Gila River War Relocation Center

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Gila River War Relocation Center (1942-1945) - One of ten World War II Relocation Centers built to house West Coast Japanese U.S. Citizens and resident aliens for the duration of the war with Japan. Established under Executive Order 9066, signed by President Franklin Roosevelt in February 1942. It became the Gila River War Relocation Center (WRC) run by the civilian War Relocation Authority (WRA). Construction began in May 1942 on the two camps that comprised the center, Camp Canal (Camp No. 1) and Butte Camp (Camp No. 2). The center was located 9 miles from Sacaton in the Gila River Valley, Pinal County, Arizona. Closed in 1945.

Gila River WRC Buddhist Church at Camp 2. Note the Double Roof.
Gila River WRC Spectators at the Harvest Festival.
Gila River War Relocation Center Butte Camp (Camp 2), 27 Nov 1942.

History

Established in May 1942 as the Gila River War Relocation Center (WRC) run by the civilian War Relocation Authority (WRA).

Gila River Relocation Center Plan.
Eleanor Roosevelt at Gila River WRC 23 Apr 1943.

The relocation centers were not considered by authorities to be either concentration camps or internment camps but the perception was otherwise. Barbed wire fencing enclosed most of the living area, the guard towers with searchlights and the military police were always visible in many of the centers.

Gila River WRC was different, the watchtowers and the barbed-wire were soon gone. Even the standard center buildings were sheathed in white beaverboard instead of black tarpaper. The roofs were doubled to provide a barrier from the sun and, according to some accounts, were painted red. In some cases evaporating cooling units, commonly known as "swamp coolers", were provided. The Gila River WRC was clearly the showplace of the War Relocation Centers and on 23 Apr 1943, it was inspected by the President's wife Eleanor Roosevelt who spent some six hours at the facility.


Gila River War Relocation Center Timeline
Date Event Notes
18 Mar 1942 Site Chosen
1 May 1942 Construction Began
10 Jul 1942 First Group of 500 Japanese Americans Arrive
Aug 1942 Resident Population 8,000+
Nov 1942 Max Resident Population 13,348
1 Dec 1942 Construction Complete
23 Apr 1943 Eleanor Roosevelt Visits Center
28 Sep 1945 Canal Camp Closed
10 Nov 1945 Butte Camp Closed
Aug 1946 Barracks Auctioned Off


Canal Camp

The Canal Camp was a narrow 210-acre area three blocks by nine blocks in the southeastern part of the center. The South Side Irrigation Canal ran along the northern side of the camp. Firebreaks divided the camp into three groups of nine blocks each. The blocks were numbered from 1 to 27.

Gila River War Relocation Center, Canal Camp Plan. Click on Image for Best Resolution.

Each of the 17 residential blocks included fifteen 20' by 100' barracks, a 40' by 100' mess hall, a men's latrine and shower building, a women's latrine and shower building, a laundry room, an ironing room, and a recreation building.

These buildings were all temporary military style Theater of Operations (TO) structures of wood frame construction except that the outer walls were sheathed in white beaverboard instead of black tarpaper and the roofs were double roofs painted red.

Centrally located north of Block 5, between the residential area and the Canal, was a 40' by 120' admin building and a fire station. Canal Camp itself included 404 buildings, 44 of which were devoted to administration and hospital use. These facilities were located in three blocks on the east side of the camp. A bit further east was a separate compound for the military police.

Canal Camp closed on 28 Sep 1945.

Butte Camp

The Butte Camp was the larger of the two camps with some 821 buildings on 790 acres on the northwest side of the Center The camp was laid out on a north-south grid of 6 blocks by 12 blocks. The streets were numbered south to north, 1st thru 14th Street and were lettered east to west, "A" thru "G" Street. The main entrance to the camp was on the east side, at 9th street. The blocks were numbered from 28 to 81, beginning in the southeast corner snaking northward.

Gila River War Relocation Center, Butte Camp Plan. Click on Image for Best Resolution.


The Administration, Hospital and staff areas occupied the northern part of the camp. At the west-center of the camp was an originally undeveloped area three blocks by 4 blocks containing a small hill. A 300,000-gallon water tank was constructed on the top of the hill. At a lower level of the hill overlooking the whole camp the residents built a memorial to all the residents who served in World war II. Below the memorial they built an outdoor stage and amphitheater. In the southeast part of this central area, the residents built a large auditorium and three classroom buildings for the high school. The resident built fire station was also located in this central area at the end of 5th street.

Residential blocks surrounded this central area with some vacant blocks serving as recreation spaces.

