Portland (detention facility)

This page is an update of the original Densho Encyclopedia article authored by Henry Shig Sakamoto. See the shorter legacy version here .

US Gov Name Portland Assembly Center, Oregon
Facility Type Temporary Assembly Center
Administrative Agency Wartime Civil Control Administration
Location Portland, Oregon (45.5167 lat, -122.6667 lng)
Date Opened May 2, 1942
Date Closed September 10, 1942
Population Description Held people from northeast Oregon and central Washington.
General Description Located at the eleven-acre Pacific International Livestock Exposition Pavilion in Portland, Oregon.
Peak Population 3,676 (1942-06-06)
Exit Destination Heart Mountain, Minidoka, and Tule Lake
National Park Service Info

The Portland Assembly Center was located on the site of the Pacific International Livestock Exposition Pavilion in North Portland, essentially a series of interconnected buildings under one roof that had been used to house and showcase livestock prior to the war. Inmates there faced extreme heat, fly infestations, foul odors, and extreme crowding even by " assembly center " standards. The nearly 3,700 inmates mostly came from the Portland area and from much of the rest of Oregon with the exception of Hood River and from the Yakima Valley in Washington, a mixture of urban and rural populations. Open for a little over four months, it had one of the more active inmate organizations, ranging from an advisory council that met regularly with camp managers and relatively extensive recreation and education programs. A good number of Portland inmates left the camp for a time to work the eastern Oregon sugar beet fields, presaging the many who would do so from WRA camps in the fall. At the end, Washingtonians were mostly sent to Heart Mountain , while Oregonians went to Minidoka ; many inmates who had grown close to other inmates in the camp protested this arrangement, asking in vain to be sent to the same camp.

Site History/Layout/Facilities

The federal government leased the 43-acre property from the Pacific International Association and Pacific International Livestock Exposition, Inc. for $27,000 a year. Built in the 1920s, the complex had served as a livestock exhibition center and rodeo venue in the '20s and '30s. The residential area of the camp was in a series of buildings covering 460,000 square feet (about eleven acres). This indoor space included a concourse building that also housed the Henry Thiele Restaurant, two other halls, an arena and show ring, and various animal pavilions, including dairy, beef, swine, horse, sheep, and an area used for dog shows. The stalls and pens for the animals were removed, and the U.S. Army Engineers built small family quarters out of plywood to house Japanese American families. As in other assembly centers, the walls went only about eight feet high, leaving a large open area above—the roof of the pavilion was twenty to thirty feet high—that allowed sounds and smells to carry freely between units. The entire complex was surrounded by barbed wire fences with machine gun nest equipped sentry towers at the corners. The facility was also right across from Jantzen Beach, and former inmates recalled being able to hear the sounds of the amusement park located there. [1]

There were eight residential sections that held varying numbers of "apartments:

Section 1: 86
Section 2: 121
Section 3: 107
Section 4: 150
Section 5: 125
Section 7: 80
Section 8: a men's dorm with 261 beds [2]

The sections were arranged around the central arena, which was used for recreation, assemblies, and education. The reception hall in front included the single large mess hall and was used for larger assemblies, including movie screenings. It also contained the canteen, library, and post office. Vacant land outside the pavilion was used for recreational activities, and the camp hospital and laundry facilities were also located in separate buildings outside the pavilion. Water for the camp was purchased from the Swift and Company packing plant. [3]

Former inmates, inspectors and camp administrators repeatedly noted several unsavory aspects of conditions at the Portland Assembly Center.

• Given that the inmates lived in a large building with limited ventilation during the summer, heat was a major issue. U.S. Public Health Service inspectors visited the camp on July 2 and noted a temperature of 107°. The July heat caused officials to suspend high school and grade school classes for a time, to close the barber shop, and to postpone the first planned Nisei Forum. The administration even extended the curfew from 10 pm to 11:30 pm to allow inmates more time outside the building to escape the heat. [4]

• The stench of the center's former occupants was also noted by many. "The odor was so bad!" remembered Masaji Kusachi. "One-foot-by six-foot planks had been laid over the stable floor, but there were plenty of smells left and lots of flies. After all, this was where the horses had lived!" Henry Sakamoto recalled that "... to create livable areas for human beings, they bordered up that area where the animals used to be housed which... would contain the droppings of all these animals for over all those years." Despite covering up the area with boards, "that didn't eliminate the stench and the smell of leavings, droppings from the animals, so that was a pretty horrible experience." [5]

• In his weekly narrative report of July 21, center manager Nicholas L. Bican noted that the "marked increase in the number of house flies during the last week has caused us some concern. The vastness of the building makes this a particularly difficult situation to control." Former inmate Massie Hinatsu remembered that fly stickers were hung "all over the place" and that "they would just be black with flies." "It was hot and stuffy, and obviously if you have a livestock pavilion, you're going to attract flies," recalled Minoru Yasui . "And the flies were just horrendous." [6]

• As of July, there were forty or fifty units with leaky roofs that had not been repaired. [7]

The cramped living conditions at the camp mirrored those at other "assembly centers," with the lack of privacy, noise, stench, and other issues frequently noted. The privacy issue was particularly acute here, given that the individual family units were essentially cubicles with large open spaces at the top and that had only canvas curtains for doors. Each unit came equipped with a cot and mattress for each occupant. About 2/3 of the mattresses were of the cotton variety, but the rest received ticking that had to be filled with straw, with the earlier arrivals from Oregon mostly getting the "good" mattresses and later arrivals from Washington mostly getting the "bad" ones. [8]

A single mess hall served the entire camp, with each meal being served in two shifts. To facilitate serving so many people quickly, administrators abandoned the cafeteria style system employed by other camps in favor of a system that had servers bring big dishes of food to each picnic style table, after which the inmates would be allowed in. After around forty-five minutes, the first shift would leave, and the servers would clear and clean the tables and bring out the food for the second shift. Army inspectors visiting the camp in July called the food "of excellent quality," though many inmates would disagree. For instance, Henry Sakamoto recalled that food as being "pretty lousy" with "a lot of strange stuff that never had tasted before." The army inspectors also noted that the dishes were of poor quality, dishwashing "is not very satisfactory" and that the "kitchens are not up to Army standards in cleanliness." [9]

