Chicago, South Ellis Avenue (detention facility)

US Gov Name Chicago Detention Station
Facility Type Immigration Detention Station
Administrative Agency Immigration and Naturalization Service
Location Chicago, Illinois ( lat, lng)
Date Opened
Date Closed
Population Description Held Japanese immigrants; also held German and other European nationals.
General Description Private residence used by INS as detention site
Peak Population

The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) used a privately owned mansion in Chicago to intern several Japanese and German immigrants after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The INS used this home as a detention facility on and off until at least August 1943.

Background and Facilities

The mansion was located at 4800 South Ellis Avenue in the Kenwood neighborhood of Chicago. It was designed by architect Charles S Frost and built in 1892 for Edward C Potter who was a steel company executive in Chicago. It was a three-storied yellow brick mansion with turrets. Kenwood was an upscale area with mansions that had been built for Chicago industrialists such as meatpacker Gustavus Swift, and Sears, Roebuck and Co owner Julius Rosenwald, but the status of the neighborhood was declining by the 1940s. It is not clear why the INS used this private home as a detention facility.

According to Eberhard E Fuhr, a former detainee, "[t]here was a guard house next to the front door. All the guards were armed and would run off people who approached the fence." [1] He recalled that"[g]uards with sidearm and rifles sat at the front door and walked the fence line—four guards per shift, three shifts per day. They did not talk much. Their job was to give you three meals a day and keep you. If it wasn't in the manual they did not do it." [2]

The mansion had a capacity of 158 detainees. [3] Fuhr remembered that "the mansion had a large assembly room about 30' x 30' on the main floor and seven bedrooms on the second floor, each of which had tiled bathroom and four Army cots. The top floor had been a steep-roofed ballroom and was used as a recreation room with ping pong tables when the number of detainees did not exceed about twenty five." [4]

Within four days after the Pearl Harbor attack, nine Japanese and thirty-one German nationals were arrested in Chicago. First they were taken to the New Post Office building which housed the immigration and naturalization services, where they were questioned and identified by authorities. Later they were taken to Fort Sheridan in army trucks to await removal to detention camps. [5] FBI arrests of Japanese continued in Chicago throughout 1943.


From the fact that Charles Yasuma Yamazaki, one of last Japanese arrested on December 3, 1943, was given a Chicago Arrest Serial No. J-14, it can be presumed that about fourteen Japanese in total were arrested by FBI in the Chicago area after the outbreak of the war in 1941. [6] " Out of these fourteen, at least five—including one arrested in Cincinnati—were held for a time at the Ellis Avenue mansion. Each arrived between December 1941 and February 1943.

Shoji Osato, a photographer, journalist, and publicity and advertising agent for the Japanese tourism board and for the government railways was apprehended in Chicago on December 8, 1941. He was transferred to Fort Sheridan the next day, then transferred to the Ellis Avenue mansion on December 26, 1941. His hearing was on January 3, 1942, and he was paroled on June 3, 1942, after he had found sponsors. [7]

His daughter, Sono Osato, the famous ballet dancer, described her visit with her father at the mansion in her memoir Distant Dances as follows:

He was detained, along with some Germans, in a large house that had formerly been a mansion on the South Side of the city, miles from our apartment. Mother and I could visit him but we were never allowed to speak with him privately. An armed guard sat with us at a card table in a bleak, empty room, adding a painful strain to our conversation with his silence. Even the magazines we brought Father were thoroughly examined to determine whether they concealed any weapons. [8]

Hiroshi Yamada was detained at the mansion from January 19 to May 22, 1942. He was the director of the Foreign Trade Bureau, which was a subsidiary of Japanese government located in the Japanese Consulate. After he was moved from the mansion in May, Yamada was sent to Camp McCoy in Wisconsin, Camp Forrest in Tennessee and Ellis Island in New York to board the first exchange ship back to Japan, the M.S. Gripsholm , in June 1942. [9]

In the report compiled as of July 14, 1942, about six weeks after Osato left, two Japanese, twelve Germans and one "not specified" detainee were reported at the mansion. [10] One of those two Japanese must have been Harvey Mitaro Kayano, a restaurant owner in Chicago. Kayano appeared in a list of alien Japanese furnished by the FBI on December 8, 1941 but had been released to Thomas Tsutomu Yamauchi, another restaurant owner, as his sponsor. Two months later, Kayano was apprehended because his sponsor, Yamauchi, reported that Kayano was at risk of disappearing for several days and his whereabouts would be unknown.

