Friday, October 27, 2017

Hodgepodge 363/365 - Manzanar Gardens

In 1942, 110,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans were ordered to leave their homes on the West Coast and take up residence in ten internment camps scattered from California to Oklahoma, Arizona to Wyoming. Manzanar, east of the Sierra Nevada, ironically near the town of Independence, California, was home to over 10,000 people, mostly from Los Angeles, Stockton, and Bainbridge Island, Washington, between April 1942 and November 1945.

Ansel Adams
Life in the camp was hard, but the inmates did their best to make things more livable. They did this in part through sports—baseball (not just teams, but leagues, the sport was so popular), football, basketball, volleyball, martial arts, and there was even a nine-hole "golf course" built of oiled sand—as well as activities such as sewing, paper flower-making, calligraphy, puppetry, and painting and sketching.

A major focus of energy went to building and maintaining traditional Japanese gardens. It’s estimated that there were, at one point, more than one hundred gardens at this 814-acre site, constructed between the rows of barracks, outside the mess halls, along the firebreaks, and underneath the guard towers. These provided communal spaces—places for children to play and families to gather and relax.

Dorothea Lange: "William Katsuki, former professional
landscape gardener for large estates in
Southern California, demonstrates his skill and
ingenuity in creating from materials close at hand,
a desert garden alongside his home in the
barracks at this War Relocation Authority center"
According to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, "The most common gardens were small plots outside of the barracks apartments, typically near the entrances. The first such garden began on April 19, 1942, less than a month after the camp opened. It was the design of Southern California landscaper William Katsuki, who created the garden outside his barracks in Block 24. By October 1942, there were so many gardens throughout Manzanar that the Manzanar Free Press held a garden contest, which is believed to have spurred even more gardens."

After Manzanar closed in 1945, most of the site was bulldozed. Debris, sand, and silt covered the ponds, and vegetation grew over everything. When the National Park Service conducted an archeological survey in 1993, only a few of the biggest gardens were still visible.

"Since then, Jeff Burton, an archaeologist at Manzanar National Historic Site, and his team have worked to uncover the gardens. Using newspaper accounts, oral histories, photographs, consultations with Japanese garden experts, and archaeological excavations, Burton and his crew—many of whom are volunteers—are finding and, in some cases, restoring or recreating the gardens. So far, 20 have been excavated, mapped, and stabilized."

Here are a few more before and after pictures. For more about the camp gardens, go here and here. For more about the restoration project, go here. (As always, click on the images to view large on black.)

Merritt Park, named for the camp director, Ralph Merritt
Ansel Adams: Merritt Park (1943)
Kitaro Uetsuzi: Merritt Park (1943)

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