Even to this day it is a site that stirs up emotions of a troubling time for Arnold Maeda.
Though it has been more than 68 years, passing by the location on Venice Boulevard, just west of Lincoln Boulevard in Venice, still reminds Maeda of the experience that was ahead of him when he arrived there as a 15-year-old. It was from there, a site marked as 933 ‡ Venice Blvd., where Maeda, his parents and a number of other Japanese Americans living on the Westside of Los Angeles would board buses in April 1942 to be transported to the Manzanar internment camp for the remainder of World War II.
“It’s a gut feeling I get when I pass by there that brings back memories of what happened,” said Maeda, now 84, a 53-year resident of Mar Vista. “If I am a passenger or I’m carrying a passenger I always point out that spot and think about what happened.”
Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government issued civilian exclusion orders for “all persons of Japanese ancestry, both alien and non-alien” to be sent to war relocation camps for the duration of the war. Maeda and his parents, who were living in Santa Monica at the time, were ordered to depart the civilian control station near Venice and Lincoln boulevards for transportation to Manzanar.
He remembers his family being told to pack only what they could carry and him questioning, “what in the world was a small country like (Japan) attacking a big country like ours?” But of all the feelings of uncertainty about what was taking place, the one that bothered Maeda the most was having to say good-bye to his German Shepherd, whom he had to leave behind.
“My heaviest feeling was that my constant companion, my pet dog Boy, couldn’t go with me. Instead of being worried about where we were going, I was obsessed with the fact that I had parted with my dog. For a 15-year-old that was kind of traumatic,” remembered Maeda, who is not sure what exactly happened to his dog and still carries fond memories of him.
Receiving such orders from the government for his family to be taken away from their home made the young Maeda feel very “bitter,” he said. For the next 40 months Maeda lived at the Manzanar camp, a place from where he graduated high school but also knew he did not have the same freedoms as his former classmates in Santa Monica. Maeda, whose living quarters were within view of cars traveling along the highway, realized his rights were limited when he couldn’t leave.
“More than so I knew my civil rights were being violated because I was not free to go anywhere,” he said.
Nearly seven decades after Japanese Americans were ordered to relocation camps within their own country, from boarding locations such as the one near Venice and Lincoln boulevards, members of the Venice community are hoping to recognize that historic occurrence. The event would be remembered locally with a proposed Japanese American memorial marker placed near the identified address of 933 ‡ Venice Blvd., where those leaving for internment camps gathered in April 1942.
The memorial proposal was first discussed by the Venice Peace and Freedom Party and the anniversary of the assemblage of Japanese Americans in Venice has been noted in recent years with a historic photo of the event in the Free Venice Beachhead. After a Venice High School student saw the photo and shared it with his teacher and class, teacher Phyllis Hayashibara said she discussed the idea of a memorial marker with City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who immediately offered support.
The councilman filed a motion that the Bureau of Street Services, Planning Department and Department of Transportation explore the installation of a commemorative marker at the location. Though the exact design of the memorial is still being discussed, organizers say the marker would aim to remind passersby of the unjustified evacuation and internment of West Coast Japanese Americans and the “fragility” of constitutional rights during a time of national duress.
“The Japanese American memorial would be there to remind people of what happened in 1942 in complete violation of citizens’ constitutional rights, and that if we’re not vigilant, this will happen again to another group of people,” Hayashibara said.
Hayashibara, whose parents spent two and a half years at a war relocation camp in Arkansas, said the marker can also serve as a reminder that Venice was a place where people’s trips to the camps originated.
“It happened here, at an intersection that people pass all the time,” she noted.
Memorial planners are hoping to hear from the public about the appearance and scope of the commemorative marker and have scheduled a community meeting from 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 11 at the Venice Hongwanji Buddhist Temple, 12371 Braddock Drive, Del Rey.
Among the community groups that have expressed support are Beyond Baroque, the Social and Public Art Resource Center, the Venice High School Alumni Association, the Venice Arts Council, the Venice Historical Society and the Venice Neighborhood Council. The Venice Arts Council believes such a historical marker could be incorporated into the culture of Venice, said member Suzanne Thompson.
“We’d like to see it expand as an educational opportunity as well as a public art project,” Thompson said of possible plans.
Many people may not know about the experiences Japanese Americans faced during the war, and it’s important to learn about that time to prevent a similar event from happening again, Thompson said.
“It can also be an inspiration to the community to recognize what atrocities happened to Japanese American people,” she said of the memorial.
Hayashibara believes that if communities don’t commemorate the Japanese American experience during World War II it could become a “dead issue” over time.
“I’m hoping this will put Venice on the map as a community that recognizes and honors its history,” the teacher said.
Maeda, whose wife lived at a relocation camp in Poston, Arizona during the war, is appreciative of the community’s effort to memorialize the struggle of Japanese Americans. Another former Manzanar internee, who asked to remain anonymous, said she was pleased to learn of the plans to mark the spot where she boarded as a 16-year-old with her family.
“I think it’s a good thing to have a memorial and it should make some impact on some people,” she said.
Referring to the emotions he feels each time he passes that place where he departed for Manzanar, Maeda has received a sense of relief with the prospect of a permanent memorial marking that time of his life for future generations.
“Somehow the feeling I had kind of softened up,” he says. “I guess memorializing it has made a difference and the bitterness melted a little bit.”