Local Leaders Support Tuna Canyon Designation

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City Councilmember Mitchell Englander, a member of the Planning and Land Use Management Committee, holds up a World War II-era photo of Tuna Canyon. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)

Local elected officials and scholars have expressed support for a proposal by Los Angeles City Councilmember Richard Alarcon to make the Tuna Canyon Detention Station site in Tujunga a historic-cultural landmark.

Located at the present-day site of the Verdugo Hills Golf Course, the camp was used by the Justice Department during World War II to detain Japanese immigrants, as well as some German and Italian immigrants and Japanese Peruvians, before sending them to other camps outside California.

The city’s Cultural Heritage Commission recommended against granting landmark status because there are no structures from that period left. The council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee considered the issue on June 11 but deferred action pending talks between Tuna Canyon advocates and the property owner. The full City Council discussed Tuna Canyon on June 21.

State Sen. Carol Liu (D-Glendale), in a letter to the committee, wrote, “The Tuna Canyon Detention Station holds important historical significance in our community. Despite the lack of historic buildings, there is much we can learn from this site, which stands as a momument to all those who spent time in this and other internment camps …

“Japanese Americans who have visited the site have expressed a powerful emotional connection to the land itself. This motion would ensure a portion of the site is set aside to commemorate history and promote education for future generations.

“A significant number of historic landmarks in the State of California were so designated without having historic buildings. The lack of preservation of what were intended to be temporary structures should not be the reason to deny the application and forgo the opportunity to recognize this significant moment in our local history.”

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich wrote, “The Verdugo Hills Golf Course was the site of the Tuna Canyon Detention Station, where hundreds of innocent Japanese immigrants were taken after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The historical significance and preservation of what transpired on that site will provide critical lessons for all Americans.”

David K. Yoo, director and professor of the UCLA Asian American Studies Center, wrote, “The monument will memorialize the significance of Tuna Canyon to Los Angeles’ multifaceted, multicultural history and serve as an enduring reminder that democracy is fragile and must be diligently preserved now and into the future.

“As a historian of the United States who specializes in Asian American history, I have spent my career working to unearth and to reclaim stories that have been forgotten and suppressed. More than simply giving voice to these stories, it is imperative to ask how they inform and deepen the understanding of our collective history. Facing the full scope of the past with honesty and humility will help us to be a nation characterized by ‘liberty and justice for all.’”

Lane Hirabayashi, professor and holder of the Aratani Endowed Chair at the UCLA Asian American Studies Department, “What we have to remember here is that, after the war was over, not one single Issei or Kibei man or woman was successfully prosecuted and convicted of … sabotage or espionage against the USA, including those persons who were unjustly incarcerated at Tuna Canyon …

“As an educator, the preservation of this historic site is imperative, for only with the preservation of Tuna Canyon can we have the physical foundations for remembering this error in public policy that was made in the heat of a national crisis but that wound up damaging the lives, liberties and finances of so many innocent persons.”

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