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Did You Know There Was an Internment Camp For Suspected Japanese Spies During WWII on San Francisco Property?

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Did You Know There Was an Internment Camp For Suspected Japanese Spies During WWII on San Francisco Property?

The internment camps in California and elsewhere that housed primarily Japanese Americans following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor and subsequent wartime paranoia were mostly in far-flung locales. But one camp specifically for “enemy aliens” was on San Francisco property, next to a municipal golf course just south of the city proper.

Local writer and historian Gary Kamiya writes today in the Chronicle about the history of Sharp Park, which remains today a city-owned park and municipal golf course in Pacifica, managed by SF Rec & Parks. It’s considered one of the finest municipal golf courses in the country, in fact, designed by renowned golf course designer Dr. Alister MacKenzie who also designed Augusta National Golf Club.

The property was the ranch of wealthy SF lawyer George Sharp, who died in 1882, as Kamiya tells us, while at work in a city courtroom.

Sharp’s widow died 23 years later, and her executors would eventually decide to donate the property to the City of San Francisco in 1917 for use as a recreational park. John McLaren, the 56-year superintendent of Golden Gate Park, suggested a golf course in 1930, given the popularity of the city’s other two municipal golf courses at Harding Park and Lincoln Park, and ended up recruiting MacKenzie for the job to create the 120-acre Sharp Park.

It wouldn’t be long before the land also became a homeless “relief camp,” built with help from the federal Civil Works Administration, to house poor San Franciscans during the Depression.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, and after President Franklin Roosevelt signed the infamous orders to round up and detain Japanese Americans, Sharp Park would become a different sort of camp in 1942, Camp Sharp Park. Kamiya points to a news report in the San Francisco News, that reports on “scores of alien Japanese” being relocated to Camp Sharp Park after being processed at Angel Island — with the news piece suggesting that these presumably innocent local citizens had perhaps recently been taking snapshots along the Peninsula coast “possibly making note of reefs, currents and landmarks for the Japanese Navy.”

At the same time that military batteries were being constructed in the Presidio and the Marin Headlands, to defend against a Japanese naval attack that never came, around 500 Japanese Americans, likely including families, were housed in barracks at Camp Sharp Park. Kamiya notes that in July 1943, after calls by the US government to take suspicious Japanese and German immigrants off the hands of Latin American countries, 119 Japanese Peruvians were transferred to Sharp Park as well.

(The latter detail is interesting in light of the recent global culinary trend celebrating Japanese Peruvian cuisine, known as Nikkei cuisine, which grew out of generations of Japanese immigration to Peruvian cities — and in SF we have Kaiyo Rooftop downtown, opened earlier this year, and the upcoming Chotto Mate atop the old Macy’s Men’s Store building in Union Square, both showcasing Nikkei dishes.)

Other internment camps, known as Assembly Centers and Relocation Centers, were located in much more rural locations in California, like Manzanar near the tiny town of Lone Pine in the Sierra foothills, and Tule Lake, which was considered a prison camp for dissidents.

But the SF-owned Sharp Park camp was right here, just a few miles outside the city, and living there likely was unpleasant for those forcibly relocated there.

Other non-contiguous bits of land owned by the city of San Francisco are mostly on islands, as Kamiya notes — like the Farallon Islands, and Red Rock Island near the Richmond Bridge.

Photo: SF Rec & Parks

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