Griffith Park (detention facility)


US Gov Name Griffith Park Internment Camp
Facility Type U.S. Army Internment Camp
Administrative Agency U.S. Army
Location Los Angeles, California (34.1667 lat, -118.3000 lng)
Date Opened mid-December 1941
Date Closed
Population Description Held Japanese immigrants from the U.S.; also held German and Italian nationals.
General Description Located at a former Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp in Southern California.
Peak Population 77 (1942-03-12)
National Park Service Info

Los Angeles's Griffith Park, the largest municipal wilderness park in the United States, served as a temporary detention site for Japanese Americans and other enemy aliens in the weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The men held there were moved to other camps run by the U.S. Army or Immigration and Naturalization Service early in 1942.

Site Background

Located in the northern part of Los Angeles, California, Griffith Park has been one of the city's gathering places for well over one hundred years and within the confines of the park, one can find the iconic Hollywood sign, the Griffith Observatory, and the L.A. Zoo. The area was first "inhabited" by Native Americans of the Tongva Tribe, who were later called Gabrielinos and today are the Gabrielino-Tongva Tribe.[1] Corporal Jose' Vicente Feliz was rewarded with a Spanish land grant that included the park area around 1775 and named it Rancho Los Feliz. The land was eventually acquired by Colonel Griffith J. Griffith, who settled in Los Angeles in 1882, and in 1896 he donated 3,015 acres as a gift to the people of Los Angeles.

On May 11, 1934, construction was completed on a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp within the park called Camp Riverside; workers were assigned to build retaining walls, trails, access roads, maintenance, and restore structures.[2] A 1940 newspaper article reported that the camp was located one mile west of Victory Blvd. on South Riverside Drive, in the northern part of Griffith Park.[3] The CCC camp was about sixteen miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles.

Internment Site

Before the bombing of Pearl Harbor the CCC's Camp Riverside was closed, with the army taking custody and using it as a recreational facility for soldiers.[4] The CCC camp was secured so it could hold Issei "enemy aliens" who were picked up by the FBI in various counties and detained for a period of time before being transferred to other camps such as Ft. Lincoln, North Dakota and Ft. Missoula, Montana. According to archivist Gwen Granados at the National Archives and Records Administration in Laguna Niguel, California 35 Issei men arrested right after the Pearl Harbor attack for immigration violations, expired visas, or coming to the U.S. illegally were among the first to be detained at Griffith Park. They were mostly fishermen from Terminal Island and thus lived and worked close to army and naval installations. After a few days in a makeshift jail, they were sent to Tuna Canyon Detention Station.[5]

In an oral history account, Amy Uno Ishii describes her father George Kumemaro Uno's internment at Griffith Park. Picked up by the FBI on the day of the Pearl Harbor attack, the family did not know where he had been taken. Then on one Saturday night around three weeks later, the Uno family got an anonymous phone call telling them they should go to the CCC camp at Griffith Park where 300 men were held, one of whom might be their father. They drove there the following day bringing along some essentials like toothpaste, soap, underwear, pajamas, candy bars, chewing gum, and other items and saw an encampment with lots of military police. The children of George Kumemaro Uno bravely stood outside the fence and yelling in unison for their father and eventually got his attention. He waved his arms and said "Great" so his children started to throw the essential items for their father over the fence it happened so fast that the guards were not aware. Later, the Uno family received another anonymous call to go to a train station in Glendale, and the family packed up more essentials including foodstuffs. When they arrived at the train station they recognized their father as he was waiting in line to board the train and were able to say their goodbyes before he was moved to an unknown destination.[6]

The Griffith Park Detention Camp included two separate but adjoining compounds, each about 250 by 500 feet. The camp was enclosed with double fences of galvanized mesh wire capped with barbed wire. The outside fence was ten feet high and was eight feet from the inner fence and included floodlights and sentry stations at each corner. Each of the compounds had separate mess halls and kitchens, toilet, shower and sleeping facilities that could accommodate 150 prisoners but eventually expanded to hold up to 550.[7] One of the camp compounds was used to detain 77 Issei "enemy aliens" that were transferred from the U.S. Naval Receiving Station on Terminal Island to make room for 1,000 Navy recruits. The 77 Issei prisoners were transferred to the Army Detention Camp in Griffith Park on February 21, 1942. Two lists show a total of 77 other Issei enemy aliens transferred to Griffith Park, 21 from the Santa Barbara County jail who then joined the "Kline Party" in moving to Ft. Lincoln, North Dakota.[8] Griffith Park Detention Camp was one of the three coastal mainland detention camps readied to intern male and female enemy aliens removed from Hawai'i[9]

