Commission to Vote on Monument Status for Tuna Canyon Detention Station

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From the photo album of Merrill Scott, officer in charge at Tuna Canyon. (Photo courtesy of Little Landers Historical Society)

The site of the Tuna Canyon Detention Station in Tujunga is up for a vote for Los Angeles Cultural Historical Monument status.

The Cultural Heritage Commission will take up the issue at its next meeting on Thursday, April 18, at 10 a.m. in Room 1010 at City Hall, 200 N. Spring St., Los Angeles. The commissioners are Richard Barron (president), Roella Louie (vice president), Tara Hamacher, Gail Kennard and Oz Scott.

Now the site of the Verdugo Hills Golf Course and slated for development, Tuna Canyon was designated an “enemy alien internment camp” and was in operation from Dec. 7, 1941 to Oct. 1, 1943. More than 2,500 Japanese nationals and Japanese Americans were held there, along with Germans, Italians and Japanese Peruvians.

Noting that a city staff report has recommended against monument status, the board of VOICE (Volunteers Organized in Conserving the Environment) and the Save the Golf Course Committee are urging Japanese Americans with ties to the detention station and others who support preservation to attend the meeting or to send comments to the commission.

Comments can be directed to Richard Barron, President, Cultural Heritage Commission, City of Los Angeles, 200 N. Spring St., Los Angeles, CA 90012; or to [email protected] (subject line: “Historic-Cultural Monument Application for Site of the Tuna Canyon Detention Station”) with copy to [email protected] Those who plan to attend the meeting are asked to email [email protected]

On Feb. 12, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously supported a motion by Councilmember Richard Alarcon directing the Planning Department to prepare a Historic-Cultural Monument application for review and consideration by the Cultural Heritage Commission.

“The Tuna Canyon Detention Station is an important piece of our history in the Northeast San Fernando Valley and a reminder of some of our darkest times as a community, nation and world,” said Alarcon. “Classifying the Tuna Canyon Detention Station as a Historic-Cultural Monument would allow us to protect this important piece of our history, and give us the opportunity to continue to learn from our past mistakes and preserve this lesson for generations to come.”

A recent release of records at the National Archives and Records Center at Laguna Niguel revealed for the first time that there were two Los Angeles-area detention centers established following the attack on Pearl Harbor.

At the outset of World War II, the Immigration and Naturalization Service took over the former Civilian Conservation Corps camp, which 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.

Lloyd Hitt, past president of the Little Landers Historical Society and a Sunland-Tujunga resident since 1946, said, “I absolutely support Councilmember Alarcon’s effort to protect the site of the Tuna Canyon Detention Station as a historic monument. 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 Canyon Detention Station.”

Opponents of the residential subdivision proposed for the site said it would degrade the site’s historic value, remove natural open space and eliminate an opportunity to commemorate a significant historic resource.

Alarcon added, “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 and preserve its rich and important history.”

City Councilmember Paul Krekorian also supported the motion, saying, “This piece of property is historically significant on many levels because of its role as a detention center, and long before that, as a Tongva encampment. This piece of property is of central historical significance to Los Angels, and California, frankly.”

Krystee Clark of the Tujunga-Sunland Neighborhood Council said, “Historical prominence and preservation of this location is important to the residents of Tujunga.”

Snowball West Investments Inc., which hopes to build 224 single-family homes on the site, is opposed to the motion, which Fred Gaines, the property owner’s attorney, called “nothing more than a last-ditch effort to derail our client’s long-pending development project.”

Gaines told the council, “You have a problem with your process. We are the property owners … We get absolutely no notice whatsoever that this motion is going forward.”

Regarding the upcoming meeting, Hitt acknowledged, “Because there are no structures remaining from the Tuna Camp, we are left with the definition: ‘In which the broad cultural, political, economic, or social history of the nation, state, or community is reflected or exemplified.’ It’s an uphill battle, but I think if there were Japanese Americans in the audience, [the commission]might reconsider the importance of this World War II camp and what America learned, even if the buildings are gone.”

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3 Comments

  1. Nancy Kyoko Oda on

    The Tuna Canyon Detention center is important for the people of the city of Los Angeles and in particular, the San Fernando Valley. On December 8, 1941, Japanese religious leaders, bankers, judo teacher, and leaders were pick up and detained. Herbert Nicholson, a Quaker minister, is fondly remembered by the Japanese for his kindness and skill translating for the Japanese speaking prisoners.
    It was originally built for three hundred people including the 311 Japanese, 59 German, and 19 Italian in the first sweep. One day there were 1, 837 visitors so Mr.
    H. Scott Had to limit visits to 2 minutes each for the worried families. His son at the hearings saying it was his job but believed that the detention was wrong.
    Sei Fuji was among those who were picked up. The historical marker would honor the sacrifice and spirit of the those who gave up 3 years of their lives and in some instances, left for war torn Japan.
    The youth at the San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center will sponsor the SF JACL’s Katarou histories to learn more about this place so close to home.

  2. Pingback: Tuna Canyon Preservation Efforts | JACL PSW in Blogland!

  3. Elli yoshida on

    Yesterday I found out from my 90 year old mother, her father was a detainee at Tuna Canyon Detention Center. She only mentioned it since she recently read your article of April 18. She has very clear memories of visiting her dad on several occasions at the center. Grampa Matsuzawa was a teacher at the Gardena Gakuen where he, my grandmother and their 3 children lived and worked at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack. Gramma M. and her children ended up in Rohwer Arkansas.

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