Pomona (detention facility)


US Gov Name Pomona Assembly Center, California
Facility Type Temporary Assembly Center
Administrative Agency Wartime Civil Control Administration
Location Pomona, California (34.0500 lat, -117.7500 lng)
Date Opened May 7, 1942
Date Closed August 24, 1942
Population Description Held people from Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Santa Clara Counties in California.
General Description Located at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds (Fairplex) in Southern California.
Peak Population 5,434 (1942-07-20)
Exit Destination Heart Mountain
National Park Service Info

Pomona was one of the fifteen "assembly centers" administered by the Wartime Civil Control Administration (WCCA).[1] It was located at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds ("Fairplex") about thirty miles east of downtown Los Angeles and only twenty miles west of the Santa Anita Assembly Center. The detention facility was populated from May 7 to August 24, a total of 110 days. On July 20 the camp population peaked at 5,434 persons. The inmates at the Pomona center came mostly from Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Santa Clara counties. They were transferred for long-term confinement to the Heart Mountain "Relocation Center," Wyoming.

Construction and Induction

Construction began on March 21, 1942. On April 29, initial construction was completed and the army engineers turned the site over to the WCCA. However, construction work continued until May 25, the costs totaling $1,068,000, approximately $200 per inmate.[2] 309 barracks were constructed for housing, each measuring 20 x 64 feet, along with 8 H-shaped buildings with combined bathroom, shower, and laundry facilities, 8 mess halls and kitchens (H-type), plus 36 shower and latrine buildings, measuring 20 x 28 feet.[3] Since few existing facilities could be used the Pomona detention facility cost more than other WCCA camps. Despite higher investments, however, living conditions were comparable to other temporary detention camps. A fence topped with barbed wire surrounded the perimeter. There is no evidence of the guard towers that are found in other camps.

Two days after its official opening, 72 Japanese Americans were the first to be inducted on May 9. By May 15 the center was near capacity holding 4,270 people. At induction there was a superficial medical examination. Afterwards belongings were inspected and thousands of items were confiscated. Living space per person was 73 square feet on average, well below the WCCA standard of 200 square feet per couple.[4] The rooms were empty except for army cots and a single light bulb. According to oral history interviews, some had to live in horse stalls, on straw mattress. In fact, the center newspaper reported on July 3 that there were still not sufficient steel beds and cotton mattresses available for the sick and the aged.[5]

The first camp director was Raymond D. Spencer, former WPA director for the Los Angeles district. On May 28 he was replaced by Clayton Triggs who came from the Manzanar "reception center." Triggs remained director until the camp was shut down on August 24.

Sanitary Facilities, Mess Halls, Medical Treatment

Toilet and bathing facilities were combined at Pomona. There were 36 sanitary buildings containing 252 shower heads and 324 individual latrines. There was one shower head for every 22 inmates and one latrine for every 17.[6] To avoid getting athlete's foot many people used Japanese clogs (geta). Soon geta-making classes were taught and a small geta industry sprung up. There was one large laundry building, 20 x 100 feet. Beginning mid-July, the inmates were allowed to use outside dry cleaning services at their own expense.[7]

By June four mess halls were "operated 100% by Japanese."[8] The average army budget for food was 33 cents daily per inmate. With reports of insufficient food quantity, the army lifted the rations, and the daily quantity increased by 50 percent, with the average rate rising as high 48 cents per inmate by August.[9] There was at least one outbreak of food poisoning, resulting in 30 being treated in the hospital—with half of them requiring transportation by an ambulance—and at least another 30 who were poisoned but did not go to the hospital.[10] The Los Angeles County Health Department also reported on May 7 that water samples collected on the camp grounds were heavily contaminated.[11]

Medical cases were assigned to the H-type hospital building. Dr. Wilfred Hanaoka and five other Japanese American physicians operated the thirty-bed hospital as well as the center clinic. They organized the distribution of milk for children and oversaw the weekly sanitation inspections of the laundry rooms, latrines, and mess halls. The hospital contained a combined surgery and obstetrics room (a gynecological examining table had been made by a Japanese carpenter[12]), an X-ray room, a laboratory, a pharmacy, a nursery, and a separate contagious disease ward. Setting itself apart from most "assembly centers," Pomona's hospital was even equipped with its own kitchen, mess hall, and toilets. In addition to the two MDs and five dentists, the staff included 28 nurses and orderlies. Other hospital staff included one intern, two laboratory technicians, three pharmacists, seven clerical workers, four ambulance drivers, two janitors, and two cooks. By August the medical staff comprised 81 persons.[13]

