Manzanar is best known as the site of one of ten American concentration camps, where more than 120,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War II from December 1942 to 1945. Located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada in California's Owens Valley between the towns of Lone Pine to the south and Independence to the north, it is approximately 230 mi north of Los Angeles. Manzanar (which means "apple orchard" in Spanish) was identified by the United States National Park Service as the best-preserved of the former camp sites, and is now the Manzanar National Historic Site, which preserves and interprets the legacy of Japanese American incarceration in the United States.

Long before the first of the Japanese American detainees arrived in March 1942, Manzanar was home to Native Americans, who lived mostly in villages near several creeks in the area. Ranchers and miners formally established the town of Manzanar in 1910, but it had been abandoned by 1929, after the City of Los Angeles purchased the water rights to virtually the entire area. As different as these groups were, their histories displayed a common thread of forced relocation.

Since the last of those incarcerated left in 1945, former detainees and others have worked to protect Manzanar and to establish it as a National Historic Site to ensure that the history of the site, along with the stories of those who were incarcerated there, is recorded for current and future generations. The primary focus is the Japanese American incarceration era, as specified in the legislation that created the Manzanar National Historic Site. The site also interprets the former town of Manzanar, the ranch days, the settlement by the Owens Valley Paiute, and the role that water played in shaping the history of the Owens Valley.

Before World War II

Owens Valley Paiute

Manzanar was first inhabited by Native Americans nearly 10,000 years ago. Approximately 1,500 years ago, the area was settled by the Owens Valley Paiute, who ranged across the Owens Valley from Long Valley on the north to Owens Lake on the south, and from the crest of the Sierra Nevada on the west to the Inyo Mountains on the east. Other Native American nations in the region included the Miwok, Western Mono, and Tubatulabal to the west, the Shoshone to the south and east, and the Mono Lake Paiute to the north. The Owens Valley Paiute hunted and fished, collected pine nuts, and raised crops utilizing irrigation in the Manzanar area. They also traded brown-ware pottery for salt from the Saline Valley, and traded other wares and goods across the Sierra Nevada during the summer and fall. The Owens Valley received scant attention from European Americans until the early 1860s, as it was little more than a crossroads on the routes through the area. When gold and silver were discovered in the Sierra Nevada and the Inyo Mountains, the resulting sudden influx of miners, farmers, cattlemen and their hungry herds brought conflict with the Owens Valley Paiute, whose crops were being destroyed. Approximately one-third of the Native Americans in the Owens Valley were forcibly relocated to Fort Tejon. After 1863, many returned to their permanent villages, established along creeks flowing down from the Sierra Nevada mountains. In the Manzanar area, the Owens Valley Paiute had established villages along Bairs, Georges, Shepherds, and Symmes creeks. Evidence of Paiute settlement} in the area is still present.


When European American settlers first arrived in the Owens Valley in the mid-19th century, they found a number of large Paiute villages in the Manzanar area. John Shepherd, one of the first of the new settlers, homesteaded 160 acre of land 3 mi north of Georges Creek in 1864. With the help of Owens Valley Paiute field workers and laborers, he expanded his ranch to 2000 acre.


In 1905, George Chaffey, an agricultural developer from Southern California, purchased Shepherd's ranch and subdivided it, along with other adjacent ranches. He founded the town of Manzanar in 1910, "on the main trunk line of the Southern Pacific." By August 1911, the town had a population of "almost 200 people."

The articles of incorporation for a Manzanar Water Company were filed on September 15, 1910, with capital stock of $250,000. The incorporators, directors, and subscribers were G.A. Hanson, Isaac Baxter and C.E. Searls.

In January 1911, the Inyo County Board of Supervisors approved an application by Chaffey's Owens Valley Improvement Company for a telephone line between Independence, Lone River, Owengo, Francis, Citrus and Manzanar.

The company built an irrigation system over an area of a thousand acres and planted about twenty thousand fruit trees.

