finish their homework. Amid the many voices shouting at Congress, it was difficult to show that schools - just like roads and bridges - are an important part of our country’s infrastructure. We were unable to convey that existing funding for our nation’s public school facilities is inadequate, and therefore we now face a huge backlog of deferred maintenance.

Now it’s time for our “make-up test” – one that we’ll take to every statehouse and governor’s office across the nation. I believe it’s critical for preservationists to try again in making the "fix-it first” case, this time to state officials. If we continue to allow our older schools to deteriorate, a case for their abandonment and demolition will be easier and easier to make.

- Renee Kuhlman

Renee Kuhlman is the director of special projects for the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Center for State and Local Policy. Visit our neighborhood schools page to learn more about the work she and her many colleagues nationwide are doing to protect the older schools that anchor many of our historic communities. Also, check out our updated stimulus tracker and analysis page to learn more about what the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act means for preservationists.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

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.

How Poetry Saved a Building: The Re-Opening of Angel Island Immigration Station

Posted on: February 17th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

A packed tent at the re-opening ceremony.

A packed tent at the re-opening ceremony.

It was an inspiring moment. Despite pouring Pacific rains and high wind warnings, I joined an enthusiastic group of more than 500 on the ferry at San Francisco’s Pier 41 on Sunday morning to witness history. We were headed for the grand re-opening of the Angel Island Immigration Station, this time, thankfully, not as a detention facility, but a newly restored interpretive site.

Often described as the “Ellis Island of the West,” more than 350,000 immigrants were processed, and sometimes detained at Angel Island before they were allowed entry to San Francisco and could call America home. The arrivals not only braved an uncertain future, far from the world they knew, but entered a hostile world where racism was written expressly into law. Starting in 1882 the Chinese, who made up the majority of the immigrants processed at Angel Island, were subject to the Chinese Exclusion Act, a race-based law that persevered for an astonishing 61 years. The Immigration Act of 1924 made that law even more severe and established strict quotas on immigration with a particular focus on Asian countries.

The newly restored detention barracks.

The newly restored detention barracks.

The centerpiece of Sunday’s ceremony was the completed restoration of the building that served as detention barracks for immigrants from 80 countries. In 1970 the building was in serious disrepair and slated for demolition. It was then that Alexander Weiss, a ranger with the National Park Service, made an astonishing discovery. Inventorying the building by flashlight, Weiss stumbled upon Chinese characters carved into the wooden walls where the detainees were housed. Experts soon revealed that the characters formed poems, many fully intact. These written memories have helped us understand the emotional experiences of newcomers to the West in the early 20th Century. On Sunday I heard the children of detainees, most of whom have now passed away, express gratitude for the restoration. The stories of crossing the ocean, they explained, were often too emotionally difficult for their parents to tell.

The translation for this carved poem is at left.

Translation at left, in italics.

“Detained in this wooden house
for several tens of days,
it is all because of the Mexican exclusion law, which implicates me.
It’s a pity heroes have no way
of exercising their prowess.
I can only await the word so I can snap Zu’s whip.

From now on,
I am departing far from this building.
All of my fellow villagers are rejoicing with me.
Don’t say that everything within
is Western styled.
Even if it is built of jade, it has
turned into a cage."

... Read More →

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

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.

Newly-Restored Angel Island Immigration Station Re-Opening Today

Posted on: February 15th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 2 Comments

 

The Immigration Station on Angel Island.

The Immigration Station on Angel Island.

Today, the U.S. Immigration Station on Angel Island, which we included on our annual list of America's 11 Most Endangered Places back in 1999, will re-open after more than three years of restoration and preservation work. During that time, many improvements have been made to stabilize this National Historic Landmark, set within a California State Park, and the interpretation of the Immigration Station’s story has been enhanced.

Nowadays, when it’s difficult for us to imagine things other than as they are, places such as Angel Island Immigration Station serve as potent connectors to the past. How different our contemporary experience of travel is from that of the average immigrant arriving at Angel Island Immigration Station in San Francisco Bay. Like Ellis Island, the Immigration Station on Angel Island was a major gateway to America. Established in 1910 and in operation until 1940, the Immigration Station is often referred to as the "Ellis Island of the West;" however, it was also known as "The Guardian of the Western Gate" because of its role in policing and enforcing restrictive immigration policies.

This small island (barely one square mile) near Tiburon provided the setting for immigration processing for hundreds of thousands of immigrants arriving from Pacific routes. Imagine, after a sea voyage of a week or more, venturing down a gangplank and along a pier to face interrogations, physical examinations, and even detention in a cluster of institutional buildings on a small island surrounded by the glories of San Francisco Bay. In spite of the beauty of its setting, Angel Island Immigration Station evokes the hardships faced by generations of America’s Asian immigrants, particularly Chinese. Over the years the Immigration Station became such a well known bottleneck that immigrants developed strategies and crammed to ensure that they were able to parrot “right” answers during grueling interrogations.

Poems carved into the barracks wall.

Chinese poems carved into the barracks wall.

