Winona trailer camp
Trailer camp in Burbank, California, that the War Relocation Authority (WRA) established in late 1945 to address the acute housing need for Japanese Americans returning from the concentration camps. Once the WRA dissolved in June 1946, Winona became the main temporary facility in Los Angeles County where Japanese Americans from other housing installations were consolidated. The reclaiming of the property a year later by its corporate owner led to Winona's closure in November 1947 and yet another eviction for its beleaguered residents.
Emergency Housing Need for West Coast Returnees
Beginning on January 2, 1945, Japanese Americans were allowed to return to the former West Coast exclusionary zone . Though the number of returnees to Los Angeles was scant at first, it grew significantly towards the end of the year in part due to the WRA's actions. For those who lingered in the concentration camps, there was little incentive to leave without promise of housing or employment beyond the barbed wire. With the looming deadline to close the camps, WRA administrators wondered what to do with the 70,000 incarcerees that remained. The WRA ultimately decided to send remaining incarcerees back to their point of origin, which for many was Southern California.
The housing shortage was the most acute problem in postwar Los Angeles and likely factored into why Japanese Americans were slow to return. During the war, the city's population swelled from an influx of migrants who came to work in aircraft manufacturing. This, combined with the return of GIs and continued legal practice of redlining, made it difficult for Japanese Americans to compete for housing. The WRA recognized it must provide housing for Japanese Americans returning to Southern California. By November, the WRA gained temporary use of military barracks from the Western Defense Command . Towards the end of the month, 158 Japanese Americans returning from the WRA-administered detention centers were assigned to army barracks on Pico Boulevard in West Los Angeles.  Anticipating a significant number of impending returnees, the WRA appealed to the War Department for additional military housing. The WRA received permission to convert military installations into living quarters at sites in Torrance (Lomita), Santa Monica, El Segundo, Hawthorne, Long Beach, and Burbank (Winona and Magnolia).  WRA officials announced the Federal Public Housing Authority (FPHA) would assume oversight of the trailer installations. Shortly after returnees began to inhabit the military barracks and trailers at these sites, WRA Director Dillon Myer underscored their temporary nature, announcing that all returnees must secure permanent housing by March 1, 1946. 
First Phase, November 1945 to March 1946
The Winona camp was located at Winona Avenue and Hollywood Way in Burbank. In early November, some 500 Japanese Americans from Heart Mountain arrived at Winona.  Returnees were eligible to rent accommodations if they could prove they were unable to secure housing elsewhere. The FPHA charged $15/month for a family of two; $17/month for three; $19/month for four and $20/month for five or more. Trailers could accommodate up to four individuals and a single apartment within barracks could house up to six.  Although the apartments had indoor plumbing and a few amenities, they were not unlike the barracks Japanese Americans were returning from. Burbank officials declared the barracks did not meet building code. Nevertheless, within a month of opening, 478 returnees resided at Winona, making it the second largest temporary housing installation in Southern California.
Following a visit to Winona, WRA officials detailed challenges that residents encountered in their transition to their new residence. Their findings largely resulted from discussions with Winona manager, William Sakurai, who described more issues than the other trailer installations reported.  Winona residents suffered from lack of medical aid and frequent power outages. The small trailers lacked adequate storage for residents' belongings. Additionally, employment opportunities remained scarce, which delayed residents' ability to transition out. Despite the subpar conditions of the facilities, locals protested their usage for Japanese Americans, arguing that they should be reserved for returning veterans.
Though these facilities were supposed to be temporary, few residents found success in securing permanent residence since the housing shortage showed no signs of abating. Instead, the Winona population increased following the closure of the Tule Lake segregation center in March. On the eve of Myer's initial deadline, Winona was home to 123 families or 545 residents. 
With the WRA expected to dissolve in June and over 2,000 individuals still living in the emergency trailer camps, local staff of the federal agency stepped up efforts to encourage Japanese Americans to move out. The WRA and FPHA worked to find placements for Winona residents, which included employment with room and board, stays at hostels, or more permanent housing. Some 250 elderly, single, Issei men who were unable to work were transferred to Rancho Los Amigos, a Los Angeles County care facility.
Despite their efforts, the WRA and FPHA acknowledged the continued need for emergency housing. The WRA decided to convert the Winona site into a long-term facility for "distressed families" with a capacity of 300 trailers or 1,000 people.  But in order to implement this plan, all Winona residents had to temporarily move to the other trailer installations. At the other sites, residents were forced to consolidate to free up trailers that could be relocated to Winona. More than 500 individuals were forced to move to Lomita or Hawthorne when the Winona project closed temporarily on March 28. Issei Mantaro Kobayakawa issued a statement to the WRA on behalf of Winona residents expressing how helpless they felt after being transferred from Winona to the Hawthorne camp on short notice.  With the Hawthorne camp scheduled to close in a month, the Japanese American returnees would once again face upheaval—at least the fourth forced relocation in the same number of years.