Ira L. Hatfield was the town's first postmaster, appointed in May 1911. The first post office was at Thebes, a town 1.5 miles away.In summer 1911, a "one and a half story building, 40x50" was erected at the corner of Francis and Independence avenues. The lower floor included a hall to be used "for public gatherings, church, Sunday-school and dancing." Four rooms were to be used for a company office, a barber shop and "other small lines of business." The upper floor was planned for "a good-sized hall to be used for lodge purposes."

By 1920, the town had more than twenty-five homes, a two-room school, a town hall, and a general store. Also at that time, nearly 5000 acre of apple, pear, and peach trees were under cultivation; along with crops of grapes, prunes, potatoes, corn and alfalfa; and large vegetable and flower gardens.

"Manzanar was a very happy place and a pleasant place to live during those years, with its peach, pear, and apple orchards, alfalfa fields, tree-lined country lanes, meadows and corn fields," said Martha Mills, who lived at Manzanar from 1916 to 1920.

Some of the early orchards, along with remnants of the town and ranches, are preserved at Manzanar.

Quenching Los Angeles' thirst

As early as March 1905, the City of Los Angeles began secretly acquiring water rights in the Owens Valley. In 1913, it completed construction of its 233 mi Los Angeles Aqueduct, But it did not take long for Los Angeles water officials to realize that Owens River water was insufficient to supply the rapidly growing metropolis. In 1920, they began to purchase more of the water rights on the Owens Valley floor. As the decade went on, the City of Los Angeles bought out one Owens Valley farmer after another, and extended its reach northward into Mono County, including Long Valley. By 1933, the City owned 85 percent of all town property and 95 percent of all ranch and farm land in the Owens Valley, including Manzanar.

Although some residents sold their land for prices that made them financially independent and relocated, a significant number chose to stay. In dry years, Los Angeles pumped ground water and drained all surface water, diverting all of it into its aqueduct and leaving Owens Valley ranchers without water. Without water for irrigation, the holdout ranchers were forced off their ranches and out of their communities; that included the town of Manzanar, which was abandoned by 1929.

There was so much water during those early years, that when a horse pulled a buggy, the water frequently came up to the horse's knees," said Lucille DeBoer, who lived on a ranch at Manzanar. "When this happened, the children took off their shoes and socks to walk home. In the early 1900s the City of Los Angeles started to purchase ranches in the Owens Valley for the sole purpose of supplying water to the people in Los Angeles. People started to sell their land to the City; the City put in wells to drain the water out of the ground; the trees began to die; and the land finally turned to vacant dirt. This ended the Land of the Big Red Apples"

Manzanar remained uninhabited until the United States Army leased 6200 acre from the City of Los Angeles for the Manzanar War Relocation Center.

Wartime: 1942–45

After the December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States Government swiftly moved to begin solving the "Japanese Problem" on the West Coast of the United States. In the evening hours of that same day, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrested selected "enemy" aliens, including more than 5,500 Issei men. The California government pressed the national government to take action, as many citizens were alarmed about potential activities by people of Japanese descent.

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which authorized the Secretary of War to designate military commanders to prescribe military areas and to exclude "any or all persons" from such areas. The order also authorized the construction of what were later called "relocation centers" by the War Relocation Authority (WRA), to house those who were to be excluded. This order resulted in the forced relocation of more than 120,000 Japanese Americans, two-thirds of whom were native-born American citizens; the rest had been prevented from becoming citizens by federal law. Over 110,000 were incarcerated in the ten concentration camps located far inland and away from the coast.

Manzanar was the first of the ten concentration camps to be established, and began accepting detainees in March 1942. Initially, it was a temporary "reception center", known as the Owens Valley Reception Center from March 21, 1942, to May 31, 1942. At that time, it was operated by the US Army's Wartime Civilian Control Administration (WCCA).