Although all nationalities were received at the island, the Immigration Station is especially poignant for the Asian American community because of restrictions on immigration imposed by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which was amended, extended, and expanded several times between 1888 and its repeal in 1943. Enforcement of the Chinese Exclusion Act was central to the Immigration Station’s function and transformed Angel Island from a reception and processing center into a residential detention facility for many Chinese nationals – as well as others. Over the years the victims of race-based exclusionary laws were detained at Angel Island for an average of three weeks, sometimes for months and even for years. The Immigration Station was the first, and sometimes only, foothold in a new and hostile country and its cramped barracks of tiered bunks provided an improvised home to detainees. The walls of the Immigration Station bear witness to the human traffic they sheltered: numerous inscriptions and an estimated 135 carved poems survive, tangible markers of loneliness, suffering, injustice, determination, and the lure of immigration.

Sometimes the scale of a specific historic resource and the vision for its revitalization demands a team effort, uniting staff and resources across offices, departments, and agencies. The results that will be unveiled today at Angel Island are the fruit of many years of effort and collaboration. The Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation (AIISF) is the nonprofit partner of California State Parks and the National Park Service in the effort to preserve, restore and interpret the historic immigration station. Save America's Treasures and American Express Partners in Preservation, two of the National Trust for Historic Preservation's valued partnerships, also contributed much-needed funding.

AIISF’s remarkable fundraising and planning achievements demonstrate the results of an undaunted and ambitious vision that started small and ended big and were only achieved through organizational persistence, creative collaboration, leveraged funding, and extensive public outreach. The refurbished site will offer visitors a taste of what immigrants must have felt as they first grappled with life in a new and foreign land.

For decades, the Immigration Station was a final gauntlet beyond which stretched family members, opportunities, freedoms, new horizons -- the golden west. Once symbolic of the intentional obstacles and systematic deterrents placed by governmental policies in the path of immigrants, Angel Island is now a monument to human resilience and endurance. Angel Island’s immigrants persevered and prospered and contributed to the growth of their adopted country, enduringly influencing its culture and democracy. Now is the moment for Angel Island Immigration Station to take its rightful place as a national symbol of Pacific immigration and for the lives and stories that still mark its walls to find a wider audience.

As AIISF’s website puts it: “Tell your friends to make the journey across the water, through time, and deep into the American soul.”

Public tours of the Immigration Station will resume April 1, 2009.

-- Hugh Rowland

Hugh Rowland is the program administrator and development associate for the Western Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

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.

Christened with Watermelon Juice, Lincoln, Illinois Continues to Celebrate its Most Famous Resident

Posted on: February 12th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Lincoln christening his namesake town with watermelon juice. (Image: http://www.geocities.com/findinglincolnillinois/)

Lincoln christening his namesake town with watermelon juice. (Image: http://www.geocities.com/findinglincolnillinois/)

Does America take Lincoln’s birthday for granted? Not in Lincoln, Illinois, the only town in the country named for Abe Lincoln before he became famous—while he was still a young attorney on horseback serving Illinois’ 8th judicial circuit.

I can speak from experience, having lived in Lincoln for 26 years before relocating to Washington in 2002. But we Lincolnites never take even the smallest factoid of Lincoln lore for granted. For example, everyone who has lived in Lincoln, Illinois, knows that:

  • Lincoln christened his namesake town with watermelon juice, long before he became famous—at the Lincoln depot where a statue depicting the momentous event still stands.
  • On his judicial circuit rides, Lincoln would plead his cases at the Postville Court House. A replica of the court house is a popular tourism attraction on Fifth Street near the edge of town. When the State of Illinois had to close a number of state-owned historic sites several years ago due to lack of funds, long-time community activist and volunteer Shirley Bartelmay stepped forward to organize a group to staff the site and keep it open for visitors.
  • The signature Abe Lincoln Heritage Event still takes place every fall—the National Railsplitting Festival, when teams from all over the country gather at the Logan County Fairgrounds to test their mettle at splitting logs in record time.
  • The only real property that Lincoln ever owned other than his home in Springfield, was the lot at 523 Pulaski Street, next door to my husband’s office on the downtown Lincoln square. Today the lot is the site of Sherwin Williams, commemorated only by a plaque on the building.
  • Just about every town in Illinois has its Lincoln impersonator, and so did we. At any public event, you could see Charlie Ott walking around in his frock coat and top hat, shaking hands—his bearded face always solemn. He showed us very little of Lincoln’s humorous side. Most fascinating was the strong rivalry between Ott and his chief competition, Harry Hahn, from neighboring Mt. Pulaski—and there were many arguments over whose Lincoln was the “real one.”
  • The high school sports teams, of course, are the Railsplitters—or Railers. Famous Railers include Brian Cook, formerly a forward with the Lakers, now the Orlando Magic, and Tony Semple, who was offensive guard for the Detroit Lions. The school’s fight song concludes with:
    “ . . . if dear old Abe were here, I know what he would do,
    He’d say ‘Lincoln, I’m proud of you—oo—oo!’”

Come to think of it, I guess I’m pretty proud, too.

-- Valecia Crisafulli

Valecia Crisafulli is the director of the Center for Preservation Leadership at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

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.