Did you know there was an internment camp for suspected Japanese spies during World War II on the San Francisco property?
The internment camps in California and elsewhere that housed mostly Japanese Americans after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the ensuing war paranoia were mostly in remote locations. But a camp specifically for “enemy aliens” was on San Francisco property, adjacent to a municipal golf course just south of the city proper.
Local writer and historian Gary Kamiya written today in the Chronicle on the history of pointed park, which today remains a city-owned park and municipal golf course in Pacifica, operated by SF Rec & Parks. It is considered one of the best municipal golf courses in the country, in fact, designed by renowned golf course designer Dr. Alister MacKenzie, who also designed the Augusta National Golf Club.
The property was the ranch of wealthy SF lawyer George Sharp, who died in 1882, as Kamiya tells us, while working in a city courtroom.
Sharp’s widow died 23 years later, and her executors eventually decided to donate the property to the city of San Francisco in 1917 for use as a recreation park. John McLaren, the superintendent of Golden Gate Park for 56 years, 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 to the work of creating the 120-acre Sharp Park.
It wasn’t long before the land also became a homeless “relief camp,” built with help from the Federal Public 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 another type of camp in 1942, Camp Sharp Park. Kamiya points to a report in the San Francisco Newswhich reports that “dozens of Japanese extraterrestrials” have been transferred to Camp Sharp Park after being treated at Angel Island – with the report suggesting that these presumably innocent local citizens may have recently taken snapshots along the coast of the peninsula “perhaps taking note of the reefs, currents and landmarks for the Japanese Navy.”
At the same time that military batteries were being built in the Presidio and Marin Headlands, to defend against a Japanese naval attack that never came, about 500 Japanese Americans, probably including families, were housed in barracks at Camp Sharp Park. Kamiya notes that in July 1943, after calls from the US government to remove suspected Japanese and German immigrants from the hands of Latin American countries, 119 Japanese Peruvians were also transferred to Sharp Park.
(That last 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 Downtown Rooftop, which opened earlier this year, and the upcoming Chotto Mate atop the former Macy’s Men’s Store building in Union Square, both showcasing Nikkei fare.)
Other internment camps, known as Assembly Centers and Relocation Centers, were located in much more rural places in California, such as Manzanar near the small town of Lone Pine in the Sierra foothills, and Lake Tulewhich was considered a prison camp for dissidents.
But the Sharp Park camp, owned by SF, was right here, a few miles from town, and living there was probably unpleasant for those forcibly displaced there.
Other non-contiguous lands owned by the City of San Francisco are mostly on islands, as Kamiya notes – such as Farallon Islands and Red Rock Island near the Richmond Bridge.
Photo: SF Recreation & Parks