The Owens Valley Reception Center was transferred to the WRA on June 1, 1942, and officially became the "Manzanar War Relocation Center." The first Japanese Americans to arrive at Manzanar were volunteers who helped build the camp. By mid–April, up to 1,000 Japanese Americans were arriving daily, and by July, the population of the camp neared 10,000. Over 90 percent of them were from the Los Angeles area, with the rest coming from Stockton, California; and Bainbridge Island, Washington. Many were farmers and fishermen. Manzanar held 10,046 adults and children at its peak, and a total of 11,070 were incarcerated there.


The weather at Manzanar caused suffering for the inmates, few of whom were accustomed to the extremes of the area's climate. The temporary buildings were inadequate to shield people from the weather. The Owens Valley lies at an elevation of about 4000 ft. Summers on the desert floor of the Owens Valley are generally hot, with temperatures exceeding 100 °F not uncommon. Winters bring occasional snowfall and daytime temperatures that often drop into the 40 °F range. At night, temperatures are generally 30 to 40 °F (17 to 22 °C) lower than the daytime highs, and high winds are common day or night. The area's mean annual precipitation is barely five inches (12.7 cm). The ever-present dust was a continual problem due to the frequent high winds; so much so that people usually woke up in the morning covered from head to toe with a fine layer of dust, and they constantly had to sweep dirt out of the barracks.

"In the summer, the heat was unbearable," said former Manzanar inmate Ralph Lazo (see Notable people section, below). "In the winter, the sparsely rationed oil didn't adequately heat the tar paper-covered pine barracks with knotholes in the floor. The wind would blow so hard, it would toss rocks around."

Camp layout and facilities

The camp site was situated on 6200 acre at Manzanar, leased from the City of Los Angeles, with the developed portion covering approximately 540 acre. The residential area was about one square mile (2.6 km), and consisted of 36 blocks of hastily constructed, 20 ft by 100 ft tarpaper barracks, with each family living in a single 20 ft by 25 ft "apartment" in the barracks. These apartments consisted of partitions with no ceilings, eliminating any chance of privacy. Lack of privacy was a major problem, especially since the camp had communal men's and women's latrines.

"One of the hardest things to endure was the communal latrines, with no partitions; and showers with no stalls," said former Manzanar inmate Rosie Kakuuchi.

Each residential block also had a communal mess hall, a laundry room, a recreation hall, an ironing room, and a heating oil storage tank, although Block 33 lacked a recreation hall. In addition to the residential blocks, Manzanar had 34 additional blocks that had staff housing, camp administration offices, two warehouses, a garage, a camp hospital, and 24 firebreaks. The camp also had school facilities, a high-school auditorium, staff housing, chicken and hog farms, churches, a cemetery, a post office, a cooperative store, other shops, a camp newspaper, and other necessary amenities that one would expect to find in most American cities.

Manzanar also had a camouflage net factory, an experimental plantation for producing natural rubber from the Guayule plant, and an orphanage called Children's Village, which housed 101 Japanese American orphans. The camp perimeter had eight watchtowers manned by armed Military Police, and it was enclosed by five-strand barbed wire. There were sentry posts at the main entrance.

Life in camp

After being uprooted from their homes and communities, the incarcerated people had to endure primitive, sub-standard conditions and lack of privacy. They had to wait in one line after another for meals, at latrines, and at the laundry room. Each camp was intended to be self-sufficient, and Manzanar was no exception. Cooperatives operated various services, such as the camp newspaper, beauty and barber shops, shoe repair, and more. In addition, there were some who raised chickens, hogs, and vegetables, and cultivated the existing orchards for fruit. They made their own soy sauce and tofu.Food at Manzanar was based on military requirements. Meals usually consisted of hot rice and vegetables, since meat was scarce due to rationing. In early 1944, a chicken ranch began operation, and in late April of the same year, the camp opened a hog farm. Both operations provided welcome meat supplements to the diet.

