Grove Park Inn, North Carolina (detention facility)
|US Gov Name|
|Administrative Agency||State Department Special Division|
|Location||Asheville, North Carolina ( lat, lng)|
|Date Opened||April 3, 1942|
|Date Closed||October 29, 1942|
|Population Description||Held diplomats and other Italian, Japanese, and German nationals who were to be exchanged for Americans held by the Axis, as well as a number of Nikkei families from Hawai'i who intended to go to Japan|
|General Description||Luxury hotel leased by the federal government for use as a detention site|
|Exit Destination||Assembly Inn, Montreat, NC|
The Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina, was used as a detention site for diplomats and consular staff from Axis countries and their families in 1942, as well as Japanese Americans from Hawai'i and German nationals from Latin America, in 1942–43. It was one of many luxury resorts used to provide superior accommodations for those of diplomatic status.
History of the Site
E.W. Grove, a pharmaceutical business owner, owned a large subdivision in Asheville and decided to build an inn, since residential development was moving elsewhere. His son-in-law, Fred Loring Seely, assisted him in designing and building a structure to suit his vision of rustic splendor and managed the inn for its first several years. The inn was built with stone quarried from Grove's own lands. The Grove Park Inn officially opened in 1913. A 1914 advertisement boasted of the pure mountain water piped in, the milk and cream from the nearby Biltmore estate's dairy, the golf course, four hundred Aubusson rugs, and handcrafted furniture and fixtures. Rates were a jaw-dropping $5 per day at that time.
The inn became known for its famous visitors, including Calvin Coolidge, William Jennings Bryan, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Franklin Delano and Eleanor Roosevelt . It struggled financially during the Depression and was in the process of remodeling and gaining clientele when war broke out. The government leased it to house Axis nationals and Japanese Americans during 1942.
Several groups of Axis diplomats and consular employees were detained at the Grove Park Inn during 1942, under the control of the State Department's Special Division. The agreement between the hotel and the government set a rate of $8/day for adult detainees and $5/day for children and State Department employees, paid from the frozen funds of Axis countries.
On April 3, the first group of diplomats, their families, and domestic employees arrived via train and bus from the Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia: 176 Italians, 52 Hungarians, and 9 Bulgarians, including the Italian ambassador Prince Ascanio Colonna and Bulgarian ambassador Dimitri Naoumoff. The group included about fifty children and also about twenty-five pet dogs. They were escorted by a Swiss representative. They were described as heavily guarded around the clock by State Department officials and locals hired by the INS. Their mail was censored and no visitors were permitted, including media, but they were permitted one newspaper a day. They were not permitted wine or liquor, due to Asheville's dry laws, but otherwise were quoted as being pleased with the hotel, which was operated as for normal guests.  One account describes the detainees as taking full advantage of the usual menu and all the recreational amenities of the hotel, albeit under guard.
There seems to have been considerable local grumbling about expensive pampering of the enemy, which was met with strenuous efforts by government officials to explain the security measures and the financial arrangements for the diplomats' care, as well as the need to give them good accommodations to ensure the same for U.S. diplomats overseas. This flurry of explanations, as well as the frequent departures and new arrivals, seem to have assuaged discontent.
On May 6, 1942, 221 of the detainees were sent by train to New Jersey to be exchanged aboard the Drottningholm , a Swedish-controlled liner, escorted by two Swiss and Swedish observers, State Department officials, border guards, and FBI agents, along with their immense quantity of luggage. They were joined on the liner by German and Italian nationals and taken to Lisbon for civilian exchange. Seventeen remained at the inn.
On May 15, 1942, a new group of 63 Japanese and 155 German nationals, including eighty children, most under five years old, arrived by train for detention to join the remaining seventeen. They had come from South America and stayed in New Orleans and Cincinnati en route. Another 58 German, Japanese, and Italian nationals who had been living in Mexico arrived on May 30 to join them.