The latrines were a case of good news/bad news. On the good side, there were flush toilets, something few of the other "assembly centers" had. On the bad side, the toilets and showers were unpartitioned, which was common to other assembly centers. There were also not enough toilets. Early narrative reports from first director Emil Sandquist cited "a dire" and then "an urgent" need for more toilets; eventually forty-eight additional toilets were added by the end of May. [10]

Camp Population

The bulk of the population of the Portland Assembly Center came from Portland and other parts of Oregon, with the remainder coming from central Washington, making it one of the more geographically homogeneous camps. The first group of the inmates arrived on May 2, with about half of the camp's population coming from Oregon in the next three days. After a break of a few days, another large group from Oregon arrived on May 11 and 12. The last third of the population, the group from central Washington (most from the Yakima Valley, including Wapato, Wenatchee, and Kennewick), didn't arrive until June 5 and 6, over a month after the earliest Oregonians had arrived. The central Washington group were among those who were supposed to have gone to the Toppenish camp , but who were rerouted to Portland when the Toppenish project was canceled. The peak population of the camp was 3,676 on June 6. The camp was occupied from May 2 to September 10, a total of 132 days. There were twenty-three births and four deaths at the camp. [11]

Population by Exclusion Order
Exclusion Order # Deadline Location Number
25 May 5 Portland 689
26 May 5 Portland 642
46 May 12 Oregon southeast of Portland; Gresham 831
74 May 20 Oregon/Washington border area west of Portland 279
98 June 7 East-central Washington; Yakima 1,149

Source: John L. Dewitt, Final Report: Japanese Evacuation from the West Coast, 1942 (Washington D.C.: U.S. Army, Western Defense Command), 363–66. Exclusion orders with fewer than twenty inductees not listed. Deadline dates come from the actual exclusion order posters, which can be found in The Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement: A Digital Archive, Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley, http://digitalassets.lib.berkeley.edu/jarda/ucb/text/cubanc6714_b016b01_0001_1.pdf and http://digitalassets.lib.berkeley.edu/jarda/ucb/text/cubanc6714_b016b01_0001_2.pdf .

Arrivals to Portland
Arrival Date Number
May 2 306
May 4 725
May 5 680
May 11 252
May 12 808
May 20 202
June 5 520
June 6 628

Source: Report to War Department, May 27, 1942, pp. 3–4, Report – War Department - Correspondence, Instructions, and Teletypes, Portland Center Manager, Portland Assembly Center General Correspondence File, Reel 239, NARA San Bruno; various issues of the Portland Evacuazette . Due to the poor quality of the microfilm images of the former, some of the figures may not be correct.


Two groups left detention at Portland early on. On May 17, a contingent from the WRA visited the camp to seek volunteers to go to Tule Lake to help set up that camp and to pick sugar beets in eastern Oregon. Despite some initial concerns about the vagueness of the official proposal, about 250 did agree to go to Tule Lake, leaving on May 26. Several contingents left to pick sugar beets, with some 338 from Portland at the Nyssa labor camp by mid-June. Most of the beet workers eventually returned to Portland after their work had been completed. [12]

On August 19, inmates found out which WRA camp they would be sent to: Washingtonians—with the exception of those from Clarke County, right on the Oregon border—were to go to Heart Mountain, with the Oregonians to be sent to Minidoka. A small number were assigned to Tule Lake. Given the apparently close ties that had been formed in the camp, many inmates were upset that they would split up. Inmates submitted a petition (with many pages of signatures) asking that the group be sent together to Minidoka, since they have "lived and worked together in close harmony and with effective cooperation, during the past three months..." In a note of appreciation to the administrators, the petition also asked that Portland administrative staff also be sent on to manage their WRA camp. The petition was denied, though administrators did move some medical personnel and their families from Heart Mountain to Minidoka. [13]

Departures for Minidoka, Heart Mountain, and Tule Lake
Departure Date Destination Number
May 26 Tule Lake 250
August 29 Heart Mountain 498
August 30 Heart Mountain 440
September 3 Tule Lake 78
September 6 Minidoka 500
September 7 Minidoka 494
September 8 Minidoka 501
September 9 Minidoka 506
September 9 Heart Mountain 48
September 10 Minidoka 317

Source: John L. Dewitt, Final Report: Japanese Evacuation from the West Coast, 1942 (Washington D.C.: U.S. Army, Western Defense Command), 282–84.

Staffing

As was the case with many assembly centers, much of the staff came from the ranks of the WPA, with 11 of the 18 appointed employees coming from that agency. This included both camp managers. The first, Emil Sandquist, had been the state director of operations for the WPA in Montana. In July, Sandquist was promoted to the chief of the operations section of the WCCA and moved to the main office in San Francisco. He was replaced by Nicholas L. Bican. Formerly the manager of the Marysville Assembly Center, Bican, who was a civil and mechanical engineer by profession, officially took over at Portland on July 16 after Marysville had closed. Prior to that, he had been with the WPA Division of Operations, Area 3, Sacramento. Guy H. Booker, the director of the works division, was briefly interim manager during the transition. [14]

Though it is hard to know to know for certain, Sandquist seems to have been well liked by inmates. He is specifically named in a petition asking that the Portland administrators be transferred with the inmates to Minidoka. In a letter to JACL leader Hito Okada, Newton Uyesugi, a member of the advisory board at Portland appointed by Sandquist, writes that Sandquist "reflects courtesy, tolerance, understanding, and fairness" and that "we have been lucky in having a person of such a character in the administrative capacity." [15]

In addition to Booker, a Cornell graduate and another engineer, other key staffers included:

• Carl Trowbridge, director of the service division, who had been the superintendent of schools in Togiak, Alaska, for ten years and who later worked as instructor in the Personnel Training Program of the Kaiser Shipyard in Vancouver, Washington

• Charles "Chappy" King, director of recreation, who had been the principal at Creston School

• Roscoe D. Davis, the chief of internal police, who had been a member of the Oregon State Police for a decade

• Clarence Anderson, supervisor of mess and lodging, who had been a finance officer with the National Defense Project

Because of their active engagement with the camp population in their roles, many inmates recall Trowbridge and King fondly, with several also mentioning Dorothea Lynch, a staff person at the Portland Bureau of Parks and Recreation, as being very supportive in helping supply recreation equipment to the camp and who would come to visit on occasion. [16]

