Mayer (detention facility)

This is a legacy article that appeared in the Densho Encyclopedia from 2012 to 2021. You can find the current article for this detention facility at:
US Gov Name Mayer Assembly Center, Arizona
Facility Type Temporary Assembly Center
Administrative Agency Wartime Civil Control Administration
Location Mayer, Arizona (34.3833 lat, -112.2333 lng)
Date Opened May 7, 1942
Date Closed June 2, 1942
Population Description Held people from southern Arizona.
General Description Located 75 miles northwest of Phoenix, Arizona, Mayer was set on land that was originally farmland.
Peak Population 245 (1942-05-25)
Exit Destination Poston
National Park Service Info

The Mayer Assembly Center, with a peak population of just 245 inmates, was the least populated of all the " assembly centers " and also the one in operation for the shortest time. Located in Arizona, most of the inmates came from the Salt River Valley in Arizona's Maricopa County. When the camp closed after less than a month, its inmates were transferred to Poston , Arizona.

History and Geography of Site

The small town of Mayer in Arizona is located near Prescott, 75 miles northwest of Phoenix in Yavapai County. Joseph Mayer of New York founded the town and opened a hotel and a stage stop in 1881. Before the Euro-Americans the earliest culture was the ancient people the Hohokams, their descendants became the Yavapai, and are now the present day Yavapai-Prescott tribe. [1]

The camp site was a former Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Camp Mayer that was abandoned during the 1930s. The CCC camps were created through the Works Project Administration by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to create employment throughout the U.S. during the depression. The camp contained much of the necessary infrastructure such as barracks, a recreational hall, bathhouses, latrines, a school building, infirmary, utilities, and roads. [2] The Wartime Civil Control Administration (WCCA) brought it back into operation to house "evacuated" persons of Japanese ancestry from the southern part of Arizona at the cost of $12,303.13 to restore. [3]

As "Assembly Center"

The Mayer Assembly Center was the smallest of all the assembly centers comprising 69 families or 245 inmates mainly from the Salt River Valley, a farming community in the Maricopa County. Military Area 1 had established an arbitrary and senseless boundary that ran along Highway 95 and 60, dividing the state of Arizona in half. The boundary continued along Grand and Van Buren Streets, bisecting Phoenix. Those living south of that boundary had to either move across the boundary to the "Free Zone" on short notice (which a number of families did) or remain to face the uncertainties of eviction and incarceration to Mayer. [4] Encompassed by the boundaries set by Civilian Exclusion Order #38, on May 3, 1942, they arrived at Mayer on May 7, 1942. [5] The manager in charge at Mayer was Thomas B. Rice, and the camp was administered by the Wartime Civil Control Administration (WCCA). [6]

There was to be another "assembly center" in Arizona located at another abandoned and refurbished CCC camp site called Cave Creek, Arizona, located 34 miles north of Phoenix. However, due to the small target population of Japanese Americans who moved out the area during the " voluntary evacuation " period there was no need for Cave Creek Assembly Center and the 245 evictees were all sent to Mayer Assembly Center where there was a sufficient amount of housing to accommodate all the evictees. [7]

There were religious services conducted in Mayer Assembly Center according to Reverend Lester Suzuki where members of the Phoenix Free Methodist Church and the Mesa Japanese Methodist Church conducted weekly services and prayer meetings during their brief time until they were transferred to Poston. [8] The local newspapers printed that there were gardens planted and organized recreational activities.

Among those incarcerated at Mayer Assembly Center was the famed jockey Joe Yoshio Kobuki (Kokomo Joe) who had worked at the Santa Anita and Tanforan racetracks before WWII and which ironically became "assembly centers" that would incarcerate his fellow Japanese Americans. [9]

In Edwin McDowell's article in the Pacific Citizen Henry Takemori, a former journalist, and his wife Kay owned a grocery store in Phoenix, Arizona. Despite being outside of Military Zone 1, they were ordered to move by the military because they were too close to the airport. The Takemoris had to make the decision to move their business to where it would be hard to keep the business going due to greater prejudice in the town or to sell their store and the contents and go to the assembly center. The decided to sell but took a tremendous loss, since greedy buyers knew that if they held out the Takemoris would be desperate to sell at a low price before they would be forced to leave. They finally had to sell their $15,000 property for a mere $800, and on May 8, 1942 they joined the 242 former residents along with their family and friends on a Greyhound bus for Mayer Assembly Center. [10]

