The Manzanar ('apple orchard') region, a few miles north of Lone Pine, was settled by various Native American tribes including the Paiute, who farmed the area via irrigation ditches from the nearby Owens River until being forcibly removed following the Indian Wars of 1861 to 1863, after which the land became part of ranches controlled by pioneer settlers. The small town of Manzanar was founded within one such ranch in 1910 and soon contained several dozen buildings, through it proved short-lived, abandoned just 19 years later since the valley gradually lost nearly all of its water after construction of the Los Angeles aqueduct in 1913, making the land uneconomical to farm and inhospitable to inhabit.
The empty Manzanar townsite was purchased by the US Army following the 7th December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, and the camp was in operation by March 1942, nearing its peak population of 10,046 by July of that year. Nearly all of the incarcerated people stayed here for over three years, until closure of the camp on 21st November 1945, more than three months after the Japanese surrender which ended the war. The residential section of the camp was divided into 36 blocks, each containing 16, hundred foot-long residential cabins and several shared amenities, while elsewhere were various administration and communal buildings including a school, post office, hospital, churches, shops and recreation facilities. All buildings were dismantled and removed soon after the war, the only exceptions being two small stone sentry cabins at the entrance, and an auditorium from the school, which was subsequently for several decades used as a road maintenance depot, and currently houses the visitor center. The camp became a National Historic Landmark in 1985 and a National Historic Site in 1992, since which time several replica buildings have been erected, some features uncovered by archaeological investigations, and part of the road grid paved, but most of the site looks as it did soon after the war.
Visiting the Site
Manzanar National Historic Site is 12 miles north of Lone Pine along US 395, right beside the highway, on flat land close to the Los Angeles aqueduct, at an elevation of 3,900 feet. To the west, the valley floor slopes gently upwards for five miles, to the edge of the mountains. The site is free to enter and open every day of the year during daylight hours. The approach road passes a reconstructed wooden guard tower, half way along the eastern boundary - the camp had eight such towers - then reaches the parking area in front of the visitor center. Just beyond is the original camp entrance, flanked by the two surviving sentry posts, while also nearby are reconstructed buildings; a mess hall and two barracks in block 14, and a fire station in block 13. The auto tour runs past the barracks then continues alongside a former baseball field and the site of a Catholic church before turning west, through a partly undeveloped area that includes remnants of the early 20th century Shepherd Ranch, and on to the site of the camp hospital, in the northwest corner. Just south of here is the elegant white obelisk and the cemetery, where 15 people were buried (out of 146 who died at the camp, the remainder interred elsewhere). Ten of the graves were subsequently moved, leaving just five intact. The road proceeds past several other features including the a site of a Buddhist temple, remains of a garden constructed by the inhabitants of block 12, and the concrete foundations for a factory that manufactured camouflage nets. Along the tour are many interpretive notices and several short paths to other features, and while the drive without stops takes just 15 minutes or so, several hours could be spent if looking at all the exhibits.