As I wrote here last week, Hillcrest Sanitarium was a large, high-class sanitarium at the top of Lowell in what is now Markridge Estates. In 1942, the U.S. government set up 10 relocation camps in the western U.S., into which were crowded 120,000 U.S. citizens of Japanese descent. In conditions like that, disease was bound to spread, so the government requisitioned Hillcrest Sanitarium to treat TB patients from the internment camps. It was privately operated, but administered by the County and the patients were guarded by armed county sheriffs.
Several letters from a couple of the internees treated at Hillcrest survive today, and they document a dismal existence. Here are segments of a letter from an artist, Ido Mita, to her friend and fellow artist Estelle Peck Ishigo. Estelle was a Caucasian woman married to a Japanese-American man who voluntarily accompanied her husband to the Heart Mountain internment camp in Wyoming:
“Hillcrest Sanitarium, La Crescenta, California, August 13, 1942
Dear Estelle, I came across your name in one of the copies of Pomona Center News that a patient here was reading. I hope this letter will reach you before you and Arthur leave for Wyoming.
I was ‘evacuated’ to this sanatorium on May 8. We are high in the foothills near Tujunga. This is a concentration point for Japanese tuberculars. There are about 160 of us here now. I never lived with so many Japanese in my life, let alone sick people. There are all sorts of people, young and old, well ones and some dying ones. In fact about seven of us have died since I came up here.
I am getting along OK, in spite of the fact that the food here is very, very bad, and not enough to keep a dog alive. All this is due to the fact that the place is privately owned, and is under contract with the County (the County in turn with the Army) to house and feed us. Every time we hear what “gochiso” [Loosely translates to “feast”] you people in different centers are eating, it certainly makes us envious.
Please write and let me know when you get to Wyoming. I hope you have nice subjects to paint up there. I haven’t been doing anything up here yet. The grounds are too artificially landscaped for me to paint. The hills are one of those rocky, spotty and ugly things that even the magic of light cannot improve.
I’m sure her view of our beautiful mountains was flavored by her sickness, and her imprisoned state, but by Christmas of ’43 she had sent this same friend Estelle a pretty hand-drawn Christmas card depicting the sanitarium framed by pines with the Crescenta Valley below, looking quite beautiful. Edo was still at Hillcrest into 1945.
In a biography of another internee, George Yuzawa, we find this sad story:
“George’s younger sister, Chieko ‘Patricia,’ 19 years old at the time of the evacuation, was not permitted to join her family at Santa Anita or Amache for health reasons. Shortly before the evacuation, Chieko contracted tuberculosis. The U.S. government moved her to Hillcrest Sanitarium, located in the mountains of northwest Los Angeles. She died there in 1942, never having seen her parents again. During her stay, George was given permission to leave the camp (with an army escort) only once to visit her. The second and final time he went was to claim her body.”
We have no record of how many internees died at Hillcrest. It must have been a very sad place, and one surviving letter recounts one of the patients going insane. As the war wound down, Hillcrest returned to private patients, and I’ll cover that next week.
On a different and happier note, local historian Robert Newcombe is producing a book for Montrose’s 100th anniversary, slated to release early next year. He’s put out a plea for Montrose photos for the book, particularly from the last 30 years. Send them to me and I’ll forward them to Robert, and he’ll credit you in his book.
Mike Lawler is the president of the Historical Society of the
Reach him at