By May 26, less than four weeks after the center had opened, 85 inmates had been admitted to the hospital and another five been sent to outside hospitals. The number of outpatients was 563. The number increased as the hot summer wore on (on July 5 temperatures peaked at 108°F). During the week from June 22 to June 28 alone there were 96 ambulance calls and 495 outpatients visited the clinic. 65 women were reported pregnant.[14] The WCCA calculated an average of 14 inpatients per week for the Pomona detention camp and a total of 1,430 outpatients treated in the period August 1 to August 21, inclusive.[15] There were 31 births and three deaths during Pomona's operation.[16]

Everyday Life in Camp

The army's curfew law required inmates to remain indoors from 10:30 p.m. to 6 a.m. A stricter 9:30 p.m was instituted at Pomona in June. In July, the WCCA classified Japanese language publications as contraband and had them confiscated. Notices written in the Japanese language (such as announcing church services) had to be submitted to the camp director first, with English translation, before they could be posted.[17]

Only seven Caucasian policemen plus one police chief (Boyd Welker) were employed in Pomona. This was well below the average rate in WCCA camps, which was four Caucasian policemen to each 1,000 detainees. The administration also employed from among the inmates some 50 "auxiliary policemen." In addition to patrolling the grounds the police checked incoming parcels for contraband, supervised the visitors' room, and escorted inmates to the hospital. The camp newspaper repeatedly promoted understanding for their policing work, suggesting inmates see them as "good Samaritans and good neighbors."[18] When army orders came to conduct a daily head count—conducted at least once a week, without notice, usually around 11 p.m—the inmates were allowed to recruit another 30 persons to take over the "disagreeable task" themselves.[19] Only 11 arrests were reported to law enforcement agencies over the 110 days Pomona was in operation, which was well below the "assembly center" average.[20]

Information regarding activities in camp was disseminated through the camp's newspaper, the Pomona Center News. Between May 23 and August 15 twenty-five issues appeared. The editor was Ms. Kei Hori who also wrote the editorial column titled "Crying Out Loud." Six to eight pages in length, it was published semi-weekly and exclusively in English. The paper was closely supervised by a "press relation representative," A. T. Richardson from the Pomona Progress Bulletin, who was to make sure that only favorable news were reported from the "assembly center." Richardson visited the Pomona twice weekly "to help edit the Center News."[21]

As in all "assembly centers," the army was interested in having a full recreation program to minimize social problems caused by forced inactivity. At the outset, however, even the most basic equipment was lacking as baggage limitations forced Japanese Americans to dispense with anything but the essentials for living. But with ingenuity and outside help the situation improved quickly. There were softball leagues, table tennis contests, a boxing tournament and a bridge competition. There were classes for flower arranging, wood carving, sewing, and embroidery, as well as band and orchestra instruction. Japanese Americans were fully in charge of the various activities. To accommodate indoor activities, four barrack-size recreation halls were built, with a seating capacity of 200 each.[22] A motion picture fund was started, and the first movie to be shown was the comedy western Ruggles of Red Gap. Collecting $90 in donations at the showing, more movie nights were financed.[23] The Pomona camp library acquired 1,700 books, mostly from private donations through the American Friends Service Committee.[24]

To prove their patriotism the inmates started various initiatives to collect money for buying defense stamps and bonds. On Veterans Day $150 was collected from the sale of poppies. An U.S.O. drive on that day garnered $700. The camp newspaper regularly publicized ads for war bonds.[25]

Unlike many other WCCA camps inmates in Pomona started no comprehensive school program. A temporary school was created for children aged four to ten but it was strictly voluntary. Classes were held in two recreation halls off-hours. But even without schools, local and federal school officials made sure that students received their diplomas as the Pomona camp opened late and students missed only a few weeks.[26]

Religious services were held in two barracks each seating about 185 people. In May, there were one Roman Catholic, four Buddhist and eight Protestant services each weekend. By the end of June four barracks were needed to hold 17 services for a total of about 2,700 inmates. Japanese was not spoken during religious services unless the use of English prevented the congregation from comprehending the service. In these cases the camp director had to sanction the use of the Japanese language.[27] Caucasian religious workers were allowed to enter the camp during the day. Prominent visitors included Dr. Frank Herron Smith, Bishop Reifsnider, and famous interdenominational preacher E. Stanley Jones who addressed the camp inmates during the Forth of July celebrations.