Most of the adults were employed at Manzanar to keep the camp running. Unskilled workers earned US$8 per month ($ per month as of ), semi-skilled workers earned $12 per month ($ per month as of ), skilled workers made $16 per month ($ per month as of ), and professionals earned $19 per month ($ per month as of ). In addition, everybody received $3.60 per month ($ per month as of ) as a clothing allowance.People made life at Manzanar more tolerable through recreation. They participated in sports, including baseball and football, and martial arts. Lou Frizzell served as the musical director, and under his mentorship Mary Nomura became known as the "songbird of Manzanar" for her performances at dances and other camp events. They also personalized and beautified their barren surroundings by building elaborate gardens, which often included pools, waterfalls, and rock ornaments. There was even a nine-hole golf course. Remnants of some of the gardens, pools, and rock ornaments are still present at Manzanar.


Although most quietly accepted their fate during World War II, there was some resistance in the camps. Poston, Heart Mountain, Topaz, and Tule Lake each had civil disturbances about wage differences, black marketing of sugar, intergenerational friction, rumors of "informers" reporting to the camp administration or the FBI, and other issues. The most serious incident occurred at Manzanar on December 5–6, 1942, and became known as the Manzanar Riot.

After several months of tension between those who supported the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) and a group of Kibei (Japanese Americans educated in Japan), rumors spread that sugar and meat shortages were the result of black marketing by camp administrators. To make matters worse, JACL leader Fred Tayama was beaten by six masked men. Harry Ueno, the leader of the Kitchen Workers Union, was suspected of involvement and was arrested and removed from Manzanar. Soon after, 3,000 to 4,000 people gathered and marched to the administration area, protesting Ueno's arrest. After Ueno's supporters negotiated with the camp administration, he was returned to the Manzanar jail. A crowd of several hundred returned to protest, and when the people surged forward, military police threw tear gas to disperse them. As people ran to avoid the tear gas, some in the crowd pushed a driverless truck toward the jail. At that moment, the military police fired into the crowd, killing a 17-year–old boy instantly. A 21-year–old man who was shot in the abdomen died days later. Nine other prisoners were wounded, and a military police corporal was wounded by a ricocheting bullet.


On November 21, 1945, the WRA closed Manzanar, the sixth camp to be closed. Although the Japanese Americans had been brought to the Owens Valley by the United States Government, they had to leave the camp and travel to their next destinations on their own. The WRA gave each person $25 ($ today), one-way train or bus fare, and meals to those who had less than $600 ($ today). While many left the camp voluntarily, a significant number refused to leave because they had no place to go after having lost everything when they were forcibly uprooted and removed from their homes. As such, they had to be forcibly removed once again, this time from Manzanar. Indeed, those who refused to leave were generally removed from their barracks, sometimes by force, even if they had no place to go.

One hundred and forty-six Japanese Americans died at Manzanar. Fifteen were buried there, but only five graves remain, as most were reburied elsewhere by their families.

The Manzanar cemetery site is marked by a monument that was built by stonemason Ryozo Kado in 1943. An inscription in Japanese on the front (east side) of the monument reads 慰霊塔 ("Soul Consoling Tower"). The inscription on the back (west side) reads "Erected by the Manzanar Japanese" on the left-hand column, and "August 1943" on the right-hand column.

After the camp was closed, the site eventually returned to its original state. Within a couple of years, all the structures had been removed, with the exception of the two sentry posts at the entrance, the cemetery monument, and the former Manzanar High School auditorium, which was purchased by the County of Inyo. The County leased the auditorium to the Independence Veterans of Foreign Wars, who used it as a meeting facility and community theater until 1951. After that, the building was used as a maintenance facility by the Inyo County Road Department.

As of 2007, the site also retained numerous building foundations, portions of the water and sewer systems, the outline of the road grid, some landscaping, and much more. Despite four years of use, the site also retains evidence of the ranches and of the town of Manzanar, as well as artifacts from the days of the Owens Valley Paiute settlement.

Preservation and remembrance

Manzanar Pilgrimage

On December 21, 1969, about 150 people departed Los Angeles by car and bus, headed for Manzanar. It was the "first" annual Manzanar Pilgrimage. But as it turned out, two ministers, the Reverend Sentoku Mayeda and the Reverend Shoichi Wakahiro, had been making annual pilgrimages to Manzanar since the camp closed in 1945.

