Manzanar Site Opens Mess Hall Exhibit

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The exterior of the Manzanar mess hall. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

Visitors have an opportunity to explore a major part of camp life in a new exhibit in Manzanar’s World War II-era mess hall.

Historical photos, articles, and quotes evoke the scale, complexity, and regimentation of life in Manzanar, where more than 10,000 people came together under duress, experiencing tremendous social and emotional upheaval. Thirty-six mess halls served three meals a day for up to 300 people, 365 days a year. With a peak population of more than 10,000, the scale of operations required to feed Japanese Americans and camp staff matched that of a small city.

Photos and artifacts are on display in the Manzanar mess hall, which is now open to the public.

The mess hall is the first building completed as part of a “Demonstration Block” called for in Manzanar National Historic Site’s General Management Plan. Inyo County donated the structure, built at Bishop Airfield in 1942, to the National Park Service (NPS) in 2002. The 40-by-100-foot building was divided into four sections to be moved to Manzanar. Eventually, the NPS received funding to restore the building to its 1942 appearance and develop exhibits. Park staff worked with Krister Olmon, Harvest Moon Studio, and Color-Ad Exhibits and Signage to create the exhibit, with research support from Friends of Manzanar.

Superintendent Les Inafuku stated, “As I walk through the mess hall, I find myself imagining that I’ve walked in right at the busiest moment of a meal, and that I’d better be careful not to bump into a cook or dish washer. My great thanks go out to the former internees who provided us with the fine details about meals and the mess halls, plus the countless hours that our Manzanar staff and our creative and dedicated exhibit designers and fabricators devoted to research, develop concepts, and to produce the exhibits.”

In addition to the mess hall and two recently reconstructed barracks, the Manzanar Interpretive Center features extensive exhibits, audio-visual programs, and a bookstore. Winter hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Manzanar is located at 5001 Hwy. 395, six miles south of Independence. Programs and exhibits are free and open to the public. For further information, call (760) 878-2194 or visit www.nps.gov/manz.

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2 Comments

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  2. I found a picture from inside one of the mess halls at Manzanar at my grandmother’s house yesterday. I hadn’t previously seen what they looked like. I’ll have to check out the new exhibit one of these days.

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