[TIMELINE] Southland's Way Station for WWII Japanese Internees
- Southland's Way Station for WWII Internees
After Pearl Harbor, a facility near Glendale processed 2,700
Japanese nationals and others before most were sent on to internment
By Cecilia Rasmussen, Times Staff Writer
On the night of Feb. 21, 1942, the FBI surrounded the Torrance home
of Nikuma Tanouye.
"They didn't even bother to knock, just kicked the door down,"
Tanouye's granddaughter, Diane Tanouye, said in an interview. He was
arrested and imprisoned along with four other Japanese nationals.
From days after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor until the end of
1943, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service ran a
detention center in the Crescenta Valley for civilians classified
as "dangerous enemy aliens."
The elder Tanouye, 56 at the time of his arrest, was a martial arts
specialist and kendo instructor. His skills and his standing in the
community made him a suspect leaders were considered a threat.
Documents at the National Archives in Laguna Niguel help tell
Tanouye's story and that of nearly 2,700 other Japanese citizens and
a smaller number of Germans, Italians and others who passed through
Tuna Canyon Detention Station.
Federal archivist Gwen Granados said the first 35 Japanese nationals
arrested here after Pearl Harbor were sent to Griffith Park, where
there was a makeshift jail with tight security. They were
transferred to Tuna Canyon, which opened Dec. 15, 1941; it had
fences topped by barbed wire, sentry boxes at each corner and
"They weren't just enemy aliens," Granados said. "They were arrested
for immigration violations," overstaying visas or sneaking into the
country illegally. "They were mostly fishermen who worked on
Terminal Island in the canneries. They were picked up rather quickly
because of their proximity to the naval base."
The Tuna Canyon facility was a former Civilian Conservation Corps
camp built in 1933 on 54 acres near Glendale. It could hold 300
detainees. Authorities maintained a low profile there, as at the
Griffith Park site (where Travel Town now stands).
Detainees were subject to Justice Department hearings and trials for
such offenses as curfew violations and failure to register as an
enemy alien. Their detention ranged from a few days to a few months.
Documents from 1942 show that arrests for curfew violation were
common. Michelangelo Papaluca, Joseph Petrilla, Karl Haas and Soly
Stern were among those detained for being out after 8 p.m.
American law officers also went to Latin America in 1942, where they
rounded up more than 2,000 Japanese nationals and brought them back
to centers such as Tuna Canyon. Those detainees were held to
exchange for American civilians trapped in Japan. As many as 500
Japanese Peruvians were traded, The Times reported in 1998, but it's
unclear whether those prisoners came from the Los Angeles sites.
Kakuaki Kaneko was one of 173 Japanese Peruvians sent to Tuna Canyon
in early February 1942. He recalled gorging himself on rice and fish
dished up by a prisoner chef, according to C. Harvey Gardiner,
author of the 1981 book "Pawns in a Triangle of Hate." Within weeks,
Kaneko and the others were shipped to a Texas internment camp.
Daisho Tana, another prisoner, was a teacher and Buddhist priest who
kept a diary during his incarceration. His name had been on a list
of people "possibly harmful to the United States" because he taught
Japanese in Lompoc, where he lived with his wife and two children.
Japanese-language schools were considered a way for the enemy to
During his two-week stay at Tuna Canyon in March 1942, he recorded
his humiliation, hardships and dislike of the menu, including
oatmeal and black coffee. He also recorded the names of other
prisoners, including Shuyu Shimakawa, a Buddhist priest from Santa
"We are prohibited to go within 10 feet of the fence, and it is most
painful to be cut off from the outside world," Tana wrote, according
to Duncan Williams, associate professor of Japanese Buddhism at UC
Berkeley. Williams is translating Tana's memoirs, which exceed 1,600
Tana, 40 at the time, told authorities he had studied at Kyoto
Buddhist College in Japan and had come to this country as a
missionary in the early 1930s, Williams said in an interview. After
Tana's detention at Tuna Canyon and later in Santa Fe, N.M., he
moved to San Mateo and eventually to Hawaii. He died in 1972.
At least one woman, another Japanese-language teacher, was confined
at Tuna Canyon, Quaker missionary Herbert Nicholson wrote in his
1978 book, "Valiant Odyssey." The woman he refers to only as Mrs.
Imamoto was accused of using a textbook that had a photo of a
Japanese soldier and the imperial icon of the rising sun.
At her hearing, she tearfully assured the Justice Department that
she had replaced "the rising sun with the Stars and Stripes,"
Everyone at the detention camps was held "without a shred of
evidence of any wrongdoing, held like criminals on suspicion alone,"
wrote Nicholson, who rallied to their defense at trials in federal
Officials were supposed to detain people at Tuna Canyon temporarily,
until they had received a hearing. But "temporarily" fluctuated:
Usually they were held until there were enough inmates to fill a
train, Nicholson wrote; then they were moved to inland internment
Nicholson, who had spent 25 years as a missionary in Japan, was
living in Pasadena and running errands in his truck for Japanese
friends at Tuna Canyon. He wrote that he hauled "everything from
pianos to canary birds and the ashes of a friend's beloved son"
back and forth to families in internment camps in Arizona and
California. He was entrusted with safe-deposit keys and authorized
to sign "valuable papers."
Immigration laws of the era complicated matters: Japanese citizens
living in the United States, such as Nikuma Tanouye, were barred
from becoming citizens regardless of how long they had lived here.
Tanouye spent a few days at Tuna Canyon before joining his family at
Santa Anita racetrack, an assembly center for Japanese. Later, he
and his family were shipped to an internment camp in Arkansas. One
of his sons, Ted Tanouye, joined the Army and won the Medal of
Honor. He was killed in action.
"My parents never talked much about my grandfather's arrest," said
Diane Tanouye, 54, of Torrance, who learned the family history from
an uncle. "They were pretty tight-lipped." It was considered
shameful to have been arrested and interned.
U.S. Border Patrol Officer Merrill Scott supervised Tuna Canyon. In
a May 25, 1942, report to the State Department, he listed 76
Japanese, 10 German and 16 Italian male inmates. The only
complaints, Scott reported, came from detainees wishing
for "speedier hearings."
Most of the Japanese imprisoned there eventually joined their
families in internment camps. Germans and Italians were usually
released on a sort of parole: They were monitored, forced to give up
possessions considered security risks such as binoculars,
pocketknives, radios and flashlights and required to curtail
travel, carry IDs and observe curfews.
But many Italians were moved away from the coast, their jobs and
their homes. The Italian fishing fleet at Monterey was decimated
just as the government was urging patriotic Americans to eat more
On Oct. 12, 1942 Columbus Day the government decided most
Italian immigrants were no longer "enemy aliens." Those who had been
relocated returned home. Most of the Italian internees were released
after Italy's surrender in September 1943.
Tuna Canyon closed at the end of that year.
A year later, the Los Angeles County Probation Department took over
10 acres as a center for male juvenile delinquents.
In 1959, the county sold the property for $54,000 to a group of
investors, who turned it into Verdugo Hills Golf Course.
Now a proposed condominium project would displace all or part of the
golf course. Members of the Little Landers Historical Society are
trying to have the Tuna Canyon Detention Station site designated a
state historical landmark.
The designation would not stop the development, but it would add
another link to the area's history.