Topaz National Historic Landmark, USA

World War II site of Japanese American confinement and resilience in Utah

By CyArk


View of block 24 at TopazCyArk

Expedition Overview

Topaz is one of ten World War II camps where the US government confined Japanese Americans forcibly removed from the West Coast in the name of national security. The few structures that remain at the site serve as reminders of democracy’s fragility in times of conflict. To further illuminate this history, CyArk collaborated with the National Park Service and the Topaz Museum Board of Directors to create an accurate 3D digital reconstruction of the World War II camp. CyArk used laser scanning to document the site’s buildings and topographical features, processing the data in combination with historical records. The digital reconstruction of Topaz provides a unique opportunity for people to connect with this difficult history and ensure that it is never forgotten.

View of the foundation for a Topaz guard towerCyArk

Introducing Topaz

Helen Horano Christ was nine years old when her family arrived at Topaz after being forced to leave their home in California. “When we got off the bus...a dust storm had come up. First thing we faced in Topaz was the dust. We had to make our way to our barracks, which weren't quite finished yet. In fact, we were told that the windows had just been put in that morning, and I stuck my finger in the putty, and it was still soft. I managed to leave my mark, didn't I?” The harsh landscape heavily impacted the lives of Japanese Americans confined in the camp, just as Japanese Americans’ mark on the area is visible at the site today. From 1942 to 1945, just over 11,000 people were confined at Topaz. A 4-foot high barbed wire fence surrounded their one-square-mile living area. While people experienced a constant lack of privacy in the camp, many Japanese Americans found ways to make the best of their circumstances through cultivating community organizations and transforming the dusty landscape with sports fields and Japanese style gardens. The site remains an important place of remembrance for Japanese American communities and a testament to people’s resiliency in the face of hardship.

The original fence at TopazCyArk

Perspective of the reconstructed Topaz site, From the collection of: CyArk
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View of block 5 at TopazCyArk

In Their Own Words

Continue to hear stories of Japanese Americans incarcerated at Topaz. For more information please visit the Densho Digital Archive and the Topaz Museum website.

Video of Ted Nagata describing the security at Topaz, From the collection of: CyArk
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Video of Helen Harano Christ remembering Topaz, From the collection of: CyArk
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Open Heritage 3D by CyArkCyArk

Data from this project is now freely available through Open Heritage 3D.

Download the data from this project.

About Open Heritage 3D

The mission of the Open Heritage 3D project is to:

● Provide open access to 3D cultural heritage datasets for education, research and other
non-commercial uses.

● Minimize the technical, financial and legal barriers for publishers of 3D heritage data.

● Promote discovery and re-use of datasets through standardized metadata and data formats.

● Foster community collaboration and knowledge sharing in the 3D cultural heritage community.

● Share best practices and methodologies for the capture, processing and storage of 3D cultural heritage data

Credits: Story

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This project was made possible by grant support from the Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant Program and the following partners:

Topaz Museum


Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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