Institutions/Camp Life

Community Government

Shortly after the arrival of the first group of inmates from Oregon in early May, camp manager Sandquist appointed four members of advisory board "on recommendation of various groups of people in the center" that he would meet with regularly. The four were Dr. Newton Uyesugi, a 24 year old Portland area optometrist who was president of the Portland JACL; Rev. Herbert Tansei Terakawa, a 46 year old Stanford educated Issei Buddhist priest; Rev. Francis M. Hayashi, a 44 year old Issei Methodist priest; and Howard Nomura, a 32 year old pharmacist who preceded Uyesugi as Portland JACL president. After the influx of the next large group of inmates in mid-May, Sandquist appointed two more members: Frances Wada (later Maeda), a 29 year old Nisei graduate of the University of Denver who had been active in youth activities in Portland and who was the only woman of the group; and Roy Shiiki, a 53 year old Issei farmer from Gresham. After the arrival of the Washington group in early June, two Washingtonians were added: Masato Harry Yamamoto, a 29 year old Nisei from Wapato and Harry Masuto, a 30 year old Nisei who was president of Yakima Valley JACL. In the end, the group came to include five Nisei and three Issei, seven men and one woman, and six Oregonians and two Washingtonians. [17]

In his June 22 narrative report, Sandquist claimed that he met with the committee every day. They advised him on various matters, including various inmate complaints and issues and large programs such as the Nisei Forums. He also explained that, while he has "been approached many times about elections," he felt that the appointed group is more representative than an elected group would be, since an elected group "would be predominated by the 2nd generation folks, which would only bring onto the board the younger folks not as responsible as those now appointed." He also cited the temporary nature of the camp. [18]

Shortly after Bican took over as manager, he decided on a new system for the selection of the advisory board: elections would be held to elect twenty-one, out of which Bican would select seven, including both Issei and Nisei in proportion to their population. Forty-five candidates sought election (twenty-three Issei and twenty-two Nisei), and after the election of the twenty-one on August 14, Bican selected his seven, none of whom had been part of the earlier board: Minoru Yasui, Dr. Robert Kinoshita, Roy Yokutsu, Dyke Takeoka, Yorisada Matsui, Karl Tadashi Tambara, and Rio Yamane. (The first four were Nisei, the last three Issei). Given that transfers began just ten days later, it is unclear if this group ever became operational. [19]

Medical Facilities

The camp had an approximately seventy bed hospital located outside the main arena that was eventually staffed by two inmate doctors ostensibly supervised by a white chief medical officer, along with three dentists and three optometrists, four RNs, and eighteen nurse's aides. A twenty-four hour first aid station inside the pavilion was added at the end of May to help alleviate the crowding at the hospital. Later, a new mess hall for the hospital staff was built, along with a lab and pharmacy. [20]

In the early weeks of the camp, the "inadequacy of hospital facilities" was cited by Sandquist as one of the major complaints of inmates, due in part to the lack of staffing and seeming mass dislike of the lone Japanese American doctor, Dr. Robert H. Shiomi. According to the May 25 report to the secretary of war, "[t]here have been the inevitable difficulties when one Japanese physician, previously enjoying a Caucasian clientele, is responsible for a period of several weeks for the well being of 2,000 Japanese and some of them disliked him personally and intensely." A group of inmates drafted a petition asking for Shiomi's removal, citing his alleged lack of competence, his clashes with nurses, his unavailability while ostensibly on duty, and that he and his family had taken residence "within the heated headquarters of the isolation ward" despite having no family members ill or disabled. In a letter to the outside, advisory board member Newton Uyesugi concurred that the "biggest headache we have had in this center is that of the hospital," also citing the issues with Shiomi. At the end of May, the arrival of a second Japanese American doctor, Dr. Robert Kinoshita, "has helped to clear up some of the dissension and dissatisfaction previously reported," wrote Sandquist in his May 25 weekly report. With the other additions and improvements, no further complaints about the hospital were reported. [21]

According to the June 8 narrative report, there were an average of fifty patients hospitalized and 200 outpatients a day seen by doctors. [22]

Education

There were relatively extensive educational programs for both children and adults at Portland. By the end of May, there were eight elementary school classes that met for two hours a day, along with a group of college students teaching "small groups of high school students." According to a June 6 report by Chappy King, a Mrs. Sato served as principal of the elementary division, while Madeline Yamane was head teacher of the high schoolers. [23]

A more formal summer school program began in June, with registration beginning on June 12. Eventually, some 375 children signed up for elementary summer school, which was taught in makeshift classrooms set up in the hayshed area. High school classes began on June 22. There was also a nursery school program headed by Misao Matsuyama Hayashi, the wife of Rev. Francis Hayashi. In early July, classes were canceled for three days due to intense heat. The summer schools ended on August 21, eight days prior to the first large scale transfers to WRA camps. [24]

There was also a substantial adult education program at Portland. Setting up shop in section 6 using folding chairs and several blackboards, Nisei inmates taught four English classes, along with Americanization, American History, and Oregon History classes starting on May 18. In his June 1 report, Sandquist wrote that, "Adult Education, particularly in English, has exceeded all expectations." Enrollment reached 394 by June 8. Most students were Issei women and most took English classes. Classes in embroidery and shorthand were later added. [25]

As at many other assembly centers, a graduation ceremony was held for graduates prevented by their incarceration from attending their schools' ceremonies. On June 10, a ceremony was held for seventy-one graduates from elementary and high schools in Oregon. [26]

Recreation

Despite relatively limited facilities, the Portland Assembly Center had a wide variety of recreational activities. The main areas set aside for such activity was the central arena and show ring that had once been used for livestock shows. The 210 x 90 foot area was outfitted with two basketball courts and two tennis courts. Outside, a seven-acre field was set up in the parking area, with inmate volunteers building baseball and softball diamonds, and later, a nine-hole golf course. The 100 x 70 foot lobby was used for movies and dances. There was also a group that found a room in the Henry Thiele restaurant space to engage in various illicit gambling games. [27]

Softball and baseball proved to be the most popular sports at the camp. By the end of May, there was an eight team AA men's softball league and a four team B league that included about 180 players. About 105 women played in a seven-team league. There were also two baseball leagues in which about 120 players participated. According to a report by recreation director Ralph Takami, some 400 spectators attended the nightly AA softball games, while about 1,000 attended the weekend baseball games. Other sports/games included volleyball, basketball, badminton, wrestling, and weight lifting. Camp wide horseshoe, go, and shogi tournaments as well as a model airplane contest also drew much attention. Boy School Troop 123 and its Drum and Bugle Corps, Explorer Troop 623 and the Cub Pack were also regular presences. [28]