Gila River WRC - Butte Camp Facilities
Area Blocks Description Notes
Administration 69 & 70 Five office buildings, post office, two ten-car garages, mimeograph buildings, nine warehouses, a police office, a court, staff canteen
Staff housing & support 75, 76 & 81 Mess hall, recreation building, 5 dormitories, a laundry, 12 staff apartments, a water filtration plant, a refrigerated warehouse, and a gas station; all but the gas station and four of the apartments were built by the evacuees
Warehouse 67, 68 22 warehouses Two built by evacuees
Shop Area 77, 78 Two carpenter shops, a warehouse, a planer shed, a plumbing and electrical shop, an ice house, and a 37' by 108' machine shop Last two buildings built by evacuees.
Camouflage net factory West of Blocks 61 & 72 Four camouflage net factory buildings, one 60' by 400', two 26' by 250', and one 25' by 200'
Motor pool area West of Blocks 61 & 72 One 22' by 60' office, a 22' by 82' shop, and three 26' by 250' repair and supply buildings.
Hospital area 73, 74 & north of admin area 18 interconnected buildings, dental clinic (73) & convalescent hostel (74)
Fire Station West of Blocks 46 & 51 West end of 6th Street
Residential area 28-66, 71-74 36 developed blocks each with fifteen 20' by 100' barracks, a 40' by 100' mess hall, a men's latrine and shower building, a women's latrine and shower building, a laundry room, an ironing room, and a recreation building
* Community services 42 Included offices, churches, a shoe repair shop, a sewing shop, a laundry and dry cleaning, a barber shop, a beauty shop, a canteen, a store, and a "diet kitchen." Four buildings in Block 42 were used for staff apartments.
* Elementary School 41
* High School 43
* Auditorium North of Block 43 Residents built an auditorium and three classroom buildings for science, home economics, and vocational arts
* Vacant 35, 37, 38, 50, 53, 62, & 71 Athletic fields, playgrounds, & other facilities

At Butte Camp a large camouflage net factory run by Southern California Glass Company employed 524 residents. On friday 16 Mar 1943 the camouflage net factory workers set a new production record of 1,009,952 square feet of netting in in one eight-hour day. The factory employed some 464 production workers and 60 support and admin employees but was discontinued after only 5 months of operation.

Most of the original buildings were temporary military style Theater of Operations (TO) structures of wood frame construction except that the outer walls were sheathed in white beaverboard instead of black tarpaper and the roofs were double roofs painted red.

There were 627 resident buildings listed, 46 were used as schools, 6 for churches, and 29 for other community services. Butte Camp featured a top-notch baseball complex designed by professional baseball player Kenichi Zenimura that included dugouts, bleachers, etc that could accommodate up to 6,000 spectators.

Closure

Butte Camp Closed on 10 Nov 1945.

Current Status

Gila River War Relocation Center Butte Camp Memorial.
Plaque Honoring those Camp Residents who Served and Died During WWII.
Butte Camp Marker.
Butte Camp Foundation Ruins.
Butte Camp Slab Foundation.

The Canal and Butte Camp sites are located on the Gila River Indian Reservation.

A Reservation Cultural Center was located north of the two camp sites at Exit 175 of Interstate 10 that contained information about the relocation center prepared by the Arizona Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League. The exhibit included text, maps, historical photographs, and artifacts from the camps. This Cultural Center was closed and appeared unoccupied as of our 18 Mar 2019 visit.

The Memorial shown above is a 1995 replacement for the original memorial built by the detainees to honor the Japanese Americans from the Gila River Relocation Center who served in the military during World War II. The original memorial included a wooden face that listed the all Japanese Americans from the Center that served. The depression that now contains two plaques was originally a reflecting pool. A ramada with concrete benches faced the memorial, The Ramada, the flagpole, and the wooden face of the monument that held the list of names are all gone, just the two plaques and the concrete memorial frame.

A Canal Camp memorial marker is located near the remains of the administration building at the flagpole base. The memorial includes a map and historical photograph of the camp and some of the history. At the Butte Camp site two markers were placed at the servicemen's honor roll monument.


Location: Gila River Valley, Pinal County, Arizona.

Maps & Images

Lat: 33.06500 Long: -111.83061

  • Multi Maps from ACME
  • Maps from Bing
  • Maps from Google
  • Elevation: 1,375' Canal Camp
  • Elevation: 1,345' Butte Camp


GPS Locations:

See Also:

Sources:

Links:

Visited: 18 Mar 2019


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