A photo of the abandoned Griffith Park Internment Camp barracks during a walk-through in 1945 to determine suitability for housing returning soldiers. (Herald Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library)

Rafu Staff Report

A new sign will designate part of Griffith Park that served as a confinement site for Japanese Americans during World War II.

The Los Angeles Board of Recreation and Park Commissioners on April 6 approved “internment camp education sign improvements as a donation from the Griffith J. Griffith Charitable Foundation and the Los Angeles Parks Foundation to be installed at Travel Town.”

Like the former Civilian Conservation Corps camp at Tuna Canyon in Tujunga, Griffith Park was used to temporarily detain local Issei before they were transferred to camps further inland.

The board’s action included the following summary: “The area in Griffith Park now known as Travel Town was once home to a Civilian Conservation Camp. Like other camps located throughout the country, it was purposed to meet a wartime need for internment  camps. 

“In December 1941, the day after the Pearl Harbor attack, Griffith Park was allocated $32,400 by the War Department to build a campsite. Griffith Park was designated as a prisoner of war enclosure known as the Griffith Park Internment Camp. 

“Immigration and Naturalization Service used Griffith Park to detain small groups of first-generation immigrants. Approximately 101 Japanese, 21 Germans and 4 Italians were detained for periods of one night to several months during World War II. The Army closed this site in 1943 as the need for military guards increased throughout the war effort and were deployed elsewhere.

“Long-term detention never occurred at the Griffith Park Civilian Conservation Camp site; however, this location is historically significant to Griffith Park and the City of Los Angeles. In  recognition of this history, the Los Angeles Parks Foundation has received  a generous donation from the Griffith J. Griffith Charitable Foundation consisting of an educational sign which will be placed on a pedestal to be installed at Travel Town.”

In August 1943, the area became the Army’s Western Corps Photographic Center and Camouflage Experimental Laboratory. The area was developed as a combined transportation museum and recreation center in the late 1940s and was formally dedicated as Travel Town in 1952. It has since been recognized as a Historic Cultural Monument.

The  narrative  for  the  sign  was  provided  by  Dr.  Russell  Endo,  professor  of  ethnic  studies at University of Colorado, and was supported by the Travel Town Museum Foundation, Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition, and Japanese American National Museum. The project was shared with the Griffith Park Advisory Board to provide community engagement.

“Over the past year, Griffith Park historian Linda Barth and I have pieced together the story of the Griffith Park camp using hundreds of pages of documents,” Endo wrote in a letter to the Recreation and Park Commission. “This work provides the basis for the material on the proposed sign.

“Across the U .S., immigrant leaders were confined in dozens of sites. Many have been given historic status or other visible identification. Recognition of such sites provides an opportunity to educate the public about the importance of protecting everyone’s rights and freedom, especially in times of national crisis.

“In Southern California, Griffith Park was one of just three primary incarceration sites and the only one operated by the U.S. Army. This site is an integral part of the history of Griffith Park, Los Angeles, and indeed the United States. It is well deserving of the proposed informational sign.”

Kyoko Nancy Oda, president of the Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition, wrote, “The Tuna Canyon Detention Station, located in Tujunga, has a close relationship with the Griffith Park Internment Camp. The first Griffith Park prisoners were Japanese immigrant leaders confined there temporarily under the supervision of Tuna Canyon Officer-in-Charge Merrill Scott. Many subsequent Griffith Park prisoners were transferred from Tuna Canyon.

“Because of concerns about internal security, the U.S. Army wanted individuals arrested by the FBI to be moved away from the Pacific Coast. In Southern California, Tuna Canyon and Griffith Park were critical for such plans.

“Tuna Canyon has been designated as Los Angeles Cultural Historical Monument #1039 by the City of Los Angeles. One of the coalition’s initial plans is to install a plaque at this site. Plaques and signs, such as the one proposed for Griffith Park, will remind visitors of this dark period and are important because we believe that it should not happen again to anyone, anywhere.”

In his endorsement letter, Greg Gneier, president of the Travel Town Museum Foundation, wrote, “We understand the sign will be installed in the central plaza area of the museum, in the vicinity of the commemorative status for the CCC camps which operated in the area in the 1930s, and an interpretive display about the growth of roadways along railroad lines in Los Angeles.

“The Travel Town Museum Foundation is dedicated to supporting the museum’s railroad history mission through restoration projects, historic equipmetn operations, interpretive programs, and outreach to families. We appreciate that the Travel Town Museum, marking 70 years in operation as one of the nation’s oldest and most beloved railroad museums, also has a role in the history of Griffith Park.

“The sharing of stories of Los Angeles’ residents as revealed through the rich history of Griffith Park enhances the stature of the museum and continues to expand outreach opportunities to new audiences.”

Michelle Crames, chair of the Griffith Park Advisory Board, wrote, “During World War II, thousands of Japanese, German and Italian immigrant leaders were confined without due process in U.S. detention and internment camps as suspected threats to national security. One such camp, operated by the Army, resided in Griffith Park at the site of the former Civilian Conservation Corps Camp Riverside, now home to Travel Town Museum and Los Angeles Live Steamers. For more than a year, this small camp, which could accommodate over 500 people, served as a staging area for larger camps in other parts of the country.

“While this shameful part of our nation’s history is problematic, we applaud the effort to acknowledge it and educate visitors. Shining a light on our park’s role in this sad chapter will enhance the experience of visitors by deepending the public’s understanding of its history. We strongly support the signage proposal for the Griffith Park Internment Camp and look forward to seeing more proposals for educational signage brought forward by Recreation and Parks staff and others who are knowledgeable about the park’s history.”

The Board of Recreation and Park Commissioners authorized the Department of Recreation and Parks (RAP) Planning, Maintenance, and Construction Branch (PMC) to issue a right-of-entry (ROE) permit to the Los Angeles Parks Foundation and its selected contractor, Great Western Installations, for the installation of the improvements, which are valued up to approximately $4,600.

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