As at other camps, dances proved to be popular with many Nisei. Portland may also have been the only assembly center to show weekly feature Hollywood movies. The Portland Public Schools furnished the projector, screen and sound equipment, while the camp recreation department conducted fund drives to fund the movie program. [29]

Newspaper

As at other assembly centers, a camp newspaper was produced by inmates under the supervision of WCCA staff, in this case, Service Department Director Carl Trowbridge. The first issue appeared on May 19, and the twenty-six page farewell issue came out on August 25; a total of thirty mimeographed issues were produced, with most running four or six pages. George Suagi won a $2 prize for coming up with the " Evacuazette " name of the paper after the unnamed first issue, chosen out of some 150 entries. The paper was mimeographed using Portland JACL and Oregon Buddhist Church equipment. The newspaper office was in a four-room suite above the Advisory Board and Timekeepers offices. The Boy Scouts distributed copies of the paper throughout the assembly center.

The Evacuazette had a generally stable staff throughout its run. with Yuji Hiromura serving as editor in chief throughout with Sho Nojima, Tokiyuki Aoki, Taka Ichikawa, George Hijiya, and Umeko Matsubu holding various editorial positions for the entire run. As was the case with several other Nisei camp leaders, Hiromura was a member of Portland JACL. Art editor and cartoonist Chiseo Shoji also was there for the full run. News editor Kara Matsushita and assistant art editor Lillian Andow joined midstream. Matsushita (later Kondo) recalled in a 2002 interview "a very nice crew." She added, "we had a very good cartoonist and a good editor and we had a very congenial group of people that worked together." As at other camps, the paper presented a largely sanitized view of camp life, focusing on recreational activities and camp personalities (every issue included a profile of a white staffer or inmate leader) and advocating cooperation while avoiding serious discussions of camp problems. [30]

Library

The camp library opened on May 15 and had a collection of about 1,750 books, about 1,000 loaned from the Portland City Library system, another 600 textbooks from the Portland Public School System, with the rest lent or donated by individuals. Open from 9 to 6 daily except for Sunday, an average of one hundred fifty books were checked out daily. The library was staffed by the Tsuboi sisters. Head librarian Yasuko Tsuboi (later Fukano) and her sister Haruko had both worked at the Portland Central Library prior to the war. Another sister, Kyoko, served as the secretary. [31]

Store/Canteen

The center store was located in the reception hall area and opened on May 23. It sold soft drinks, ice cream, candy, toiletries office supplies, and other similar items. By the end of June, it sold 163 products and had a staff of twenty-one, supervised by Henry Keller. The inmate co-managers were Ben Higashi and Ronald Shiozaki. The store was open from 10 to 4:30 on weekdays and 1 to 4 on Sundays. According to a July report, the store's cash sales averaged $244.33 daily. [32]

A barber shop opened on July 2 led by "master barber" Jimmie Sugimura. The shop's eight barbers charged 10¢ for a haircut. A shoe repair shop opened at the end of July and a beauty shop on August 5. [33]

Religion

Active Christian and Buddhist programs took place at Portland, with each running Sunday schools along with general and youth services and programs. The two groups used a large room in Section 6 and a section of the mess hall alternately for their programs. They shared use of 400 chairs from the Oregon Buddhist Church and a piano from a Portland Christian church. In June a small Catholic program began, holding its services in the kindergarten room. [34]

According to the May 27 report to the Secretary of War, a "council composed of six ministers of various religious faiths are cooperating to give adequate religious guidance by utilizing all facilities and supplies, and are working together successfully." The Buddhist and Christian groups held a joint Memorial Day service, for instance. The report estimates that about 300 adult Buddhists took part in services, about 150 Christians and 30 Catholics. [35]

Visitors

As at other camps, a visitors' room was set up under the supervision of the chief of internal police, opening on May 15. Visits were to be conducted only in the visiting area, and no visitors were to enter the camp. In his weekly report issued ten days later, Sandquist wrote that due to the "large amount of visiting requested at this center... no doubt, due to the fact that we located in the immediate vicinity of Portland, which the home of the majority of the people," and as a result, that it "will be necessary to curtail the amount of visiting and to have better control over such visits through the Internal Police." The new policy required would-be visitors reserve a pass before visiting and limited visiting hours to three two to three hour periods in the morning, afternoon and evening. A few days later, hours were further limited to just two hours a day, 2 to 4 pm. [36]

Other

A contract post office began operations on May 4 led by postmistress Mrs. Carl Donough, who supervised a staff of five inmates, including foreman Minnie Oyama. The post office was open 10 to 4 on weekdays and 10 to noon on Saturdays. The camp received an average of 500 to 750 incoming letters a day. [37]

A camp Fire Department was staffed by both white Portland Fire Department men and inmates. Chief F. J. McFarland assigned twenty-one men to the camp, of whom nine were on duty at all times. The inmate chief was Roy Yokota. [38]

An Employment Office was led by George Yamauchi under the supervision of H. A. Sandberg. As of July 10, the Evacuazette reported that there were 1,180 inmates employed at the camp. [39]

An Information Bureau located in the reception hall had a staff of sixteen and was open from 7:30 am to 9:30 pm under the leadership of Arthur Fujiwara. The office handled requests and complaints, translation, and daily bulletins while answering inmate questions. A Lost and Found was originally part of the Information Bureau but moved out in June to become a separate entity under the supervision of the internal police. [40]

Chronology

April 1, 1942
Sandquist arrives at the camp and sets up headquarters.

May 2
The first inmate group—consisting of people from the city of Portland—arrives on May 2, about 10 am, numbering 372. Their induction completed by 2 pm.

May 15
Visitors Room opens.

May 18
First adult education classes held.

May 19
First issue of the Evacuazette appears.

May 20
Athletic test competition for aspiring fire fighters takes place; written test takes place on May 23. Twenty inmate firemen will be selected.

May 21
Fifteen inmates leave to labor in the Vale sugar beet fields, leaving via Grayline Bus.

May 22
The first wedding the camp—that of Mr. and Mrs. Milton Maeda—is held in Henry Thiele's balcony.

May 23
Opening of the canteen.

May 26
250 "volunteers" leave for Tule Lake to help set up that camp.

