Turlock (detention facility)
|US Gov Name||Turlock Assembly Center, California|
|Facility Type||Temporary Assembly Center|
|Administrative Agency||Wartime Civil Control Administration|
|Location||Turlock, California (37.4833 lat, -120.8333 lng)|
|Date Opened||April 30, 1942|
|Date Closed||August 12, 1942|
|Population Description||Held people from the Sacramento River delta and Los Angeles, California.|
|General Description||Located in the town of Turlock, California.|
|Peak Population||3,661 (1942-06-02)|
|Exit Destination||Gila River|
|National Park Service Info|
One of fifteen temporary " assembly centers " used during the Japanese American incarceration located on the fairgrounds in Turlock, California, that operated from April to August of 1942. Detainees of the Turlock Assembly Center were from the Sacramento River Delta and Los Angeles regions. Upon leaving Turlock, detainees were relocated to the Gila River concentration camp located in the Arizona desert. On September 14, 1942, the site became an Army Rehabilitation Center used to provide training to army prisoners before being reinstated to military duty. 
Before The War
Prior to the war, the site was used to host the Melon Carnival originally held on Main Street in Turlock. The Carnival was held to promote the city's ever-expanding melon growing and shipping industry. In 1927, the seven-acre fairgrounds plot was purchased to provide a permanent location for the Carnival that eventually developed into the annual fair that remains in existence today. The fairgrounds property continued to grow in 1937 when a nearby ranch was purchased and again in the early 1940s when another acquisition brought the site to a total of thirty-seven acres. 
The first inmate arrived at the Turlock Assembly Center on April 30, 1942. Dorothea Lange of the War Relocation Authority (WRA) documented the arrival of inmates through photographs on May 2, 1942. The first set of photographs was taken in Byron, California where Contra Costa County residents of Japanese ancestry were ordered to report. In Byron, crowds of people waited to board buses to make the 65-mile journey to Turlock. Individuals were only allowed to bring what they could carry, which were generally just a few suitcases.
Upon arriving at the Turlock Assembly Center, inmates were required to wait in line while their luggage was searched for contraband items. Children arriving at the center had identification tags affixed to their clothing. Once the baggage claim and search process was complete, individuals were allowed to view their newly assigned homes. The barracks were of bare and simple construction and were put together hastily. Some detainees were required to sleep in barracks that were once horse stalls. Living quarters in Wartime Civil Control Administration (WCCA) camps were typically very bare and consisted of cots, blankets, mattresses made from straw filled sacks, and had a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling. 
Life in the camps was communal in nature; detainees were required to eat, shower, and use latrine facilities together.  While inmates were not required to work, the WCCA anticipated that detainees would operate the temporary assembly centers. Wages for the various jobs performed depended on the task. 
For the months of June and July 1942, the Turlock Assembly Center produced a weekly publication initially called the Turlock Fume before changing its name to T he Turlock Assembly Center . The publication documented daily life for residents of the WCCA camp.
The Turlock Assembly Center detained a total of 3,699 people with the maximum population at one time being 3,661 on June 2, 1942. The last inmate left the site on August 12, 1942. Residents of the Turlock Assembly Center were relocated to the Gila River concentration camp where most remained for the duration of World War II.
Post Assembly Center Period
A little over a month after the last inmate left the Turlock Assembly Center, on September 14, 1942, the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds became an Army Rehabilitation Center. In the summer and fall of 1942, the United States Army chose nine sites to be used as "Detention and Rehabilitation Centers." These centers were established in order to discipline and rehabilitate soldiers that violated military regulations before reinstating them for military duty. The Turlock Rehabilitation Center was the largest of the centers as well as the first to be established. The army did not have much money to invest into these sites and therefore looked for places that required little or no construction. 
The former Turlock Assembly Center fit this mold. The Rehabilitation Center consisted of 150 barracks, 31 latrines, 18 bathhouses, a canteen building, an administration building, three hospital buildings, several sheds and the grandstands. Only one building was connected to sewage while the others maintained cesspools.  While as many as 3,661 inmates were detained at one time at the Turlock Assembly Center, it was determined that the maximum occupancy of the Rehabilitation Center was a mere 1,500.  The Rehabilitation Center closed in 1945 and the annual fair resumed a year after. 
In May of 2008, students of the nearby California State University, Stanislaus, as well as the Cortez chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) sought approval from the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds board and began a memorial project at the site of the former Turlock Assembly Center. A small monument with a plaque containing a brief history of the camp was installed inside the fairgrounds. On May 1, 2010, a ceremony was held in honor of the former detainees of the WCCA camp, some of whom were in attendance.
Shortly after the ceremony, storyboards were planned and created in order to provide a more thorough history of the Turlock Assembly Center. The first storyboard tells the story of forced removal and incarceration from a young boy's perspective. The boy shares his experience as public sentiment changed after the attack on Pearl Harbor and chronicles the unpleasant living conditions and difficulties associated with life at the Turlock Assembly Center. The second storyboard describes relocation to the Gila River concentration camp and provides the reader with general background information on the Japanese American incarceration. These storyboards were installed in the summer of 2011.
Kayla Canelo graduated from California State University, Stanislaus, in 2010 with a Master's Degree in History. Her thesis explored the public crusade against Japanese Americans after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. She is currently an adjunct History instructor. In 2008 she headed the Turlock Assembly Center memorial project. The monument project was completed in 2010 and story boards were added in 2011.
For More Information
Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. Personal Justice Denied: Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians . Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997.
Burton, J and M. Farrell, F. Lord and R. Lord. “Assembly Centers” in Confinement and Ethnicity: An Overview of World War II Japanese American Relocation Sites. Western Archeological and Conservation Center National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 2000. http://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/anthropology74/ce16.htm .
Lange, Dorothea. War Relocation Authority Photographs of Japanese-American Evacuation and Resettlement. Series 14 and 15. 1942. Accessed through Calisphere, http://www.calisphere.universityofcalifornia.edu/ .
Santos, Robert L. The Army Needs Men: An Account of the U.S. Army Rehabilitation Rehabilitation Center at Turlock, California, 1942-1945 . Denair, Calif.: Alley-Cass Publications, 1997.
Stanislaus County Fair. " 100th Anniversary Timeline ."
Weglyn, Michi Nishiura. Years of Infamy: The Untold Story of America's Concentration Camps . Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1996.
- Robert L. Santos, The Army Needs Men: An Account of the U.S. Army Rehabilitation Rehabilitation Center at Turlock, California, 1942-1945 (Denair, CA: Alley-Cass Publications, 1997); accessed at http://wwwlibrary.csustan.edu/bsantos/armya.htm .
- Stanislaus County Fair, "100th Anniversary Timeline," accessed at http://www.stancofair.com/timeline/ .
- Michi Nishiura Weglyn, Years of Infamy: The Untold Story of America's Concentration Camps (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1996), 80.
- Weglyn, Years of Infamy , 80.
- Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. Personal Justice Denied: Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997), 146.
- Santos, The Army Needs Men.
- Santos, The Army Needs Men.
- J. Burton, et al., Confinement and Ethnicity: An Overview of World War II Japanese American Relocation Sites (Western Archeological and Conservation Center National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 2000), accessed at http://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/anthropology74/ce16o.htm .
- Stanislaus County Fair, "100th Anniversary Timeline."
Last updated June 10, 2020, 5:16 p.m..