Aftermath

On July 14, 1942, Griffith Park Alien Detention Camp became a POW Processing Station for Japanese, Germans, and Italian prisoners and was eventually closed on August 3, 1943. The POWs that would have had valuable military information were sent to Camp Tracy at Byron Hot Springs, California to be interrogated.[10] After August of 1943, the camp became the Army's Western Corps Photographic Center and Camouflage Experimental Laboratory.[11]

In 1947 the site eventually was returned to become part of the public park. Today there is no longer any trace left of the CCC camp, Griffith Park Detention Camp, or the POW Processing Station. A statue sculpted by Uno John Palokangas called "Spirit of the CCC" or "Iron Mike" was located on the other side of the park south of the Los Angeles Zoo and was dedicated on October 1, 1935 by President Franklin Roosevelt to honor CCC workers. The statue subsequently disappeared with several myths as to its demise. A bronze replica of the statue by Jim Brothers was dedicated in 1993 in front of the Travel Town Railroad Museum, which is located close to the former site of the detention camp[12] Griffith Park Detention Camp does not appear in the National Park Service Japanese Americans in World War II National Historic Landmark Theme Study and is not slated for any historical recognition.[13]

Authored by Marie Masumoto

For More Information

Eberts, Mike. Griffith Park: A Centennial History Griffith Park During World War II. Los Angeles: The Historical Society of Southern California, 1996.

Amy Uno Ishii. Interviewed by Betty Mitson and Kristen Mitchell on July 9, 1973 and July 20, 1973. In Japanese American World War II Evacuation Oral History Project, Part I: Internees, ed. Arthur A. Hansen. Munich: K.G. Saur, 1994. 39-87. http://content.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft18700334/?query=amy%20uno%20ishii&brand=calisphere.

Footnotes

  1. Gabrielino-Tongva Tribe Los Angeles, California. http://www.gabrielinotribe.org/historiclocations/index.cfm.
  2. Mike Eberts, Griffith Park: A Centennial History Griffith Park During World War II (Los Angeles: The Historical Society of Southern California 1996), 11-13, 157-159.
  3. "C.C.C. Continues Open House in Marking Anniversary: Public Welcomed to 27 Camps in Southland Today, Celebrating Seventh Birthday of Organization," Los Angeles Times, April 7, 1940.
  4. "Griffith Park Camp Bid Answered," Los Angeles Times, October 20, 1941.
  5. Cecilia Rasmussen, "Southland's Way Station for WWII Internees," Los Angeles Times, September 17, 2006; correspondence with Gwen Granados archivist at National Archives and Records Administration in former location of Laguna Niguel, CA.
  6. Amy Uno Ishii, interview by Betty Mitson and Kristen Mitchell for California State University, Fullerton, Oral History Program, Japanese American Project, on July 9, 1973 and July 20, 1973, in Japanese American World War II Evacuation Oral History Project, Part I: Internees, ed. Arthur A. Hansen (Munich: K.G. Saur, 1994), 39-87. http://content.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft18700334/?query=amy%20uno%20ishii&brand=calisphere. The family later learned that Uno was being interned at Fort Missoula, Montana and Santa Fe, New Mexico. Among the ten Uno children were redress activist Edison Uno and wartime journalist Buddy Uno.
  7. Airmail letter and telegram from William A. Carmichael, District Director, Los Angeles District to the Commissioner, February 23, 1942, telegram Enemy Alien File RG85, National Archives and Records Administration, Laguna Niguel, CA.
  8. Airmail letter dated February 23, 1942 to Joseph Savoretti, Deputy Commissioner from William A. Carmichael, National Archives. Laguna Niguel, CA, telegram list of transferred aliens from William A. Carmichael February 22, 1942. "Kline Party" is a term relating to the logistics of transporting groups of aliens by train both eastward and westward by the military. The groups were dubbed "Kline Parties" after the deporting officer Edward M. Kline who was in charge, National Archives website for a 1920's document, <www.archives.gov> go to the ARC digital search in Research Our Records.
  9. Tetsuden Kashima, Judgment Without Trial: Japanese American Imprisonment during World War II (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2003), 77.
  10. The California State Military Museum, http://www.militarymuseum.org/ByronHotSprings.html.
  11. Eberts, Griffith Park, 215.
  12. See http://livingnewdeal.berkeley.edu/map/view.php?&1=881.
  13. Japanese Americans in World War II National Historic Landmark Theme Study, National Park Service, U.S. Department of Interior, National Historic Landmarks Program, 2011, 214-217. http://www.nps.gov/nhl/themes/JAWWII.pdf.