May 27
The first full length feature movie shown, Barefoot Boy (1938) starring Jackie Moran shown in the main reception hall. The crowd estimated at 2,000 for the two showings.

May 30
Joint Memorial Day service held by Buddhist and Christian churches includes chant by Buddhist priests and scripture reading and prayer by Christian ministers.

June 5–7
Art exhibition held in the main hall, likely the first to be held in any of the "assembly centers."

June 7
190 sugar beet workers leave for Malheur County.

June 10
Graduation ceremony is held for seventy-one graduates from elementary and high schools in Oregon at 8 pm in the southeast corner of the Arena. The speaker is Dr. I. George Nace of the Portland Council of Churches.

June 20
"Zombie Day, one of the largest recreational undertakings of this center" takes place, a sort of women centered icebreaker type event aimed at the new arrivals. Girls/women run the event, with boys/men as "guests." 275 attend.

June 21
Karl Bendetsen visits the camp and tours the facilities.

July 2
Barber shop opens, with Jimmie Sugimura as the master barber. Eight barbers work under Sugimura. Haircuts are 10¢.

July 2
Philip J. Coffey of the U.S. Public Health Service visits to conduct an inspection. The temperature that day was 107°.

July 4
First pay checks issued to inmate camp workers.

July 6
"Although the educational and recreational activities of this division were handicapped during the past week by the extreme heat, no serious heat prostrations or sunstroke were reported."

July 10
First "Nisei Forum" on the topic of "Center Improvements" takes place before a crowd of 800.

July 10
The outbreak of measles closes the kindergarten and primary classes for those of age eight and under until July 20. Six-year-old Akira Shimura succumbs to the measles.

July 14
All-Center Talent Revue draws 3,000 spectators.

Aug. 2
The first Buddhist social gathering is attended by 217 young Buddhists, held in Section 6.

Aug. 14
Election for camp advisory council takes place.

Aug. 19
Announcement that most inmates will go to Heart Mountain or Minidoka.

Aug. 21
Summer school ends.

Aug. 25
Boy Scout Court of Honor held at the Arena; 90 boys participate.

Aug. 29
The first large group leaves Portland for Heart Mountain.

Sept. 10
The last groups leave Portland.

Quotes

"The conditions were terrible. The livestock barn, of course, is a place not fit for human habitation. They did calcimine the stalls and the walls, they did lay down a layer of asphalt. It wasn't so much the physical interior that was so depressing, but the exterior, the livestock barn itself was surrounded completely by man-proof barbed wire fences. And on each corner they had watchtowers. On the watchtowers, they had mounted not only searchlights, but machine gun nests that were sandbagged. It was literally a concentration camp, and to crowd 3,600 people into a big ramshackle leaky building, particularly in the summer months, was a horrible place."
Minoru Yasui, 1983 [41]

"It was putrid I guess is the only word I can think about. And someone told us we were where they usually had the sheep, you know, where the sheep came in and that's where they had those. So, everything underneath is like manure, whatever, 'cause I don't think they cleaned them out particularly. Fortunately we, there were planks of wood over it so, yeah. So it was, it was quite a place."
Massie Hinatsu, 2010 [42]

"Although I am sure that none of us wish to be in an assembly center considering it from an American's viewpoint (I know that I don't), still, I believe that all of us have learned lessons here that we will never forget; and I am sure that we will carry them through the rest of our lives. We have never had to cooperate as we have done here in this center. I think the people have stood up wonderfully, and the attitude that they have shown and the spirit that they have shown is just about tops."
Newton K. Uyesugi, 1942 [43]

"I had repressed all of these hurts and you know, humiliation actually, of having those friends visit me there. Because they couldn't come in and so they would stand outside the barbed wire fence and I would be inside and I'd be talking to them. And you know, it was so humiliating. You know, it was like you were a prisoner, and here you hadn't done anything, but here you were a prisoner. And when I look back, I think, 'Why was I embarrassed anyway?' I mean... but at the time I was. And I think that was the worst part. You know, I always tell people that the physical discomforts in the assembly center -- living in a, what was really an animal pen, you know one of those pens where they exhibited animals -- was certainly not very comfortable, and the lack of privacy with only partitions separating us, all of that, was not the thing that you really thought about at that age."
Chiye Tomihiro, 1997 [44]

"Well, we had one of the hottest summers, and went up to a hundred and four degrees. And you know it was a stock yard. Well, there was one layer of floor, and then come along and water that down, and oh, the smell, that's the only thing I can remember. And then another thing I remember was this little apartment that we lived in didn't have a door, it had a canvas curtain thing on it, and it was open outside. And at night, you can hear people snoring and crying. There was one man that lived next door, he used to sing in the middle of the night."
Emiko Namba Kikkawa, 2014 [45]

Aftermath

After the last inmates left the camp on September 10, the WCCA oversaw a process of cleaning, inventory, and transfer of supplies and equipment before the property was transferred on September 30. After the war, the facility went back to being a livestock center, evolving through the years to become a fairgrounds and eventually the Portland Expo Center, the largest convention/multi-use facility in Oregon that holds over one hundred events a year. [46]

In 1979, Portland's first Day of Remembrance was held at the site. A crowd of 1,200 to 1,500 gathered on February 17 to hear Issei speakers Masaki Kinoshita and Harue Akiyama, Portland Mayor Neil Goldschmidt, and keynote speaker Minoru Yasui among others. [47]

Today, the Expo Center is the last stop on Portland's MAX light-rail Yellow Line. As part of a project to include a public art piece at every station, the Expo Center Station features Valerie Otani's "Voices of Remembrance," an installation made to resemble two Japanese torii gates from which 3,500 metal tags hang, commemorating those who were once imprisoned at the Portland Assembly Center. There is also a memorial plaque on the north lobby wall of Hall A, placed there by Multnomah County and Portland Chapter of the JACL. [48]

For More Information

Cormack, Janet, ed. "Portland Assembly Center: Diary of Saku Tomita." Trans. Zuigaku Kodachi and Jan Heikkala. Oregon Historical Quarterly 81.2 (1980): 149-71.

Gold, Eric. " Within Makeshift Walls: Portland Expo Center's Era as a Prison for Japanese Americans. " Oregon Humanities, Dec. 6, 2016.

Nakata, Deena K. The Gift: The Oregon Nikkei Story Retold . Portland: Portland JACL Book Committee, 1995.

