Manzanar National Historic Site, USA

World War II site of Japanese American confinement and resilience in the Eastern Sierra



A National Park Service ranger gives CyArk a tour of the Manzanar War Relocation Center by CyArkCyArk

Expedition Overview

Manzanar is one of ten World War II camps where the US government incarcerated over 120,000 Japanese Americans 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 worked with the National Park Service to create a 3D digital reconstruction of the World War II camp. CyArk used laser scanning to document the site’s buildings and topographical features including the historic cemetery monument and excavated rock gardens. They processed the data in combination with historical records to digitally reconstruct what the camp would have looked like during World War II. The reconstruction provides a unique opportunity for people to connect with this difficult history and ensure that it is never forgotten.

A view of the barbed wire and guard tower at the Manzanar War Relocation Center by CyArkCyArk

Introducing the Manzanar National Historic Site

During World War II, a barbed wire fence and eight guard towers enclosed Manzanar’s one-square-mile living space that at its peak confined just over 10,000 people. Many people recall with fear how spotlights from the guard towers would shine through their barrack windows during the night. While the construction of the camp reflects how Japanese Americans were stripped of their basic rights and freedoms, the features on the landscape today also show how people created a diverse community and remained resilient in the face of hardship. A woman’s statement recorded during World War II reveals the complexities people faced suddenly confined with thousands of strangers. “I often sit and wonder how I ever came to be in a camp full of Japanese, aliens and citizens alike, with nothing much in common between them and myself except the color of our skins. What had I, or...the rest of them done, to be thrown in camp?...I suppose the only answer is, the accident of my birth—my ancestry.” This diversity of people confined at Manzanar can be seen in the landscape, dotted with remnants of Japanese style rock gardens, baseball fields, and everyday possessions that people left behind. The site remains an important place of learning and reflection for visitors from around the world, Japanese American communities, and American Indian populations whose history of displacement and resilience is also tied to Manzanar's landscape. 

View of Manzanar National Historic Site near the front entrance of the former camp and reconstructed guard tower.

An excavated rock garden at the Manzanar War Relocation Center by CyArkCyArk

Rock Gardens

Rounded concrete pools mark the base of dozens of Japanese style rock gardens, showing how people transformed their dusty, crowded confines, creating small spaces of beauty and fleeting solitude. As one of the most photographed areas in the camp, people’s personal snapshots of Merritt Park demonstrate the importance of these spaces in the harsh, desert climate. Many people documented significant life events at the park such as high school graduation or birthdays, illuminating how the population confined at Manzanar found ways to make the best of their situation while confined within barbed wire.

View of Manzanar National Historic Site from the center of Merritt Park's excavated Japanese style rock garden, the largest park that Japanese Americans crafted while incarcerated at the camp during World War II.

Digital reconstruction of Manzanar, where the U.S. government incarcerated just over 11,000 people of Japanese ancestry during World War II, two-thirds who were U.S. citizens.

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 through grant support from the U.S. National Park Service's Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant Program and the following partners:

National Park Service


Architectural Resource Consultants

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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