The non-profit Manzanar Committee, formerly led by Sue Kunitomi Embrey, has sponsored the Pilgrimage since 1969. The event is held annually on the last Saturday of April with hundreds of visitors of all ages and backgrounds, including former inmates, gathering at the Manzanar cemetery to remember the incarceration. The hope is that participants can learn about it and help ensure that what is generally accepted to be a tragic chapter in American History is neither forgotten nor repeated. The program traditionally consists of speakers, cultural performances, an interfaith service to memorialize those who died at Manzanar, and Ondo dancing.

"My mother was a very staunch Buddhist and she would always say, 'Those poor people that are buried over there at Manzanar in the hot sun—they must be so dry. Be sure to take some water [as offerings],'" said Embrey. "She always thought it was important to go back and remember the people who had died."

In 1997, the Manzanar At Dusk program became a part of the Pilgrimage. The program attracts local area residents, as well as descendants of Manzanar's ranch days and the town of Manzanar. Through small-group discussions, the event gives participants the opportunity to hear directly from those who had been there and to talk about the relevance of what had happened at Manzanar to their own lives.

Since the September 11 attacks, American Muslims have participated in the Pilgrimage to promote and increase awareness of civil rights protections in the wake of widespread suspicions harbored against them post-9/11. A group of 150 Muslims visited in 2017, in part to compare treatment of Japanese-Americans during World War II with how Muslims are treated following the 9/11 attacks. Over 2000 people visited the site on April 27, 2019 for the 50th anniversary of the first pilgrimage, including a number of Muslim speakers, and a group of Muslim's held afternoon prayers at the monument.

California Historical Landmark and Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument

The Manzanar Committee's efforts resulted in the State of California naming Manzanar as California Historical Landmark #850 in 1972, with an historical marker being placed at the sentry post on April 14, 1973.

Manzanar, which had been historically owned by the City of Los Angeles, was registered as a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument in 1976.

National Historic Landmark and National Historic Site

The Manzanar Committee also spearheaded efforts for Manzanar to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and in February 1985, Manzanar was designated a National Historic Landmark. Embrey and the committee also led the effort to have Manzanar designated a National Historic Site, and on March 3, 1992, President George H. W. Bush signed House Resolution 543 into law (; ). This act of Congress established the Manzanar National Historic Site "to provide for the protection and interpretation of the historical, cultural, and natural resources associated with the relocation of Japanese Americans during World War II." Five years later, the National Park Service acquired 814 acre of land at Manzanar from the City of Los Angeles.

The site features a visitor center, housed in the historically restored Manzanar High School Auditorium, which has a permanent exhibit that tells the stories of the transportation to Manzanar, the Owens Valley Paiute, the ranchers, the town of Manzanar, and the role that water played in shaping the history of the Owens Valley.

"Stories like this need to be told, and too many of us have died without telling our stories," Embrey said during her remarks at the Grand Opening ceremonies for the Manzanar National Historic Site Interpretive Center on April 24, 2004. "The Interpretive Center is important because it needs to show to the world that America is strong as it makes amends for the wrongs it has committed, and that we will always remember Manzanar because of that."

The site, which has seen 1,275,195 people visit from 2000 through December 2016, features restored sentry posts at the camp entrance, a replica of a camp guard tower built in 2005, a self-guided tour road, and wayside exhibits. Staff offer guided tours and other educational programs, including a Junior Ranger educational program for children between four and fifteen years of age.