Pursinger, Marvin G. "Oregon's Japanese in World War II, A History of Compulsory Relocation." Ph.D. dissertation, University of Southern California, 1960.

Footnotes

  1. Lease agreement, Apr. 1, 1942, Correspondence and Teletypes, Portland Center Manager, Portland Assembly Center General Correspondence File, Reel 238, NARA San Bruno; "The Expo Story," Portland Expo Center website, accessed on Mar. 3, 2020 at https://www.expocenter.org/about-expo/the-expo-story ; Minoru Yasui, interviewed by Steven Okazaki, Segment 6, Oct. 23, 1983, Hood River, Oregon, Steven Okazaki Collection, Densho Digital Repository, http://ddr.densho.org/media/ddr-densho-1012/ddr-densho-1012-3-transcript-4737180c51.htm ; Kenji Onishi, interviewed by Tom Ikeda, Segment 16, Mar. 21, 2014, Seattle, Oregon Nikkei Endowment Collection, Densho Digital Repository, http://ddr.densho.org/media/ddr-one-7/ddr-one-7-62-transcript-f677563f6e.htm ; Jim Tsugawa, interviewed by Alton Chung, Segment 9, Dec. 16, 2013, Portland, Densho Visual History Collection, Densho Digital Repository, http://ddr.densho.org/media/ddr-one-7/ddr-one-7-55-transcript-e7b9a088ec.htm ; Marjorie Matsushita Sperling, interviewed by Tom Ikeda, Segment 15, Feb. 24, 2010, Culver City, Callifornia, Densho Visual History Collection, Densho Digital Repository, http://ddr.densho.org/media/ddr-densho-1000/ddr-densho-1000-273-transcript-6f6a81a167.htm .
  2. Portland Evacuazette , July 17, 4.
  3. Portland Evacuazette , June 5, 5; Fire Protection and Evacuation Plan map, Center Plant –Correspondence, Teletypes, Instructions, and Maps, Center Managers File, Reel 237, NARA San Bruno; U.S. Public Health Service Report, July 15, 1942, Inspections of Center - Correspondence and Teletypes Regarding, Portland Center Manager, Portland Assembly Center General Correspondence File, Reel 238, NARA San Bruno; "Recreation Report," Report to War Department, May 27, 1942, pp. 25–26, Report – War Department - Correspondence, Instructions, and Teletypes, Portland Center Manager, Portland Assembly Center General Correspondence File, Reel 239, NARA San Bruno.
  4. U.S. Public Health Service Report, July 15, 1942; Weekly Narrative Reports, July 6 and 21, 1942, Reports – Narrative, Correspondence, Instructions, and Teletypes, Portland Center Manager, Portland Assembly Center General Correspondence File, Reel 239, NARA San Bruno; Memo, Newton K. Uyesugi to Carl R. Trowbridge, undated [ca. July 5, 1942], Advisory Council Japanese, Portland Center Manager, Portland Assembly Center General Correspondence File, Reel 237, NARA San Bruno.
  5. Masaji Kusachi, quoted in Linda Tamura, The Hood River Issei: An Oral History of Japanese Settlers in Oregon's Hood River Valley (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993), 177; Henry Sakamoto, interviewed by Jane Comerford, Segment 4, Oct. 18, 2004, Oregon Nikkei Endowment Collection, Densho Digital Repository, http://ddr.densho.org/media/ddr-one-7/ddr-one-7-33-transcript-25df6ab418.htm ; Tsuguo "Ike" Ikeda, interviewed by Alice Ito, Segment 11, Sept. 27, 2000, Seattle, Densho Visual History Collection, Densho Digital Repository, http://ddr.densho.org/media/ddr-densho-1000/ddr-densho-1000-123-transcript-4e6063f739.htm .
  6. Weekly Narrative Report, July 21, 1942, Reports – Narrative, Correspondence, Instructions, and Teletypes, Portland Center Manager, Portland Assembly Center General Correspondence File, Reel 239, NARA San Bruno; Massie Hinatsu, interviewed by Richard Potashin, Segment 8, July 22, 2010, Portland, Oregon, Manzanar National Historic Site Collection, Densho Digital Repository, http://ddr.densho.org/media/ddr-manz-1/ddr-manz-1-100-transcript-0334168c75.htm ; Minoru Yasui interview, Segment 6; Tamura, The Hood River Issei, 177.
  7. Memo, Uyesugi to Trowbridge; Minoru Yasui interview, Segment 6.
  8. Henry Sakamoto interview, Segment 4; Emiko Namba Kikkawa, interviewed by Katie Namba, Segment 9, Jan. 12, 2014, Portland, Oregon Nikkei Endowment Collection, Densho Digital Repository, http://ddr.densho.org/media/ddr-one-7/ddr-one-7-58-transcript-ebcaaa13b1.htm ; Minoru Yasui interview, Segment 6; Mae Hada, interviewed by Masako Hinatsu, Segment 5, June 18, 2003, Hillsboro Oregon, Oregon Nikkei Endowment Collection, Densho Digital Repository, http://ddr.densho.org/media/ddr-one-7/ddr-one-7-20-transcript-091b5afb0d.htm ; "Housing and Feeding Division," Report to War Department, May 27, 1942, 25–26; Setsu Tsuboi Tanemura, interviewed by Tom Ikeda, Segment 16, Nov. 12, 2009, Seattle, Densho Visual History Collection, Densho Digital Repository, http://ddr.densho.org/media/ddr-densho-1000/ddr-densho-1000-266-transcript-36d2051ccd.htm .
  9. U.S. Public Health Service Report, July 15, 1942; Mary I. Barber and J. W. Brearley, "Report of Visit to Portland Assembly Center," July 19, 1942, Inspections of Center - Correspondence and Teletypes Regarding, Portland Center Manager, Portland Assembly Center General Correspondence File, Reel 238, NARA San Bruno; Frank Muramatsu, interviewed by Tom Ikeda, Segment 12, June 10, 2015, Seattle, Densho Visual History Collection, Densho Digital Repository, http://ddr.densho.org/media/ddr-densho-1000/ddr-densho-1000-431-transcript-eda4e546ce.htm ; Henry Sakamoto interview, Segment 4.
  10. U.S. Public Health Service Report, July 15, 1942; Narrative Reports, May 7, 16 and 25, 1942, Reports – Narrative, Correspondence, Instructions, and Teletypes, Portland Center Manager, Portland Assembly Center General Correspondence File, Reel 239, NARA San Bruno; L. A. Hostetter, memo and plans, May 19, 1942, Center Plant –Correspondence, Teletypes, Instructions, and Maps, Portland Center Manager, Portland Assembly Center General Correspondence File, Reel 237, NARA San Bruno; Report to War Department, May 27, 1942, 8; Henry Sakamoto interview, Segment 5.
