Los Angeles City Councilmember Richard Alarcon on Oct. 12 introduced a motion that would protect an important part of the cultural legacy of the northeast San Fernando Valley by including the site of the Tuna Canyon Detention Station in Tujunga on the city’s list of historical and cultural monuments.
The Tuna Canyon Detention Station site, which is located in an area commonly known by local residents as the Verdugo Hills Golf Course, has been facing the threat of a proposed residential subdivision that would degrade the site’s historic value, remove natural open space and eliminate an opportunity to commemorate a significant historic resource, according to Alarcon.
“There is a rich and important history in the northeast San Fernando Valley that must be protected so kids today and generations in the future can learn from our past,” said Alarcon. “I strongly believe that a housing development would be inconsistent with our goal to preserve the legacy of the Tuna Canyon Detention Station site, and I am proud to work with partners in the Sunland-Tujunga community to protect the area.”
A recent release of records at the National Archives and Records Center at Laguna Niguel revealed for the first time that there were two detention centers in the Los Angeles area following the attack on Pearl Harbor. At the outset of World War II, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service took over a Civilian Conservation Corps camp, which had opened in 1933 at 6330 Tujunga Canyon Blvd., and transformed it into the Tuna Canyon Detention Station – a barbed-wire enclosure with lights and armed troops to receive individuals considered “enemy aliens” who had been taken into custody by the FBI on Dec. 16, 1941.
Thereafter, the Tuna Canyon Detention Station operated as a gateway to internment for civilians of Japanese, Japanese Peruvian, Italian and German descent. From its opening until May 1942, 1,490 Japanese males passed through the camp and were transferred to other internment camps in Fort Missoula, Mont., Fort Lincoln, N.D., and Santa Fe, N.M. The camp, which included seven barracks, an infirmary, mess hall, and office buildings, could hold up to 300 people at once and processed more than 2,500 individuals in total.
“I absolutely support Councilmember Alarcon’s effort to protect the site of the Tuna Canyon Detention Station as a historic monument,” said Lloyd Hitt, past president of the Little Landers Historical Society and a Sunland-Tujunga resident since 1946. “The historic significance of this site cannot be overstated and preserving the area would be a positive statement that reflects both our community and the families of those whose fathers passed through the Tuna Camp.”
Alarcon’s motion was seconded by Councilmember Eric Garcetti. The motion was referred to the council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee.
The developer, Snowball West Investments, plans to proceed with the project but is willing to work with preservation groups, said spokesman Michael Hoberman.
Regarding any remnants of the detention center that might still be on the site, Hoberman told The Rafu, “I don’t think there is anything. They built the golf course a long time ago and probably removed any remains of the center. But it’s a big place — there are areas that are not part of the golf course.”
He said he would be interested in preserving any traces of the camp. “If there’s anything there, I’d love to find out about it.”
Hoberman was also in favor of a monument to mark the site. “We’ve already planned on putting up a plaque or some kind of commemorative history or information … That issue is already dealt with in the environmental impact report. There’s a section where it’s already discussed, experts already retained, already made offers to have a plaque.”
Although “no one in the councilman’s office contacted us ahead of time to tell us” about the motion, Hoberman said, the developer will “try and meet with the people involved in the motion … to see how we can be cooperative.”