Manzanar Historic Site introduces wartime mess hall

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REVISITING HISTORY — Visitors to the Manzanar National Historic Site can gain some insight into the wartime incarceration experience by visiting the mess hall where more than 10,000 people ate their meals while imprisoned. photo courtesy of National Park Service

INDEPENDENCE, Calif. — The Manzanar National Historic Site has built a mess hall where visitors can gain a glimpse of camp life for the more than 10,000 persons of Japanese descent who were incarcerated in the concentration camp during World War II.

The mess hall is the first building completed as part of a “Demonstration Block” called for in Manzanar National Historic Site’s General Management Plan.

According to the statement, 36 mess halls served three meals a day for up to 300 people, 365 days a year.

The exhibit features historic photos, articles, and quotes depicting the incarceration experience. In addition to the mess hall and two recently reconstructed barracks, Manzanar’s Interpretive Center features extensive exhibits, audio-visual programs, and a bookstore.

Manzanar National Historic Site Superintendent Les Inafuku stated, “As I walk through the mess hall, I find myself imagining that I’ve walked in right at the busiest moment of a meal, and that I’d better be careful not to bump into a cook or dish washer. My great thanks go out to the former internees who provided us with the fine details about meals and the mess halls, plus the countless hours that our Manzanar staff and our creative and dedicated exhibit designers and fabricators devoted to research, develop concepts, and to produce the exhibits.”

The mess hall served more than 10,000 people while imprisoned. photo courtesy of National Park Service

Inyo County donated the structure — which was built in 1942 at the Bishop Airfield near the Sierra Nevada Mountains — to the National Park Service (NPS) in 2002. The building is 40 feet by 100 feet, and was divided into four sections to be moved to Manzanar. Eventually, the NPS received funding to restore the building to its 1942 appearance and develop exhibits.

Park staff worked with Krister Olmon, Harvest Moon Studio, and Color-Ad Exhibits and Signage to create the exhibit, with research support from Friends of Manzanar.

The site is located at 5001 Highway 395, six miles south of Independence, Calif. The programs and exhibits are free and open to the public. Winter hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For more information, call (760) 878-2194 or visit www.nps.gov/manz.

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