Topaz




Topaz

Site Information

Country: United States of America
State: Delta, Utah
Location: 39° 24' 40" N - 112° 46' 27" W
Field Documentation Date(s): To be determined
Project Release Date(s): To be determined
Time Range: 1942 CE - 1945 CE
Site Authority: Topaz Museum Board
world map with location

Historic photograph taken during the funeral for James Wakasa at Topaz, April 1943.

Site Description

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The site of the Central Utah Relocation Center, commonly known as Topaz, is located in the Pahvant Valley of the Sevier Desert in west-central Utah. Situated approximately 125 miles southwest of Salt Lake City and roughly 16 miles northwest of the town of Delta, Topaz is named after Topaz Mountain, lying 9 miles to the northwest of the site. The topography is completely flat, with greasewood being the most common plant species. The site lies in the dry bed of Lake Bonneville and is home to jackrabbits, coyotes, snakes, scorpions, and wide open skies.
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Historic photograph taken during the funeral for James Wakasa at Topaz, April 1943.

History

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The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor inflamed long standing anti-Japanese prejudice on the West Coast. Media and interest groups fueled public anxiety and fears of potential espionage and sabotage by Japanese Americans. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, granting the War Department the authority to “prescribe military areas” from which “any or all persons may be excluded.” While Executive Order 9066 did not mention Japanese Americans, it was directed at them. Beginning in March of 1942, more than 110,000 persons, the majority of whom were U.S. citizens, were sent to ten incarceration camps in some of the most remote locations and harshest environments within the continental United States.

More information about Topaz will be available in the near future. We encourage you to visit the Densho Digital Archive and the Topaz Museum website for more information at this time.
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Historic photograph of mechanical graders used on the farms at Topaz.

Preservation

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In 2011, CyArk was awarded a grant by the National Park Service’s Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant Program to create 3D digital recreations of some of the sites associated with the confinement and incarceration of over 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II. Today, few buildings remain at the former War Relocation Authority (WRA) centers, making it difficult for visitors to imagine, and all too easy to forget, this important and tragic chapter in United States history.

Using laser scanning and other state-of-the-art technologies, CyArk has created 3D digital recreations of portions of the camps at Manzanar, Tule Lake, and Topaz. These reconstructions and interactive virtual tours of the sites, as they appear today, are accompanied by historic photographs, newspaper clippings, oral histories and historic artwork. CyArk’s goal is to provide a glimpse of how these places appeared when Japanese Americans were confined at these sites.
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Area Descriptions

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Administration Area
Auditorium
Garage
Guard Towers
High School
High School Block 32
Hospital Area
Boiler House
Hot and Cold Plant Beds
Tofu Plant
Industrial Area
Root Cellar
Lumber Yards
Military Police Area
Residential Blocks
Staff Housing Area
Warehouse Area
Warehouse 109

Administration Area Description:

On the west side of Tamarisk Street, southwest of the main gate, was the Administration Area where the civilian WRA employees and their incarceree assistants worked. This portion of the camp contained the two principal administration buildings which were later joined by a corridor to form a U-shaped complex. A still extant low stone wall lay to the east adjacent to a parking area along Tamarisk Street. To the south, on the west side of Tamarisk, were the post office, the fire station, and the engineer's office. West of the fire station and engineer's office were the finance office, the placement building, and the agriculture office.


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Auditorium Description:

In February 1943 construction started on the auditorium, also called the gymnasium, the largest building ever erected at Topaz. The building was dedicated that December and described by the Topaz Times:

A seating area of 80' by 96', a stage of 40' by 20' size and dressing rooms on both sides of the stage comprise the auditorium facilities. Part of the seating area will also serve as a standard high school basketball court of 48' by 84' with spaces of 15' along both side-lines to accommodate spectators.

The auditorium also included locker and shower rooms, equipment rooms, and three large indoor sports rooms behind the stage for such sports as volleyball and badminton.