  11. John L. Dewitt, Final Report: Japanese Evacuation from the West Coast, 1942 (Washington D.C.: U.S. Army, Western Defense Command), 202, 227, 363–66; Report to War Department, May 27, 1942, 3–4; Portland Evacuazette , June 5, 1; "Distribution of the Japanese Population by General Evacuation Areas, and the Proposed Redistribution of This Population," WDC, Apr. 13, 1942, John M. Flaherty Collection of Japanese Internment Records, MSS-2006-05-02, San José State University Library, Special Collections & Archives.
  12. Letters, Emil Sandquist to R. L. Nicholson, May 21, 1942, advisory board to Emil Sandquist, May 22, 1942, and Sandquist to Nicholson, May 23, 1942, Correspondence and Teletypes, Portland Center Manager, Portland Assembly Center General Correspondence File, Reel 237, NARA San Bruno; Portland Evacuazette , June 23, 1, June 30, 1, and Aug. 18, 1.
  13. Portland Evacuazette , Aug. 19, 1; Weekly Narrative Report, Sept. 11, 1942, Reports – Narrative, Correspondence, Instructions, and Teletypes, Portland Center Manager, Portland Assembly Center General Correspondence File, Reel 239, NARA San Bruno; Undated Petition, Petition – Evacuee, Portland Center Manager, Portland Assembly Center General Correspondence File, Reel 239, NARA San Bruno.
  14. Report to War Department, May 27, 1942; Letter, R. L. Nicholson to Emil Sandquist, Apr. 4, 1942, Correspondence and Teletypes, Portland Center Manager, Portland Assembly Center General Correspondence File, Reel 237, NARA San Bruno; Portland Evacuazette, June 30, 1, July 7, 1–2 and July 17, 1; Weekly Narrative Report, July 21, 1942, Reports – Narrative, Correspondence, Instructions, and Teletypes, Portland Center Manager, Portland Assembly Center General Correspondence File, Reel 239, NARA San Bruno.
  15. Undated Petition, Petition – Evacuee, Portland Center Manager, Portland Assembly Center General Correspondence File, Reel 239, NARA San Bruno; Letter, Newton K. Uyesugi to Hito Okada, undated [around May 20, 1942], Correspondence and Teletypes, Portland Center Manager, Portland Assembly Center General Correspondence File, Reel 237, NARA San Bruno.
  16. Portland Evacuazette , May 22, 1, July 10, 2, July 17, 2, July 24, 2, July 31, 2, and August 7, 2; Narrative Report, May 25, 1942, Reports – Narrative, Correspondence, Instructions, and Teletypes, Portland Center Manager, Portland Assembly Center General Correspondence File, Reel 239, NARA San Bruno; Henry Sakamoto interview, Segment 5.
  17. Narrative Reports, May 7 and June 1 and 22, Reports – Narrative, Correspondence, Instructions, and Teletypes, Portland Center Manager, Portland Assembly Center General Correspondence File, Reel 239, NARA San Bruno; Portland Evacuazette, May 19, 2, June 2, 1, June 30, 2, and July 10, 1; "Report on Advisory Board," undated, Advisory Council Japanese, Portland Center Manager, Portland Assembly Center General Correspondence File, Reel 237, NARA San Bruno.
  18. Weekly Narrative Report, June 22, 1942, Reports – Narrative, Correspondence, Instructions, and Teletypes, Portland Center Manager, Portland Assembly Center General Correspondence File, Reel 239, NARA San Bruno.
  19. Portland Evacuazette , Aug. 4, 1, Aug. 14, 1; Letter, Bican to Sandquist, Aug. 19, 1942, Advisory Council Japanese, Portland Center Manager, Portland Assembly Center General Correspondence File, Reel 237, NARA San Bruno.
  20. "Hospital and Health" and "First Aid," Report to War Department, May 27, 1942, 15, 17, 19–20; Narrative Report, June 1, 1942, Reports – Narrative, Correspondence, Instructions, and Teletypes, Portland Center Manager, Portland Assembly Center General Correspondence File, Reel 239, NARA San Bruno; Portland Evacuazette , June 5, 1942, 3.
  21. Report to War Department, May 27, 1942, 8; Petition, May 19, 1942, Advisory Council Japanese, Portland Center Manager, Portland Assembly Center General Correspondence File, Reel 237, NARA San Bruno; Letter, Uyesugi to Okada, [May 20, 1942]; Narrative Report, May 25, 1942, Reports – Narrative, Correspondence, Instructions, and Teletypes, Portland Center Manager, Portland Assembly Center General Correspondence File, Reel 239, NARA San Bruno.
  22. Narrative Report, June 8, 1942, Reports – Narrative, Correspondence, Instructions, and Teletypes, Portland Center Manager, Portland Assembly Center General Correspondence File, Reel 239, NARA San Bruno.
  23. "Education," Report to War Department, May 27, 1942, 21–22; C. G. King report to Mr. Trowbridge, June 6, 1942, Reports – Narrative, Correspondence, Instructions, and Teletypes, Portland Center Manager, Portland Assembly Center General Correspondence File, Reel 239, NARA San Bruno.
  24. Charles King, Weekly Report, June 15–22, 1942, Reports – Narrative, Correspondence, Instructions, and Teletypes, Portland Center Manager, Portland Assembly Center General Correspondence File, Reel 239, NARA San Bruno; Portland Evacuazette, June 19, 6 and Aug. 14, 1, 2; Weekly Narrative Report, July 6, 1942, Reports – Narrative, Correspondence, Instructions, and Teletypes, Portland Center Manager, Portland Assembly Center General Correspondence File, Reel 239, NARA San Bruno.
  25. "Education," Report to War Department, May 27, 1942, 23–24; Narrative Report, June 1 and 29, 1942, Reports – Narrative, Correspondence, Instructions, and Teletypes, Portland Center Manager, Portland Assembly Center General Correspondence File, Reel 239, NARA San Bruno; Service Division report for June 8 1942, Reports – Narrative, Correspondence, Instructions, and Teletypes, Portland Center Manager, Portland Assembly Center General Correspondence File, Reel 239, NARA San Bruno.
