Did You Know There Was Once An Airport At Manzanar?

Overhead view of the airport at Manzanar, abandoned long ago, east of U.S. Highway 395. Manzanar National Historic Site lies west of the highway. The Los Angeles Aqueduct borders the old airport on the east.
(click above to view larger image)
Photo courtesy Google Earth

by Fred Bradford

Years ago, I would drive to Lone Pine on the Thursday before the annual Manzanar Pilgrimage, which is always held on the last Saturday of April. The extra day would allow me to drive around the area and sight see. I rarely get that chance if I drive up on Friday.

By chance, I drove east of the Manzanar site entrance on the road that extends from the current northerly turn off from U.S. Highway 395 (Los Angeles Department of Water and Power road), and runs along the northern boundary of the Manzanar National Historic Site).

Very quickly, I came upon an abandoned airport I had never heard about. I took flying lessons in the late 1960’s, and accumulated a modest 225 hours of flight time, so I did something silly. I drove to one end of a runway, turned around and raced to the other end (about 5,300 feet away). I made believe I was taking off in a real airplane. It was absurd, but still I enjoyed the minute or so of make believe.

Having just read about the floods in that valley that hit the Manzanar National Historic Site, I noticed the Manzanar landing strip (not part of the Manzanar concentration camp) shown in the Google Earth map of the Manzanar flood area, included in this story:

Flood Damage At Manzanar NHS Could Have Been Much Worse

That lead me to do some surfing, and I found finding an excellent discussion with great pictures:

Abandoned & Little-Known Airfields: California: Inyo County

I enjoy particularly that I’m not the only one having raced a car along the airfield.

Scott Aguilar, a member of the Lone Pine Time Trials Committee, reported in 2005 that, “…the use of the runways for automobile racing time trials continues to this day. It is an annual event that takes place in May, traditionally on the weekend before Memorial Day, but this has varied slightly in recent years. It is a charity event, with all proceeds going to the LA Braille Institute Youth Center. Black tire marks from one of our events are visible in the overview photo. We go to the field a few weekends in advance of the event to knock down weeds and patch major holes in the runway surface which lie near the driving line. After the event, we are required to repair the white ‘X’s as needed if we have left any marks on them. To my knowledge, ours is the only activity that takes place on the grounds.”

More information is available on Wikimapia.

Maybe next spring, I’ll drive up a day early and repeat the adventure.

Fred Bradford, a long-time member of the Manzanar Committee, writes from Monterey Park, California.

The views expressed in this story are those of the author, and are not necessarily those of the Manzanar Committee.


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2 Responses to Did You Know There Was Once An Airport At Manzanar?

  1. Hank Umemoto says:

    I believe it was summer of 1943 that a squadron of P-51 Mustangs were taking off and landing at the Manzanar air field. They were there for couple weeks presumably for training. I was living in Block 30 and the air field was just across the highway. That was the only time I saw any plane on the strip during my 3 years and three months that I spent at Manzanar, although I met couple civilian pilots who landed there in later years just for the fun of it. I understand that the field was built in 1941 to test bombers, but seems as though the tax payers never got their money’s worth since it doesn’t seem to have utilized as originally planned.

    Editor’s Note: Hank Umemoto was one of the 11,070 Americans of Japanese ancestry who were unjustly incarcerated at Manzanar during World War II. In recent years, he has served as a docent at the Manzanar National Historic Site, and he has written a book about his experiences, Manzanar To Mount Whitney: The Life and Times of a Lost Hiker. He is also a member of the Manzanar Committee.

  2. I’ve been going to the Henry Fukuhara Manzanar Paint Outs for 16 years now. Each time we travel to Manzanar, we think about how difficult that trip must have been. Some traveled by car leaving from a church in Little Tokyo. The caravan started out at 6 or 7 in the morning and arrived in Manzanar that evening. Imagine, traveling in a caravan, 4-5 blocks long with no modern facilities of freeways, fast food stops, limited number of gas stations and restroom stops. We also look for the railroad tracks and imagine how scarey it must have been traveling to an unknown destination and being left off at Lone Pine.

    We have even driven to the abandoned airport runway across the highway from Manzanar National Historic Site and driven on the runway where the government officials must have landed.

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