In early June, the Japanese nationals were sent to New York for the first U.S.-Japan exchange on the Swedish liner MS Gripsholm . The Germans were sent to White Sulphur Springs. Twenty-three nationals who had applied to remain in the United States were released to their homes or relatives' homes: Czechoslovakians, Germans, one Italian, and one Norwegian woman who had been a nanny for a German family. The remaining diplomats were rushed out to other centers temporarily (destination unknown) to accommodate the conference of governors and several important federal officials running various departments of the war effort on June 21-24.
In July, another 100 German nationals and 5 Japanese nationals from Mexico arrived. One hundred thirty Germans left almost immediately. Around this time, a visiting Swiss official told a local newspaper that "it would tear your heart-strings to hear some of the pathetic stories told. Families are torn apart, and while they live in the lap of luxury... still it is prison to the people who are detained there." 
There do not seem to be the same accounts of racial conflicts among the detainees as happened at some of the other consular detention sites; it is possible that the arrangements of the inn permitted more separation, and notably the State Department avoided having large numbers of Germans and Italians there simultaneously.
Japanese American Family Incarceration
More detainees arrived at the end of August 1942, joining the remaining 5 Japanese and 150 Germans. This group consisted of 40 different families from Hawai'i, and included 37 women and 96 children, including at least one set of minor children whose parents had both been arrested, and the rest of whom had husbands/fathers who had been arrested after Pearl Harbor and, facing indefinite imprisonment without trial, taken the option to be "repatriated" to Japan. This group left Hawai'i on the SS Republic on August 18, 1942, and arrived in San Francisco on August 26, having to remain below decks the entire time. They were then taken by train straight to Asheville. They were accompanied by the married couple of U.S.-born Dr. Ernest Murai and Hazel Murai, who returned to Hawai'i immediately afterwards; Murai was a dentist and a co-founder of the Emergency Service Committee , which sought to mobilize the Japanese American community in Hawai'i to support the war effort and demonstrate their Americanness and loyalty. Four Red Cross volunteers and two registered nurses also accompanied the group from San Francisco to North Carolina.
A photograph taken of the group posed on the back steps of the hotel at some point after their arrival and preserved by Tomo Izumi, shows mostly solemn faces, with just a few teenagers smiling for the camera. Young children line the first two or three steps, wearing best dresses and sailor suits; near the back, a stoic woman in a dark dress, perhaps a traditional Japanese dress, holds a baby.
The arrested family members, usually the adult men with positions of some responsibility in the Japanese American community, went through incarceration at different island camps in Hawai'i, then usually funneled through Sand Island and various Department of Justice or army-run camps in California, Wisconsin, Louisiana, and other sites. Of available accounts, Jane Asami's father, an editor at the bilingual Nippu Jiji , and Tomo Izumi and Ella Tomita's fathers, both Buddhist priests on Hawai'i island, had been arrested the night of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Real estate in Hawaii was confiscated. Adults were permitted to take only $200 cash each, or perhaps $250 (accounts conflict); Jane Asami recalled that this was entirely insufficient to purchase warm clothing for the cold mountain winters as well as other necessities, a common problem for Japanese Americans incarcerated in harsh climates with small amounts of luggage and funds. Compounding this difficulty, the detainees felt obligated to tip the wait staff, constantly depleting their funds with no hope of replenishment. (The State Department was paying a flat tip fee to the staff, but there also seem to have been arrangements for the diplomats to pay a flat fee as well, which the group from Hawai'i may have felt compelled to continue.) The Asamis were aided by relatives in Hawai'i who sent them money, but not all families had these resources.
Conditions at the Grove Park Inn were generally described as luxurious. An article announcing the imminent arrival of the first consular detainees extolled the grandiose lobby with its fireplace that burned twelve-foot logs, game room, cocktail lounge, and a set of encyclopedias in the lobby. African American wait staff stayed in employment, serving meals to the detainees in the dining room. Izumi vividly recalled their formal uniforms, complete with bow ties, and their large round trays held aloft. Maids cleaned the rooms, and detainees could leave laundry out for service, though Izumi recalls that her older sister had to wash their baby sibling's diapers.