Winona as Consolidated Facility, May 1946 to November 1947
Winona reopened in May, following a rushed renovation to develop a more permanent and "modern" housing project. Japanese Americans who had been at other temporary installations—including former Winonans—were transferred to the reopened Winona. The haste in which the WRA staff worked to meet concurrent deadlines of getting residents settled at Winona and closing the local field office by May 15, resulted in disaster. The Winona facility was not complete when officials transferred residents there. Upon arrival, residents complained about the lack of toilet facilities, proper lighting and cooking provisions.  Los Angeles County officials accused the WRA of "dumping" hundreds of returnees at Winona, days ahead of its completion. Arthur J. Will, LA County superintendent of charities, reported to the Pacific Citizen that there "were no lights, no public utilities, no transportation." Within a week, 800 residents at Winona remained without access to basic necessities. Scotty Tsuchiya, of the Japanese American Citizens League , visited the camp and found that "two thirds of the places had no lights.... they didn't have the sewer connected, nor the gas installed. There was no heat for baby's milk. There were no cooking facilities."  In absence of proper facilities, food was prepared at Olive View Sanitarium and trucked over by the Red Cross. Dillon Myer, who now headed the FHPA, responded to accusations of "dumping" by claiming that the returnees "certainly [had] better living conditions than many other persons were able to find in Los Angeles County." He also claimed that "there's housing elsewhere for these people but they won't move as long as they can live on charity." 
The spotlight on this situation called attention to the plight of the most vulnerable returnees to the greater Los Angeles region. In addition to being poor, the majority of those who had no options outside of Winona were elderly, responsible for large families, or single parents caring for young children. Tom Sasaki, a researcher for the War Agency Liquidation Unit, a federal agency doing a study of resettlement, visited Winona in July 1946 and observed: "As we entered the camp it gave me an impression of going back into a Relocation Camp." Sasaki's initial reaction was reinforced when he went inside one of the cramped trailers, noting in his report: "My immediate reaction was that this was worse than a 20’ x 25’ apartment in Poston . At least we had space to breathe." An observer told Sasaki, "The Winona camp is a pitiful place. Nothing but old people and a bunch of kids. It is worse than a relocation center. But they have no place to go."  While a resident told Sasaki that the camp was well located for the many gardeners who found work in nearby Hollywood, another noted the downside of the location, including the round-the-clock airplane noise and the distance from the Little Tokyo area, where most jobs could be found.
Over time, though, infrastructure was added, which caused conditions at Winona to begin to improve and semblance of community life to emerge. An August 1946 report by the Los Angeles County Committee on Human Relations reported that Winona's 300 trailers were repainted and a residents' community organization was being formed.  900 individuals remained at Winona, which was nearly at capacity. Students were attending a local school.  There were high school girls' clubs called the "Hot Rods" and the "Moonlight Serenaders" as well as dances on Friday and Saturday nights.  While daily life at Winona began to improve, there were aspects inherent to a temporary trailer installation that many residents could never become accustomed. A special issue of the Pacific Citizen , entitled: "The Transition – 1946: Year of Resettlement," provided a look back. One article covered the trailer installations, revealing: "Residents were tired of coping with insufficient room, inadequate equipment, and inefficiency. For them, it was the early relocation days all over again."  Despite this commentary, International Institute social workers who provided job and housing counseling suggested that Winona residents "are pretty well dug in," and few were willing or able to move out.
Another Eviction and Closing
The population at Winona held steady at about 1,000 into the spring of 1947. The expiration of the FPHA's lease in June and the expansion of the factory next door, however, signaled impending closure of the trailer camp. Advocates for the Winona residents suggested to civic leaders in nearby Glendale to approve a 10-acre city-owned track for those in need of housing. City officials balked at the suggestion, quipping that the responsibility should fall on the "federal government who moved the Japanese in the first place."  More than half of the Winona residents purchased trailers from the FPHA and moved to private sites, leaving about 350 individuals, half of which were children.
Winona closed permanently in November 1947 when the Pacific Airmotive Corporation took ownership of the property, even though the FPHA filed suit to extend their lease until January. 
Just prior to Winona's final closing, Nisei George Wada and Nori Yonemura signed a 5-year lease with the "Dureen" trailer camp at 11087 Olinda Street, two miles from Winona. At Dureen, families from Winona could anchor their trailers.  At the time of Winona's closure, 100 individuals resided at Dureen. The 5-acre site could accommodate about 115 trailer units. Wada and Yonemura made space available to the 74 families that comprised the last group to leave the Burbank camp in November. Most of the former Winona residents signed a 3-year lease with Wada and Yonemura. "Dureen," also referred to as "Roscoe" or "Sun Valley," stayed open until 1956, fulfilling a housing need for residents for nearly a decade after they left America's concentration camps. 
For More Information
- "Pico Boulevard is Home of 158 Santa Monicans," The Newell Star , Nov. 23, 1945, 3.
- "Letter from Paul Robertson to Miss J. Ehlenbach" Nov. 30, 1945, National Archives, PI-77 47, Box 75 Folder 301.3
- "WRA L.A. Area Reports Office – Meeting No. 16 Human Relations Committee," Dec. 12, 1945, National Archives, PI-77 47, Box 71 Folder 101.