The National Park Service is reconstructing one of the 36 residential blocks as a demonstration block (Block 14, adjacent to and west of the Visitor Center). One barrack appears as it would have when Japanese Americans first arrived at Manzanar in 1942, while another has been reconstructed to represent barracks life in 1945. Exhibits in these barracks opened on April 16, 2015. A restored World War II mess hall, moved to the site from Bishop Airport in 2002, was opened to visitors in late 2010. The Manzanar National Historic Site also unveiled its virtual museum on May 17, 2010,

National Park Service staff have continued to uncover artifacts from throughout Manzanar's history, the result of archaeological digs that have also excavated several of the gardens designed and built there, including the noted Merritt Park (also known as Pleasure Park). In progress is a classroom exhibit that will be housed in the Block 9 barracks and an historic replica of the Block 9 women's latrine (opened in October 2016, but with no interpretive exhibit materials at this time).

Opposition to the creation of the Manzanar National Historic Site

After Congress named Manzanar a National Historic Site and gave the National Park Service the job of restoring the site in 1992, protests against its creation emerged. Letters were sent to the National Park Service included statements that Manzanar should be portrayed as a guest housing center, with others stating that calling the site a concentration camp is "treason", threatening dismissal campaigns against National Park Service employees and other related individuals, threatening to destroy buildings, and objecting to the use of the phrase "concentration camp" on signage at the site. The California State historical marker was hacked and stained, with the first "C" of "concentration camp" ground off. A man describing himself as a World War II veteran called stated that he had driven 200 miles to urinate on the marker.


Since the end of World War II, there has been debate over the terminology used to refer to Manzanar, and the other camps in which Americans of Japanese ancestry and their immigrant parents, were incarcerated by the United States Government during the war. Manzanar has been referred to as a "War Relocation Center," "relocation camp," "relocation center," "internment camp," and "concentration camp".

In 1998, use of the term "concentration camps" gained greater credibility prior to the opening of an exhibit about the American camps at Ellis Island. Initially, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and the National Park Service, which manages Ellis Island, objected to the use of the term in the exhibit. At a meeting held at the offices of the AJC in New York City, leaders representing Japanese Americans and Jewish Americans reached an understanding about the use of the term, and the Japanese American National Museum and the AJC issued a joint statement:

A concentration camp is a place where people are imprisoned not because of any crimes they have committed, but simply because of who they are. Although many groups have been singled out for such persecution throughout history, the term 'concentration camp' was first used at the turn of the [20th] century in the [[Spanish–American War

In popular culture

Manzanar has been the subject of a number of films, songs, and other works.

Films and television

A made-for-television movie, Farewell to Manzanar, directed by John Korty, aired on March 11, 1976, on NBC. It was based on the 1973 memoir of the same name, written by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, who was incarcerated at Manzanar as a child, and her husband James D. Houston. The book and the movie tell the story of the Wakatsuki family and their experiences behind the barbed wire through young Jeanne's eyes. On October 7, 2011, the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) announced that they had negotiated the rights to the movie, and that they would make it available for purchase on DVD.

Come See The Paradise was a feature film about how forced removal and incarceration at Manzanar affected a Japanese American family from Los Angeles and a European American union organizer. The film, released in 1990, starred Dennis Quaid and Tamlyn Tomita, and was written and directed by Alan Parker.


Several songs have been inspired by the events at Manzanar. Folk/country musician Tom Russell wrote "Manzanar", a song about the Japanese American incarceration, that was released on his album Box of Visions (1993). Laurie Lewis covered the song on her album Seeing Things (1998), adding the koto to her performance. The Asian American jazz fusion band Hiroshima has a song entitled "Manzanar" on its album The Bridge (2003). It is an instrumental song inspired by Manzanar and the Japanese American incarceration. Also, its song "Living in America", on its album titled East (1990), contains the phrase "I still remember Manzanar."

Fort Minor's song "Kenji", from the album The Rising Tied (2005), tells the true story of Mike Shinoda's family and their experiences before, during, and after World War II, including their imprisonment at Manzanar. Channel 3's song titled "Manzanar" is about the incarceration.


The 1994 award-winning novel, Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson, contains many scenes and details relating to Japanese Americans from the Puget Sound, Washington, area and their incarceration experiences at Manzanar. A 1999 film was produced based on the book.