Manzanar NHS Earns Coveted Award For Garden Restoration Work

The following was excerpted from two press releases from the National Park Service.

Block 12 Mess Hall Garden at Manzanar National Historic Site, after restoration.
Photo courtesy National Park Service

INDEPENDENCE, CA — The Society for History in the Federal Government has presented the 2014 John Wesley Powell Prize for Outstanding Historic Preservation to Manzanar National Historic Site for the restoration of the mess hall garden in Block 12.

The award stated that the Manzanar restoration project, which entailed uncovering and restoring the Japanese garden’s pond, stream, rock pathways, hills, waterfall, fencing, and other landscaping features and trees was, “…judged to be an excellent example of preservation and interpretation of cultural resources associated with the relocation of Japanese Americans during World War II. Through a combination of archaeological survey, historic photograph analysis, oral history, and historical document research, Manzanar’s staff and volunteers recreated a symbol of resilience, beauty, and peace within the larger landscape of racial prejudice.”

Named in the award nomination, submitted by Superintendent Les Inafuku before he retired in January, were Jeff Burton, Cultural Resources Program Manager; Gerry Enes, Arborist; John Kepford, Historic Preservation Specialist; and Laura Ng, Archeologist.

Ng accepted the award on behalf of Manzanar at the annual meeting of the Society for History in the Federal Government in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.

The Society brings together government professionals, academics, consultants, students, and citizens in the crucial work of providing historical context and transparency for an informed citizenry. The Block 12 Mess Hall Garden restoration project furthered that mission, using the preservation activities themselves as public education and interpretation. The Powell Prize recognized not only the innovative way the project integrated archaeological data with archival research and oral history, but also the way that staff and volunteers overcame a severe setback when the floods of the summer of 2013 caused unexpected damage.

Last February, volunteers from throughout the United States and Japan helped Manzanar National Historic Site’s cultural resources staff to complete preservation work at two of the dozens of Japanese gardens at Manzanar. Both the Block 12 Mess Hall Garden and the Arai Family Fish Pond in Block 33 provide visitors with a glimpse of one way that some of the 11,070 Japanese Americans coped with their confinement during World War II. Visitors can see both gardens via short walks from the auto tour road.

Japanese Americans created gardens to improve their prison-like surroundings, using whatever materials they could find. Like other gardens at Manzanar, the Block 12 mess hall garden illustrates many traditional characteristics of Japanese gardens, with features representing a mountain, a stream, waterfalls and cascades, and crane and tortoise rocks. The Arai pond featured a stream, rock borders, three islands, a fish tunnel, and even water lilies. It was a “place of beauty and serenity,” according to Madelon Arai Yamamoto, the daughter of the pond’s creator.

Preservation work included removal of invasive vegetation, archeological excavation and mapping, cleaning and repair of damaged concrete, resetting of displaced rocks, and, in some cases, reconstruction of damaged or missing features. In late July 2013, disastrous flooding reversed much of the stabilization work that had already been completed.

Kepford noted that the labor contributed by volunteers was critical to overcoming not only the slow deterioration and burial caused by decades of abandonment, but also the rapid damage caused by the recent floods. Thanks to the volunteers, Kepford remarked, “the gardens can now help tell the story of the resiliency of Japanese Americans during their internment.”

According to Professor Kendall Brown of California State University Long Beach, the Japanese gardens at Manzanar are noteworthy because they were created during World War II, when resources were scarce and when anti-Japanese sentiment was at an all-time high. Even more remarkable, Dr. Brown said, “…this is garden art of a very high order—I think arguably this is the most interesting, compelling collection of Japanese gardens in America.”

Ten Japanese gardens at Manzanar have been documented and stabilized to date, but more await archeological investigation and preservation. Volunteer opportunities are posted on the Manzanar web site as they become available.

The public can now visit the gardens at Block 12 and Block 33. In addition, the Manzanar Visitor Center features extensive exhibits, audio-visual programs, and a bookstore. It is open from 9:00 AM to 5:30 PM daily. Manzanar is located at 5001 Highway 395, six miles south of Independence, California. For more information, please call (760) 878-2194 or visit our web site at


Block 12/Block 33 Garden Photos

Click on any photo to view a larger image, and to scroll through the gallery.


Block 12 Photos and 2014 John Wesley Powell Prize for Outstanding Historic Preservation Award Presentation

Click on any photo to view a larger image, and to scroll through the gallery.

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