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Garage Description:

The garage area was the most southern of the support facilities. Among its eleven buildings and several sheds were the following: gasoline station; main garage building; garage paint shop; blacksmith shop; tractor repair shop; tire repair building; repair shop buildings; and dispatchers' building.


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Guard Towers Description:

Seven guard towers were placed around the perimeter of Section 20, at corners and along the sides. The 8' x 8' guard towers had shallow gable roofs and were elevated fourteen feet off the ground. They were accessed by ladders, and the cross-braced legs rested on concrete pylons. The towers were equipped with searchlights and manned by military police guards armed with rifles. Security included three sentry buildings, four gate houses at entrances to the camp, and floodlights mounted on poles in open areas along the perimeter. The boundaries of the project were marked with red warning signs in English and Japanese posted every one hundred yards. The main gate controlled motor traffic and the gate house also regulated passage into and out of the facility. Strict rules were issued to incarcerees regarding access to areas outside the camp. Masaru Kawaguchi commented, "You definitely knew that you were in a jail because they had the soldiers up there with the rifles."


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High School Description:

Initial plans had anticipated construction of a large high school facility in the center of camp in parts of Blocks 17, 18, 24 and 25. The centerpiece of the school was to be a gymnasium/auditorium. Covered passageways were to connect the gym to nine wings containing classrooms, a library, and special purpose buildings. The sprawling high school plan was never realized. Only two other high school buildings were actually erected at Topaz: the science building in the northwest corner of Block 24 and the shop building in the northeast corner of Block 25. Block 24 had a football field in its northern portion and a baseball diamond in the southwest corner.


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High School Block 32 Description:

All of Block 32 served as the junior and senior high school.


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Hospital Area Description:

East of the camp's main gate was the Hospital area between Obsidian and Zircon avenues and Ponderosa and Lotus roads. The sprawling fifteen-building complex was linked by covered and/or enclosed walkways and included the following: an administration building, doctors' quarters, nurses' quarters, a pediatric ward, three wards for adults, a surgery, an obstetrical ward, an isolation ward, an outpatients' building, a mess hall, two warehouses, and a morgue and disinfecting building. Clad in white asbestos shingles, the hospital contrasted with the black tarpaper exteriors of most of the other incarceree facilities. The hospital buildings were of more substantial construction and had central heating supplied by steam from a boiler plant. The buildings had wooden floors and the interior walls were finished with wallboard. The boiler plant and laundry building were located north of the hospital on the north side of Obsidian Avenue.


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Boiler House Description:

The coal-fired boiler plant featured two 250hp Sterling boilers and a 50-foot-long, 52-ton capacity coal bunker that was fed by a belt elevator. The 150-foot brick smokestack of the boiler plant was the tallest structure in the area and served as a visual landmark at the camp.


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Hot and Cold Plant Beds Description:

East of the tofu plant lay an open area that contained hot and cold plant frames. Two hot frame plant beds and six cold frame plant beds were built in early 1944. The materials for the tofu plant came from CCC buildings at Callao, ninety miles northwest of Topaz.


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Tofu Plant Description:

The tofu plant was located east of the laundry building on the north side of Obsidian Avenue. The plant, constructed of materials salvaged from former CCC buildings, was built in 1943-44. East of the tofu plant lay an open area that contained hot and cold plant frames. Two hot frame plant beds and six cold frame plant beds were built in early 1944.


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Industrial Area Description:

Immediately south of the warehouse area lay an "industrial area" bounded by Crystal and Malachite avenues, Greasewood Way, and Elm Street. This section was largely undeveloped, with the exception of a root cellar near the northwest corner.


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Root Cellar Description:

Construction of the root cellar began in December 1943. The structure extended 3.5 feet below grade and had bermed earth walls nine or ten feet above ground; the roof was covered with dirt and straw. The cellar stored cabbage, celery, and root crops such as potatoes, carrots, and daikon.


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Lumber Yards Description:

Several lumber yards were located in the northwest quadrant of Section 20, along the west side of Greasewood Way north of Topaz Avenue. Lumber yards 1, 2, and 3, encompassed the paint shop and lumber shed and more sheds.