- "Jap Returnees Arrive Today," Los Angeles Times , Nov. 5, 1945, A2.
- Paul Robertson, head of the WRA Los Angeles field office, provided an overview of the FPHA housing installations in Southern California in a letter to R.R. Best , project director at Tule Lake . He indicated that trailers and single apartments (within barracks) were available for recent returnees at six different centers, including Winona. Additionally, he outlined the monthly rental cost as well as the furnishings that came with the housing. "Letter from Paul Robertson to Mr. R.R. Best, Project Director, Tule Lake," 17 Nov 1945, National Archives, PI-77 47, Box 75 Folder 301.3.
- William H. Sakurai is identified as the secretary of the Tenants Committee, associated with Winona, responsible for obtaining signatures on the "plea petition" sent to Washington when the Burbank trailer camp was facing impending closure for the second (and final) time. "Winonans Petition Myer on Burbank Housing Crisis," Rafu Shimpo , Apr. 3, 1947.
- "WRA Officials Hint of Closing Temporary Housing Projects in Near Future," Rafu Shimpo , Mar. 8, 1946.
- "Memorandum from Helen D. Davis, Welfare Unit to Mr. E. Price Steiding, District Relocation Officer RE: Progress Report for Week Ending April 6, 1946," Apr. 9, 1946, National Archives, PI-77 47, Box 72 Folder 106.
- "Letter from Mr. Kobayakawa to E. Price Steiding Containing a Resolution Generated by Members of the Burbank Camp," 1946, National Archives, PI-77, Box 75, Folder 301.3. Through research in NARA records, there were three males with the last name Kobayakawa. Mantaro Kobayakawa seems to be the likely match. Mantaro Kobayakawa was born in 1898 in Japan. He immigrated to the US in 1913. He may have managed retail or a restaurant in Little Tokyo before the war. He and his wife, Kotake, went to Santa Anita and later to Rohwer . They received indefinite leave clearance on 11/9/1945. Los Angeles was their final destination.
- "Returnees Hustled into Winona as WRA Rushes to Close Projects by Deadline," Rafu Shimpo , May 10, 1946.
- "800 Moved to Winona Camp Find Facilities Incomplete: Los Angeles County Sets Up Emergency Kitchens to Feed Distressed Evacuee Group," Pacific Citizen , May 18, 1946.
- "Myer Defends WRA on Winona Incident," Rafu Shimpo , June 5, 1946.
- Tom Sasaki, Reports #5 ("Lawyer Hangs Out His Shingle"), July 25, 1946 and #6 ("Winona Trailer Camp"), July 26, 1946, Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement: A Digital Archive, The Bancroft Library, University of California at Berkeley, BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder W 2.11:1, accessed on Sept. 4, 2020 at http://digitalassets.lib.berkeley.edu/jarda/ucb/text/cubanc6714_b315w02_0011_1.pdf .
- "22 Thousand Evacuees Back in LA County: 1000 Still Living in Hostels, 900 at Winona Camp," Pacific Citizen , Aug. 10, 1946.
- Sasaki, Report #6.
- Valerie J. Matsumoto, City Girls: The Nisei Social World in Los Angeles 1920-1950 , (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014) 210; "Winona Girls Form Camp Organization," Rafu Shimpo , August 21, 1946.
- "The Transition – 1946: Year of Resettlement," Pacific Citizen , Dec. 21, 1946.
- "800 Returnees Face Eviction from Winona Trailer Unit," Rafu Shimpo , March 15, 1947.
- Rafu Shimpo , Nov. 6, 1946; "Winona Trailer Camp Group Begins One Last Move to New Site in Burbank Area," Pacific Citizen , Nov. 15, 1947, 3. Coverage of the change in ownership in Japanese American newspapers, at the time, listed the corporation's name in several different ways. The Rafu Shimpo suggested the company was called "Pacific Airmotive Corporation" (Nov. 6, 1947). The Pacific Citizen listed the new owner of the Winona site in at least three different ways: "Pacific Automotive Corporation" (April 12 and Nov. 15, 1947); "Pacific Aeronautical Corporation" (June 7, 1947) and "Pacific Airmotive Corporation" (June 28, 1947). See also: Jim Elmendorf, "Burbank: Aerospace Plant Near Airport to Close," Los Angeles Times , Aug. 2, 1994. In this 1994 LAT article, Jim Elmendorf provided an overview of the history of the Pacific Airmotive Corp., one of the oldest aerospace companies in California. Coverage of the Pacific Airmotive Corp. came as it was on the verge of closing its "Station 88" located on Hollywood Way, near the Burbank airport, after being in operation for 46 years. The details of the history of "Station 88" corresponded to reporting in 1947 of Winona’s closure and future plans for the site.
- Rafu Shimpo , Nov. 6, 1947.
- Marc Igler, "Both Fond, Bitter Memories: Post-War Trailer Park Refugees Plan Reunion," Los Angeles Times , June 5, 1986; Marc Igler, "40 Years Later, Japanese Seek Reunion of Camp Veterans," Los Angeles Times , June 4, 1986, A6.
Last updated Nov. 30, 2023, 4:56 p.m..