Amid this luxury, however, Izumi recalled a hostile encounter with a clerk who "beckoned to [her] one day and shouted loudly she did not know why Japs have to be in their hotel for this was the hotel that the President of the United States stayed in when he came to Asheville." This was an extraordinary demonstration of hostility to a child about nine years old; the clerk may have considered that her words would be more easily understood and retold by one of the U.S.-born children who spoke fluent English, while many of their parents did not.
The beautiful grounds and foliage were new sights for those from Hawai'i, as well as the different flowers and wildlife. Izumi recalled being afraid to wade in the stream due to their fear of snakes, since those from Hawai'i were unfamiliar with snakes. The detainees enjoyed the grounds but were not permitted to leave, with the possible exception of emergency medical care.
After being held at the Grove Park Inn for two months, they were bussed to the far more economical quarters at Montreat at the end of October, escorted by the guards of multiple bureaus.
The inn was leased by the navy for recreational and recuperation facilities for officers starting in November 1942. It was renovated and reopened to visitors on June 1, 1943, in time for the summer tourist season. The inn passed to new ownership in October 1943. From April to June 1944, President Manuel Quezon of the Philippines set up his government in exile at the Grove Park Inn, perhaps due to Quezon's lung problems (the Asheville area had long been popular with tubercular sufferers). After his departure, the inn became a redistribution center for soldiers returning from combat, to provide an administrative site for, essentially, exit physical examinations, paperwork, and reassignment. Though the government was responsible for refurbishment after the redistribution center closed, the inn struggled financially in the postwar years until its new ownership and renovation in 1955. As of 2021, the Inn continues to be a famous luxury resort.
For More Information
Bosworth, Allan R. America's Concentration Camps . New York: Norton, 1967.
Allen, Gwenfread. "Interview with Jane Michiko Asami." June 28, 1948. In the Japanese Internment and Relocation Files: The Hawai'i Experience, 1942-1982. Hamilton Library, University of Hawaii at Manoa.
Anderson, Robert Campbell. The Story of Montreat From Its Beginning: 1897-1947 . Montreat, N.C., 1949.
Brandenburg, Benjamin. "The World at Our Gate: Wartime Sanctuary and Foreign Detention at Montreat College." In Denominational Education During World War II , ed. John Laukaitis. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018. 335-56.
Corbett, P. Scott. Quiet Passages: The Exchange of Civilians Between the United States and Japan During the Second World War . Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1987.
Dunn, Landon Alfriend and Timothy J. Ryan. Axis Diplomats in American Custody: The Housing of Enemy Representatives and Their Exchange for American Counterparts, 1941-45 . Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2016.
Ella Tomita Interview. In " Japanese American Internment Unit " for Modern History of Hawaii. Honolulu: Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i, 2008. 55-58.
Gordon, Hildegard Maria Mantel. " The Mantel Family Story ," October 2012. German American Internee Coalition.
Izumi, Tomo. The Crystal City Story: One Family's Experience with the World War II Japanese Internment Camps . CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016.
Johnson, Bruce E. Built for the Ages: A History of the Grove Park Inn . [Asheville, N.C.]: The Grove Park Inn, 1991.
Miller, David. Mercy Ships . New York: Continuum, 2008.
Solomon, Harvey. Such Splendid Prisons: Diplomatic Detainment in America during World War II . Lincoln, Neb.: Potomac Books, 2020.
Other historical details are drawn from local newspapers, chiefly the Asheville Citizen-Times , Charlotte Observer , Statesville Daily Record , and Burlington Daily Times-News .
- Prince Colonna's requests for special treatment and complaints about conditions seem to have taxed the State Department agents and Swiss representatives considerably. See Harvey Solomon, Such Splendid Prisons: Diplomatic Detainment in America during World War II (Lincoln, Neb.: Potomac Books, 2020), for example 133, 145-46, 187-88, 204.
- Catherine L. Mallory, "On the Party Line," Statesville Daily Record , July 28, 1942, p. 2.
Last updated July 2, 2021, 8:57 p.m..