Self-government efforts in Pomona were short-lived due to a prohibitive WCCA policy, the short lifespan of the camp and the complex, three-stage election procedure which administrators and inmates devised. In the first step 64 representatives were elected from which the camp administration chose 21 block leaders. From this pool the inmates elected four ward leaders to form the advisory council. By the time the advisory council had been elected news arrived that inmates would soon be sent to a "relocation center" and the self-government project was abandoned.

A center store was opened on May 26 and soon carried newspapers, cigarettes, candy and chewing gum, ice cream, oranges, a variety of non-alcoholic beverages, and toilet articles such as soap, razor blades, and toothpaste. By July 11 the store employed 38 inmates, including store manager Jim Uyemura. The post office was in the same building as the center store and employed 14 inmates.

Visitors were received in a fenced-off area at the far west side of the camp. Visiting times were daily between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. A permit had to be requested in advance by the inmates who wished to receive visitors. As many visitors arrived from quite a distance not knowing of the procedure, camp authorities introduced so-called "Pink Passes" that could be requested at the visitors gate. An average of 460 passes was issued each week.[28] Despite the tedious procedure, Pomona's visiting system was one of the more efficient ones in the "assembly center" history.

Work and Employment

Most Caucasian employees were "borrowed" from WPA projects. However, the WCCA attempted to have most of the operations run by the inmates themselves, with the dual goals of saving money and keeping the inmates occupied. As at other camps, the wage scale was $8 per month for unskilled workers, $12 for skilled workers, and $16 for professionals.[29] By May 27 there were about 600 Japanese Americans employed; the Works and Maintenance Division alone employed 222 Japanese Americans and 15 Caucasians.[30] A week later, at a population of 5,349, 1,605 Japanese Americans had signed work orders, with only 39 Caucasians on the WCCA payroll. The actual timekeeper's report of June 9 showed a total of 1,334 Japanese-Americans employed (over 25 percent of the total population): 836 unskilled, 354 skilled, and 117 professional.

Although employing inmates was by and large a successful strategy it should be noted that by June 2, 56 workers had been dismissed or quit their jobs. Mess hall work was probably the most unpopular, and on July 9 the mess hall supervisor reported a shortage of workers in the mess halls.[31] Appealing to the competitive spirit and to improve sanitary conditions in mess halls, inmates and administration initiated a competition for the best mess hall, rating sanitary conditions and food quality. This was a strategy taken up in almost all temporary WCCA camps. In Pomona, each week a victor was determined who got a blue pennant.[32]

The policy of inmates in subordinate managerial positions had been practices almost from the start in Pomona. Sometimes the Caucasians remained supervisors only in name; George S. Ishiyama became head of the "information center" while D. Hanaoka took over the hospital management. In most fields inmates formed the backbone of center operations.[33]Still, the wage disparities remained. The Caucasian police chief received a monthly salary of $300 (his officers receiving $175), while the inmate watchmen received $8.[34]

Moving on and Legacy

At the beginning of August came official word that most of the residents would be heading for the Heart Mountain "Relocation Center" in Wyoming. On August 9, the first group of 292 people left Pomona for the WRA camp in Wyoming. Starting August 15, about 500 persons left every day, with the last group leaving on August 24.[35] Later in the war the site was used to house U.S. troops, then German and Italian prisoners of war.[36]

Today the area is a parking lot of the Fairplex where dragsters race and fair-goers park their SUVs. The grandstand and other fair buildings on the 1942 aerial photograph remain. Eight stable buildings are in the same location as on the aerial photograph. However, since they are constructed of metal and somewhat modern looking, these may not be the same stables in use at the time of the assembly center. No plaque or other signage marks the former incarceration site.[37]

Authored by Konrad Linke

For More Information

Blackstock, Joe. "5,434 Japanese Americans, Nationals Found a Temporary Home Behind Barbed Wire at Pomona Fairgrounds." Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, May 5, 2012.

Burton, Jeffery F., Mary M. Farrell, Florence B. Lord, and Richard W. Lord. Confinement and Ethnicity: An Overview of World War II Japanese American Relocation Sites. Western Archeological and Conservation Center, National Park Service, 1999, 2000. Foreword by Tetsuden Kashima. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2002. The Pinedale section of 2000 version accessible online at http://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/anthropology74/ce16f.htm.