  26. Portland Evacuazette , June 12, 1.
  27. "Recreation Report," Report to War Department, May 27, 1942, 25–26; Portland Evacuazette, June 23, 6 and Aug. 25, 14; Henry Sakamoto interview, Segment 4; George Hara, interviewed by Loen Dozono, Segment 10, Feb. 5, 2003, Oregon Nikkei Endowment Collection, Densho Digital Repository, http://ddr.densho.org/media/ddr-one-7/ddr-one-7-3-transcript-7a4f74eb03.htm .
  28. "Recreation Report," Report to War Department, May 27, 1942, 25–26; Portland Evacuazette , May 19, 3, May 26, 6, June 2, 4, June 19, 5, June 23, 5, 6, Aug. 11, 1, and Aug. 18, 1; Ralph Takami, Recreation Department Report, June 6, 1942, Reports – Narrative, Correspondence, Instructions, and Teletypes, Portland Center Manager, Portland Assembly Center General Correspondence File, Reel 239, NARA San Bruno.
  29. Portland Evacuazette , June 23, 6 and June 29, 4; Marjorie Matsushita Sperling interview, Segment 15; Narrative Report, June 1, 1942, Reports – Narrative, Correspondence, Instructions, and Teletypes, Portland Center Manager, Portland Assembly Center General Correspondence File, Reel 239, NARA San Bruno.
  30. This section is based on various issues of the paper. See also Kara Kondo, interviewed by Alice Ito and Gail Nomura, Segment 28, Dec. 7 and 8, 2002, Seattle, Densho Visual History Collection, Densho Digital Repository, http://ddr.densho.org/media/ddr-densho-1000/ddr-densho-1000-139-transcript-ff4b57e821.htm .
  31. Portland Evacuazette , July 24, 1942, 4; Roger Daniels, Asian America: Chinese and Japanese in the United States since 1850 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1988), 233.
  32. Portland Evacuazette , May 22, 1942, 1 and June 30, 1942, 3; Center Store, Report to War Department, May 27, 1942, pp. 31, Report – War Department - Correspondence, Instructions, and Teletypes, Portland Center Manager, Portland Assembly Center General Correspondence File, Reel 239, NARA San Bruno.
  33. Portland Evacuazette , July 3, 1942, 1 and Aug. 7, 1942, 3; Weekly Narrative Report, July 28, 1942, Reports – Narrative, Correspondence, Instructions, and Teletypes, Portland Center Manager, Portland Assembly Center General Correspondence File, Reel 239, NARA San Bruno.
  34. Portland Evacuazette , May 22, 1942, 2 and June 12, 1942, 2; Report of Religious Activities, Report to War Department, May 27, 1942, pp. 29–30, Report – War Department - Correspondence, Instructions, and Teletypes, Portland Center Manager, Portland Assembly Center General Correspondence File, Reel 239, NARA San Bruno.
  35. Report of Religious Activities, Report to War Department, May 27, 1942, 29–30; Portland Evacuazette , June 2, 1942, 2.
  36. Narrative Reports, May 16 and 25, 1942, Reports – Narrative, Correspondence, Instructions, and Teletypes, Portland Center Manager, Portland Assembly Center General Correspondence File, Reel 239, NARA San Bruno; Portland Evacuazette , May 26, 3 and May 29, 3.
  37. Narrative Report, Apr. 29, 1942, Reports – Narrative, Correspondence, Instructions, and Teletypes, Portland Center Manager, Portland Assembly Center General Correspondence File, Reel 239, NARA San Bruno; Portland Evacuazette , Aug. 7, 4.
  38. Portland Evacuazette , June 26, 6.
  39. Portland Evacuazette , July 10, 4.
  40. Portland Evacuazette , June 16, 3 and June 19, 4.
  41. Minoru Yasui, interviewed by Steven Okazaki, Segment 6, Oct. 23, 1983, Hood River, Oregon, Steven Okazaki Collection, Densho Digital Repository, http://ddr.densho.org/media/ddr-densho-1012/ddr-densho-1012-3-transcript-4737180c51.htm .
  42. Massie Hinatsu, interviewed by Richard Potashin, Segment 8, July 22, 2010, Portland, Oregon, Manzanar National Historic Site Collection, Densho Digital Repository, http://ddr.densho.org/media/ddr-manz-1/ddr-manz-1-100-transcript-0334168c75.htm .
  43. Letter, Newton K. Uyesugi to Hito Okada, undated [around May 20, 1942], Correspondence and Teletypes, Portland Center Manager, Portland Assembly Center General Correspondence File, Reel 237, NARA San Bruno.
  44. Chiye Tomihiro interview by Becky Fukuda, Segment 2, Los Angeles, Sept. 11, 1997, Densho Visual History Collection, Densho Digital Repository, http://ddr.densho.org/media/ddr-densho-1000/ddr-densho-1000-93-transcript-520e6af295.htm .
  45. Emiko Namba Kikkawa, interviewed by Katie Namba, Segment 9, Jan. 12, 2014, Portland, Oregon Nikkei Endowment Collection, Densho Digital Repository, http://ddr.densho.org/media/ddr-one-7/ddr-one-7-58-transcript-ebcaaa13b1.htm .
  46. Final Narrative Report Oct. 2, 1942, Reports – Narrative, Correspondence, Instructions, and Teletypes, Portland Center Manager, Portland Assembly Center General Correspondence File, Reel 239, NARA San Bruno; "The Expo Story."
  47. Pacific Citizen , Feb. 16, 1979, 1; Frank Abe, "'A Day of Remembrance' Observed Coast to Coast," Pacific Citizen , Mar. 2, 1979, 1–2.
  48. Eric Gold, "Within Makeshift Walls: Portland Expo Center's Era as a Prison for Japanese Americans," Oregon Humanities, Dec. 6, 2016, accessed on Mar. 3, 2020 at https://oregonhumanities.org/rll/magazine/might-fall-winter-2016/within-makeshift-walls/ ; Barbara Wyatt, ed., Japanese Americans in World War II: National Historic Landmarks Theme Study (Washington, D.C.: National Historic Landmarks Program, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 2012), 117.

Last updated July 23, 2021, 3:41 p.m..