New At Manzanar National Historic Site: Merritt Park Excavated

In late July and early August 2009, volunteers, including the family of Kuichiro Nishi, who was imprisoned at Fort Missoula, Montana and Manzanar during World War II, excavated Merritt Park at the Manzanar National Historic Site.

Nishi was a 56 year-old nursery owner and garden designer in West Los Angeles when he was arrested by the FBI. In June, 1942, he joined his family at Manzanar.

Internees transformed the monotonous conformity of camp into a community, including beautifying the landscape and Nishi used his experience as a nursery owner to make the desert bloom. Within two months of arriving at Manzanar, he participated in the construction of a garden with pools and a fountain in Block 22. He later convinced camp director Ralph Merritt to donate supplies and equipment for the community garden that was first named Rose Park, then Pleasure Park and was later renamed Merritt Park.

With its visually striking rock gardens, ponds, rustic bridge, gazebo, and diverse plantings—including roses that Nishi cultivated—the park became a sanctuary of tranquility for the Manzanar community. Couples were married in the park which provided an attractive escape from the drudgery of camp life. Today, home movies still bear witness to its peaceful beauty.

After Manzanar closed in 1945 and the Nishi family returned to Los Angeles to rebuild their lives, their temporary home at Manzanar was mostly reclaimed by the desert. As years went by, spring run-off from the Sierra Nevada snowpack periodically flooded the site, burying the camp’s gardens with silt and sand. Many clues in the landscape were rendered invisible under layers of dirt.

During the 40th Manzanar Pilgrimage weekend, April 25-26, 2009, many visitors to the Manzanar National Historic Site got their first opportunity to see the excavated garden, which was the largest of the internee-built gardens at Manzanar.

Here are some photos taken of the excavated garden (note: the bridges are temporary and are not historic representations):


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8 Responses to New At Manzanar National Historic Site: Merritt Park Excavated

  1. Richard Stewart says:

    . . . somehow Rose Park has lost its character – I sat on the rocks is the shade many times during the three years I worked as an interpretive guide at MNHS – U don’t need to know the history of the site anymore, no imagination required – jus read the wayside signage. 4 me this will always be Rose Park – that’s what it was known as B4 it became Merritt Park . . . p.s. tha turtle lost its head.

  2. Alisa Lynch says:

    Nice write up Gann. Merritt Park is definitely a must see at Manzanar. I still can’t believe how intact it was after all these years. Who knew? Makes you wonder what else is buried out there. We had 100 volunteers assist with this dig. The biggest Manzanar arch project to date.

  3. Gann Matsuda says:

    Congratulate the person who actually wrote most of that…I pilfered most of it from the NPS press release announcing the volunteer project for the excavation. :-) Took the photos on Sunday before Jim and I went to meet with you on our way back to LA.

  4. Kerry Cababa says:

    There was a head on the turtle when I saw it Sunday about 1:30pm. There was an incredible amount of earth moved out, or so it seemed. The rocks in the original photo were in the same places and appeared to be exactly as they were way back then. My grandpa on my mom’s side was also imprisoned at Ft. Missoula, like Mr. Nishi was. Someday, I’ll get up there to see what it looks like.

  5. Susanne La Faver says:

    It looks fantastic. I’m so happy this is happening. What a magical garden it was – actually, a series of gardens, right?
    I could feel the magic when we were there. Thank you so much, Gann, for this blog. BTW: Are you related to Buddy Matsuda formally of Salinas?

  6. Gann Matsuda says:

    Nope…not related. Hope you’ll continue to read and comment here! And if you have anything you’d like to contribute, please contact us and we’ll consider publishing it!

  7. Pingback: Keith Bright To Receive Manzanar Committee’s Sue Kunitomi Embrey Legacy Award Posthumously « Manzanar Committee

  8. Pingback: Nishi Family Returns To Manzanar To Help Rebuild Historic Bridge At Merritt Park « Manzanar Committee

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