Politics, government and public life for Southern California

City gives historic monument status to former WWII detention center

Guard towers watch over detainees at the Tuna Canyon Detention Center in Tujunga. The site of the camp is now the Verdugo Hills Golf Course.
Guard towers watch over detainees at the Tuna Canyon Detention Center in Tujunga. The site of the camp is now the Verdugo Hills Golf Course. David Scott/The Scott Family and Little Landers Historical Society

The Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday designated one acre of the former Tuna Canyon Detention Station — now the site of the Verdugo Hills Golf Course — as a historic-cultural monument.  

During World War II, the detention center held more than 2,000 people, mostly Japanese-Americans. The golf course is now owned by Snowball West Investments, which wants to build a housing subdivision on the property. Designating something a historic-cultural monument means there are additional reviews if changes are made to the site.

“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 councilmember Richard Alarcon, whose district includes the site.  “Declaring the Tuna Canyon Detention Station as a Historic-Cultural Monument allows 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."

The detention camp was originally built in 1933 as a Depression-era work camp for the Civilian Conservation Corps. But within days of the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the camp was converted to hold more than 1,200 Southern Californians. Mort of them were of Japanese descent, though some German- and Italian-Americans also were held. Most stayed briefly and were sent on to larger internment camps.

There were seven barracks, an infirmary, mess hall, and office buildings. The camp closed in 1943 and the buildings were torn down to make way for the golf course.

City staff initially denied the designation, arguing that the site no longer has any of the original structures. But Alarcon recently noted the city already has 19 historic-cultural monuments without buildings.

“The fact is that people were very quiet about the internment of Japanese, Italians and Germans at the time of World War II. And after World War II, they continued to be quiet,” Alarcon said. “But history cries out for the truth.”

A committee that includes the landowner, historians, Japanese-Americans and community groups will determine how the monument will be developed. 

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