Join us in celebrating Densho's 25th anniversary by attending our free virtual gala on October 23rd and by considering a tribute gift. Learn more at www.densho.org/25gala

Hotel Whitcomb

Starting in March 1942, the Hotel Whitcomb served as the headquarters for the Wartime Civil Control Administration (WCCA) and later the War Relocation Authority (WRA). A San Francisco luxury hotel, the Whitcomb was built in 1910 following the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. It briefly served as San Francisco City hall and jail in 1916, and was officially opened as a hotel in 1917. Between March and September 1942, the Hotel Whitcomb was an administrative hub for coordinating military and civilian agencies. Whereas the Presidio housed personnel who directed orders for the initial setup of the WCCA, those at the Hotel Whitcomb oversaw the majority of decisions related to camp policies at the " assembly centers " and larger WRA camps that remained in place for the duration of the war. Following the transfer of administrative control of the incarcerated to the WRA, the Hotel Whitcomb housed the WCCA until its dissolution in March 1943 and the West Coast offices of the WRA until 1945.

Immediately following the establishment of the Wartime Civilian Control Administration on March 11, 1942, the Western Defense Command established the offices of the WCCA on the third floor of the Hotel Whitcomb at the request of Colonel Fulton Magill. [1] As Chief of Civil Affairs, Colonel Karl Bendetsen 's office was set in Suite Room #447. While at the Hotel Whitcomb, WCCA officials like Colonel Bendetsen were given carte blanche on spending for the offices for supplies. Over the course of the WCCA's existence, the Whitcomb hosted meetings between WCCA officials, government agencies impacted by the incarceration such as the Farm Security Administration, and private interest groups such as West Coast agricultural unions. The office of Tom Clark , civilian coordinator of the Alien Enemy Control Program, were located among the WCCA offices at the Hotel Whitcomb. [2] Because of its strategic importance, the Hotel Whitcomb banned all Japanese Americans from entering the hotel for the duration of the war, directing individuals to visit a separate office in the Financial Center building. [3]

Shortly thereafter, the offices of the WRA and its director, Milton Eisenhower , were established on the third floor adjacent to the WCCA offices. While Eisenhower relocated the WRA headquarters to Washington, D.C. in May 1942, the West Coast office of the WRA remained in the Whitcomb for the duration of the war. [4]

The choice of the Hotel Whitcomb is revealing of the corporatist logic of the WCCA towards the incarceration. As a luxury hotel, the Hotel Whitcomb presents a stark contrast with the housing of the confined in hastily-built barracks and horse stalls. While the army chose to cut corners with the construction of the assembly centers and search for "cost-effective" means of supporting the incarcerated, officials like Colonel Bendetsen were given full discretion on personal spending at the hotel. At the same time, the commandeering of the Hotel Whitcomb was indicative of other government projects related to the incarceration. For example, the FBI occupied the Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulpher Springs, West Virginia, for the internment of Japanese diplomats. Likewise, two hotels in North Carolina, the Grove Park Inn in Asheville and the Assembly Inn in Montreat, were used by the Department of Justice for housing Japanese American families sent from Hawai'i to internment camps such Crystal City , Texas.

Today, the Hotel Whitcomb continues to operate as a luxury hotel that markets the Victorian era of San Francisco. As of present, no historical markers exist noting the presence of the WRA or WCCA offices during the war.

Authored by Jonathan van Harmelen , UC Santa Cruz

For More Information

Bridegam, Martha. " What Was Going On at the Hotel Whitcomb. " Unquiet Titles blog, July 13, 2015.

Footnotes

  1. John L. Dewitt, Final Report: Japanese Evacuation from the West Coast, 1942 (Washington D.C.: U.S. Army, Western Defense Command), 41.
  2. "JACL Committee, Army Discuss Evacuation Plan," Nichibei Shimbun , Mar. 13, 1942.
  3. "Notice to Enemy Aliens, Japanese From the WCCA," Nichibei Shinbun , Mar. 28, 1942.
  4. Dewitt, Final Report , 51.

Last updated Nov. 3, 2020, 4:44 p.m..