By EVA YAMAMOTO
A few days following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Roosevelt Administration initiated a series of actions that constitute one of the darkest periods in the history of our country. This included the incarceration of individuals who were falsely accused of being “enemy aliens” based primarily on their nationality. This included Japanese Americans, Japanese nationals from South America, German Americans and Italian Americans based on an unfounded assumption that these individuals posed a threat to national security.
On Dec. 16, 1941, a Civilian Conservation Corps work camp built in the 1930s, located in the foothills of Tujunga, was quickly converted to a prisoner detention center and began to fill with individuals who were unjustly accused of being a threat to national security. This facility was named the Tuna Canyon Detention Station.
Unfortunately, more than 30 years ago the detention station was completely demolished and removed, and the site graded for a golf course. In 2013, the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission visited and analyzed the site, and unanimously concluded that since there was no remnant of the station, the site should not be designated as historically significant.
In spite of the commission’s recommendation, Councilman Richard Alarcon pushed through a Los Angeles City Council historical designation for an oak grove area close to the original site.
A coalition of Japanese Americans, local residents and other members from the community came together as the Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition to propose a historical marker at the designated location and educational posts along a walking path. The challenge is that this location is in a proposed private gated housing development, which will have no access to the public.
Several months ago, with the encouragement of Janek Dombrowa, the project architect, and members of the Japanese American community, the developer offered a very generous and extremely viable option. This proposal would have included the donation of land at no cost overlooking the original location of the Tuna Canyon Detention Station. The land would have provided the opportunity to build a permanent facility to commemorate the historical importance of the detention station and to hold events and educational programs for students and visitors.
This offer also included working with the City Council to move the historical designation to the donated land. Unfortunately, the offer was not accepted and it has expired.
The alternative of just a historical marker with no public access does not provide the recognition needed for this important event in our country’s history. It should be noted that only historical markers were placed hundreds of yards away from the original sites of the detention centers located at the Santa Anita Race Track and the Los Angeles County Fairplex facilities. Land for a permanent facility was not offered at those locations. The historical marker at the Santa Anita site can only be accessed when the facility is open.
Although important, merely placing a marker does not provide the opportunity to present the many stories and preserve the documents and pictures related to this tragic period in our country’s history. The Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition has prepared an amazing exhibit documenting the heartfelt stories surrounding this facility and preserving many documents and pictures from the detention station. This exhibit needs and deserves a permanent location to preserve history and educate future generations.
At a recent event, Congressmember Judy Chu addressed the importance of a permanent site. Recently retired Los Angeles County CEO William Fujioka, whose grandfather was detained at Tuna Canyon, also has voiced his strong support for a permanent site.
Although the time period has expired to accept the generous donation of free land overlooking the original site, if the community acts quickly, the developer might be persuaded to again donate land. This is a unique opportunity that must be pursued now.
Working together, all parties can create a legacy for current and future generations. Please visit the website to support the permanent home: https://tunacanyonmemorial.com/permanent_home/. Please add your name and email address to support this goal.
The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.