At around the same time there was a scam that victimized the 65 desperate Japanese American families who were farmers in the Salt River Valley. The two swindlers behind the scheme was a private investigator included a former peace officer posing as FBI agents. Their scheme was to collect $50 each from the Japanese Americans to avoid "evacuation" and to be allowed to continue to farm with the pretense that their produce would go to the U.S. Army, Red Cross, and hospitals. The two swindlers were caught in a trap planned by federal agents on the Sanichi Ishikawa farm as they attempted to collect $250.00 from the family. After the incident the Ishikawa family was sent to Mayer Assembly Center. [11]

According to Lieutenant General DeWitt's revised Final Report, Japanese Evacuation From the West Coast, 1942 , there were no births or deaths, and no crimes committed at Mayer Assembly Center during its short term. Mayer Assembly Center was in operation for the shortest time of all the assembly centers from May 7, 1942 to June 2, 1942 a total of about 27 days. They were all transferred on June 2, 1942, to the permanent concentration camp Colorado River or Poston at Parker, Arizona. [12]

The Site Today

There are no remains of Mayer Assembly Center today due to the construction of Highway 69 going right through it and subsequent development. [13] According to the National Park Service in the National Historic Landmark Survey: Japanese Americans in World War II, no federal historic recognition is recommended for this property. [14]

The Japanese American families returned to the central valley, and, alongside those who were able to remain, re-established their farms and businesses, some of which have became very successful.

Authored by Marie Masumoto

For More Information

Burton, Jeffery F., Mary M. Farrell, Florence B. Lord, and Richard W. Lord. Confinement and Ethnicity: An Overview of World War II Japanese American Relocation Sites . Western Archeological and Conservation Center, National Park Service, 1999, 2000. Foreword by Tetsuden Kashima. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2002. The Mayer section of 2000 version accessible online at .


  1. Yavapai Prescott Indian Tribe website, ; Prescott Link, Mayer, Arizona, >; Hohokams, PBS Eight, KAET, The Arizona Collection, Arizona State University, .
  2. Jeffery F. Burton, Mary M. Farrell, Florence B. Lord, and Richard W. Lord, Confinement and Ethnicity: An Overview of World War II Japanese American Relocation Sites (Western Archeological and Conservation Center, National Park Service, 1999, 2000; foreword by Tetsuden Kashima. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2002). The Mayer section of 2000 version accessible online at .
  3. Lt. General John DeWitt, Final Report: Japanese Evacuation from the West Coast, 1942 , revised edition (Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1943), 249; Internet Archives online version, .
  4. Valerie Jean Matsumoto, "Shikata Ga Nai: Japanese American Women in Central Arizona, 1910-1978," (honors thesis, Arizona State University, May 1978), 24.
  5. Civilian Exclusion Order 38, National Archives and Records Administration; digitized online version, Japanese American Veterans Association, Research Archives, Search Digitized Documents, .
  6. "Mayer Center Looks Like Any U.S. Town," Pacific Citizen , June 4, 1942, .
  7. "Abandon Cave Creek," Pacific Citizen , June, 4, 1942, 2, .
  8. Lester E. Suzuki, Ministry in the Assembly and Relocation Centers of World War II (Berkeley, CA: Yardbird Publishing, 1979), 49.
  9. John Christgau, KOKOMO JOE: The Story of the First Japanese American Jockey in the United States (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, Bison Books, 2009), 80.
  10. Edwin McDowell, "Too Grateful to be Bitter," Pacific Citizen , May 26, 1967, 1 and 6; Andrew B. Russell, "Arizona Divided," in Brad Melton and Dean Smith, eds., Arizona Goes to War: The Home Front and the Front Lines during World War II (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2003), 47.
  11. "Private Investigator Convicted Of Swindling Arizona Japanese," Pacific Citizen , June 4, 1942.
  12. DeWitt, Final Report , 229.
  13. Jeff Burton, et al., Confinement and Ethnicity , 356
  14. Russell, Arizona Divided," 38.

Last updated July 14, 2015, 9:34 p.m..