According to the records, on February 17, 1942, Kayano was first held in Room 1202 at the Post Office Building for interrogation and was arrested on February 18, 1942, by the FBI because he had mental problems. He was considered "dangerous, that not only because he was a Japanese alien, but because of his mental condition he could be used as a tool for persons who desired to become engaged in subversive activities." After the hearing on February 20, 1942, he was placed in custody at the mansion. Learning that he would be interned for the duration of the war, he wrote a letter from the mansion on June 11, 1942 to the US District Attorney in Chicago begging for his release, explaining that "I would be able to find employment at once and would under no circumstances become a public burden and be able to do my small part to further the war effort of the United States". But these efforts were in vain, as Kayano was sent to Camp Livingston in Louisiana, via Camp McCoy in Wisconsin, around November 25, 1942. [11]

Frank Eizo Yanagi was another Japanese who was arrested right after the Pearl Harbor attack, on December 11, 1941. Though he was released after his hearing on January 4, 1942, he was arrested again on October 28, 1942, as part of a roundup of African American radical groups in September 1942, along with eighty-five African Americans. Yanagi was suspected of having a connection with one of the radical groups, and was turned over to Immigration and Naturalization authorities the Ellis Avenue mansion on the same day. He was moved from the mansion on November 28, 1942 to be interned at Camp McCoy in Wisconsin. [12]

In spring 1943, Eberhard E Fuhr, a seventeen-year-old German man, was sent to the mansion from Cincinnati and held there for approximately three months. He described his experience in the mansion as follows:

Twenty-five or thirty men were already there, most from Chicago, a Romanian priest, a Hungarian priest, an Austrian, three Italians. The rest were Krauts like me."


The treatment was humane-very nice, very orderly. The food left a lot to be desired. The detainees, most of them in their 30s or 40s, were up early and had the bathroom cleaned and their beds made by nine in the morning. Chores-kitchen duty and scrubbing the floors were rotated, but there was little to do, besides read books or newspapers. At night the shades were pulled and the men were told to stay away from the windows because someone had once fired shots at the house. [13]

Once when Fuhr was permitted to be outside to work in a small garden, he found the guards' stockpile of guns and ammunition in a two-storied coach house in the backyard. [14] Fuhr noted that his fellow detainees stayed for various lengths of time: some had arrived when he did and were still there when he left, while others disappeared quickly. [15]

Although Fuhr did not mention Japanese detainees in the mansion, Asataro Yamaguchi was one of them: he had arrived before Fuhr and had to stay after Fuhr was permitted to leave. Yamaguchi was arrested in Cincinnati on December 3, 1942, because he mentioned racial ties between Japanese and African Americans. He was sent to the mansion on February 23, 1943, and was detained there until he was transferred to Kooskia Camp in Idaho on August 6 1943. [16]

After the war, the mansion was completely restored. Today it is a privately owned single-family home.

Authored by Takako Day , Independent researcher, Illinois

For More Information

Day, Takako. " Suspicious Points of Contact in Pre-War Chicago: Eizo Yanagi. " Discover Nikkei, Mar. 27–28, 2019.


  1. "4800 Ellis Avenue, Chicago, Illinois," German American Internee Coalition (GAIC), accessed on Feb. 10, 2021 at facilities/4800-ellis-avenue-chicago-illinois/.
  2. Kraus, Kitry, "Dangerous Enemy Alien," Chicago Reader , Sept. 3, 1993.
  3. Tetsuden Kashima, Judgment without Trial: Japanese American Imprisonment during World War II (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2003), 252.
  4. "4800 Ellis Avenue," GAIC.
  5. Chicago Tribune , Dec. 10 & 11, 1941.
  6. FBI report 12/6/1943, Charles Yasuma Yamazaki, File No. 146-13-2-23-531, RG 60, Box 266, NARA, College Park, Maryland.
  7. Chicago Tribune , Oct. 11, 1938; Shoji Osato, INS card, File No. 146-13-2-23-78, General Records of the Department of Justice WWII Alien Enemy Internment Case Files 1941-1951, RG 60, Box 255, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), College Park, Maryland.
  8. Sono Osato, Distant Dances (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1980), 199.
  9. Diplomatic Archives of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, A-7-0-0-9-24-1 Nichibei Kokan-sen Kankei.
  10. Kashima, Judgment without Trial , 252.
  11. Harvey Mitaro Kayano, File No. 146-13-2-23-159, RG 60, Box 257, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), College Park, Maryland.
  12. Eizo Yanagi, File No. 146-13-2-23-107, RG 60, Box 255, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), College Park, Maryland.
  13. Kraus, "Dangerous Enemy Alien."
  14. "4800 Ellis Avenue," GAIC.
  15. Kraus, "Dangerous Enemy Alien."
  16. Asataro Yamaguchi, File No. 146-13-2-58-176, RG 60, Box 541, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), College Park, Maryland.

Last updated Dec. 14, 2023, 5:28 p.m..