Feeley, Francis. A Strategy of Dominance: The History of an American Concentration Camp, Pomona, California. New York: Brandywine Press, 1995.

Grant, Kimi Cunningham. Silver Like Dust: One Family’s Story of America’s Japanese Internment. New York: Pegasus Books, 2011.

U.S. Army. Final Report: Japanese Evacuation from the West Coast, 1942. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Gov't Printing Office 1943.

Footnotes

  1. Depending on the definition of "assembly center" there were fifteen, sixteen or even seventeen WCCA camps. See "assembly centers."
  2. WCCA, undated fact sheet of the Pomona Assembly Center, National Archives II, RG 499, WDC, Unclassified Correspondence, Box 57.
  3. WCCA, undated fact sheet of the Pomona Assembly Center.
  4. Francis Feeley, A Strategy of Dominance: The History of an American Concentration Camp, Pomona, California (New York: Brandywine Press, 1995), 37, 77-78; Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, Personal Justice Denied: Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1982), 137; U.S. Army, Final Report: Japanese Evacuation from the West Coast, 1942 (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1943), 186.
  5. Oral History Interview with Margaret Saito, segment 8, Densho ID: denshovh-smargaret_2-01-0008; Pomona Center News, July 3, 1942.
  6. WCCA, undated fact sheet of the Pomona Assembly Center. According to Feeley there were 58 "bath houses" each having seven shower heads, a foot bath, a long wash basin with six pairs of hot/cold taps, and eight flush valve toilets. The shower-inmate ratio at Pomona was 1:14. See Feeley, A Strategy of Dominance, 79.
  7. Pomona Center News, July 14, 1942
  8. Feeley, A Strategy of Dominance, 37.
  9. Feeley, A Strategy of Dominance, 48-49; U.S. Army, Final Report, 187.
  10. Feeley, A Strategy of Dominance, 24, 46-47.
  11. Feeley, A Strategy of Dominance, 42, 45-46.
  12. Feeley, A Strategy of Dominance, 43.
  13. Four physicians, three dentists, three nurses, 59 dieticians, aids etc., three administrative assistants and nine other employees. U.S. Army, Final Report, 201.
  14. Feeley, A Strategy of Dominance, 44-45.
  15. U.S. Army, Final Report, 199-200.
  16. U.S. Army, Final Report, 202.
  17. Feeley, A Strategy of Dominance, 19, 29, 65; Pomona Center News, July 7, 1942.
  18. Pomona Center News, June 26 and June 30, 1942.
  19. Feeley, A Strategy of Dominance, 23, 29-30.
  20. Feeley, A Strategy of Dominance, 68-69; U.S. Army, Final Report, 220-221.
  21. Pomona Center News, July 14, 1942; Feeley, A Strategy of Dominance, 70-71; U.S. Army, Final Report, 213-214.
  22. Feeley, A Strategy of Dominance, 50-52.
  23. Pomona Center News, July 10, 1942.
  24. Pomona Center News, May 29, June 16, June 30, and August 5, 1942.
  25. Feeley, A Strategy of Dominance, 58-59, 69; Pomona Center News, July 7, 1942.
  26. Feeley, A Strategy of Dominance, 54-55; Pomona Center News, June 26, June 30, 1942.
  27. Feeley, A Strategy of Dominance, 65; U.S. Army, Final Report, 212.
  28. Feeley, A Strategy of Dominance, 66-67.
  29. U.S. Army, Final Report, 205, 224.
  30. Progress Bulletin, May 27, 1942, 1.
  31. Pomona Center News, July 10, July 14, 1942; Feeley, A Strategy of Dominance, 34.
  32. Pomona Center News, July 10, 1942.
  33. Feeley, A Strategy of Dominance, 27-29.
  34. Feeley, A Strategy of Dominance, 29.
  35. U.S. Army, Final Report, 282-283.
  36. According to the army's Final Report, p. 184, "Ordnance Motor Transport" was the new agency using the camp.
  37. Jeffery F. Burton, et al., Confinement and Ethnicity: An Overview of World War II Japanese American Relocation Sites (Western Archeological and Conservation Center, National Park Service, 1999, 2000), Chapter 16, accessed online on August 22, 2013 at http://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/anthropology74/ce16k.htm.