Standing Up, Staying Strong

Courtesy of the Nancy ODA
The history of the former site of the Verdugo Hills Golf Course includes the property housing Japanese-Americans during WWII.


As many residents in Glendale are well familiar, the city is often known as “The Jewel City,” a sobriquet that has helped carry its reputation across the region. The glittering aura the city conjures has in the past decades made it a destination for shopping and cultural edification regionally. Dig further into the city’s past, however, and one encounters a fraught history that has tarnished that glitter.

Earlier in the 20th century, still within living memory, Glendale was notorious for its “sundowner laws” and even as a haven for local sympathizers of Nazi Germany. So it is no surprise that the area has played its part in the dark history of the internment of Japanese-Americans that occurred in the wake of the Pearl Harbor attack in December 1941.

“There were 2,000 men interned at Tuna Canyon Detention Center,” said local researcher Nancy Oda. “It’s important to note that they were all men. Because these were fathers who were taken from their wives and their children without any warrant. A lot of them had their suitcases ready before they were interned because as pillars of the community they knew they would be considered most suspect by the authorities.”

A graduate from UCLA with a background in history, Oda has spent the past several years documenting the history of the site currently occupied by the now-shuttered Verdugo Hills Golf Course. Recently controversy has ensued with a plan by developers to raze the site in order to erect homes. Local historians have jumped into the fray saying that story of the location’s former use as the home of the Tuna Canyon Detention Center needs to be preserved.

“It was a place where ‘enemy aliens’ were held,” she said. “Japanese citizens were not able to become Americans even though some of them had been in our country since the 1880s. They were discriminated against in many ways, such as through the Alien Land Laws, which prevented them from owning property in America. But two-thirds of these concentration camps held American citizens. They were the children of first-generation immigrants, considered ‘enemy non-aliens.’ They weren’t considered Americans.”

Despite the painful nature of this history, Oda has said that many people and local organizations have been very supportive of her work.

“To my surprise, a lot of people remembered the detention station. Sunland and Tujunga remember its history,” she said. “The Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council has been very aware of this history and has collected information relating to it.”

The process of interviewing the children of survivors of Tuna Canyon – the actual internees, mostly middle-aged and older at the time, have all since passed away – and gathering documents has been a revelation both for locals and for Oda herself.

“It’s amazing to make these discoveries. I was well versed in the internment of the Japanese-Americans. But there was so much new information that was revealed to me,” she said. “All these facts were absolutely fascinating. It was a huge history to unravel.”

Oda expressed the hope that her work and those of others documenting the history of the Japanese-American internment of the 1940s are able to keep the story alive for future generations. She also hoped that the story she is helping to tell serves as a reminder against fear making Americans turn against their fellow citizens in the future.

“I grew up in the Kennedy era, which was a time of great hopes. Now we’ve been hearing about people singling out people such as Muslims. It was a flashback for us and [Japanese-Americans] felt strongly about this and stand up for them. We knew we had to.”