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Military Police Area Description:

Near the northeastern corner of Section 20 was the Military Police Area. The sixteen-building MP compound contained a canteen and office, a mess hall, a recreation hall, a dispensary, a garage, a warehouse, officers' quarters, a U.S.O. Building, barracks, and two latrine/shower buildings. Like the hospital area, the buildings in the Military Police Area were clad with white asbestos shingles.


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Residential Blocks Description:

The southern three-quarters of the grid, south of Malachite Avenue, comprised the housing area for incarcerees. Separated from the administrative area by an open strip of land, this portion of the camp contained forty-two blocks; thirty-three were used for incarceree housing, while the remaining nine blocks were used for special purposes. Incarcerees began moving into the housing areas in September 1942.

Each residential block followed the same layout: two columns of six rectangular incarceree barracks along the eastern and western edges; a rectangular mess hall and an H-shaped combination laundry, bath, and latrine building in the center; and a rectangular recreation building at the end of one of the columns of barracks. Within a block, the barracks were numbered one through twelve, with six apartments within a barracks designated by letters, A through F. Blocks in the residential area were designated by a four-digit number; for example, Block 7 was designated as 1100. A typical apartment designation was 1103-B Willow Street, providing the illusion of a normal city address.

Buildings at Topaz and other relocation centers were modified theater of operations construction developed by the Wartime Civil Control Administration (WCCA) in consultation with the Commanding General of the Western Defense Command and the Office of the Chief of Engineers. Unmodified theater of operations facilities, designed for use by young, unmarried, male troops, were considered too primitive for the task at hand since they were generally unheated and had no floors. The modified design resulted in temporary buildings that were inexpensive, avoided the use of critical war materials, and could be assembled quickly. Despite such upgrades, newspaperman Bill Hosokawa concluded that the camps "provided only for the most Spartan type of living."

The creation of gravel paths between barracks and other buildings within the residential blocks began in January 1943. Locations for paths were staked by the Landscape Department, and gravel was trucked to the camp from deposits in the vicinity. Some gravel was obtained from a site five miles northwest of Topaz. The graveling project continued for several months in 1943 on a block-by-block basis. Stones were brought from the surrounding desert and mountains to create borders for a number of the paths. In addition to the paths, the incarcerees engaged in considerable landscaping in the areas between barracks and paths. Rock gardens, concrete and stone pools, driftwood, barrel planters, flowers, shrubs, and areas "paved" with flat stones, were created. In 1976, Yasuo William Abiko, a block manager at Topaz, recalled: "We all built small Japanese gardens everywhere. The army-style camp was transformed into livable conditions during those four years".


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Staff Housing Area Description:

Originally, WRA staff lived in Blocks 1 and 2 of the residential area. At least one barracks in Block 2 was used for administrative functions. In December 1943, the Placement and Transactions units moved into Barracks 11. By January 1943, staff housing was under construction on both sides of Cactus Road between the administration buildings and the Warehouse Area. Included were four-unit staff apartments and four staff dormitories. The quarters occupied by the project director's family featured a shed roof with wide front overhang, drop siding, and corner windows with awnings. Support buildings for the housing area were also located here: the recreation hall, a laundry, the officers' mess hall, a warehouse, a post exchange, and a beauty salon.


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Warehouse Area Description:

West of the Administration Area, near the northwest corner of the camp, was the Warehouse Area, which occupied the western two-thirds of the block bounded by Alexandria and Crystal avenues, Greasewood Way, and Cactus Road. Twenty-one rectangular warehouses were located here. Building 109 was a refrigerated warehouse with refrigeration and ice-making equipment. The warehouses had shallow gambrel roofs, walls sheathed with 1" lumber and clad with roll roofing, and concrete slab floors.


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Warehouse 109 Description:

Building 109 was a refrigerated warehouse with refrigeration and ice-making equipment.


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