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Portals to the Living Past: World War II/Resettlement Era in Japanese American Denver - Part 2

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Portal 8: Minoru Yasui Plaza – 333 W. Colfax Avenue, Denver CO

Originally constructed as a hotel, this strikingly visible high-rise downtown office building for the City and County of Denver was renamed March 1, 1999, as the Minoru Yasui Plaza after the celebrated Colorado attorney and civil rights leader. Subsequently, it was decided that a bust of Minoru Yasui (1916-1986) would be placed at a prominent location in the lobby, and plans were established to utilize full-wall graphics to present Yasui’s contributions to Denver. Yasui came to Denver in 1944, and as early as 1946 served on a Denver mayor’s committee that became the Commission on Community Relations. He became the director of that commission in 1967 and continued in that position until his retirement. A friend and colleague of Yasui’s, noted journalist Bill Hosokawa, claimed that it was in large measure due to Yasui’s pioneering community efforts in the entwined fields of human justice and social relations that Denver was among the few major American cities in the late 1960s to escape suffering race-related riots and civil unrests.

Portal 9: Midland Savings Building – 444 17th Street, Denver, CO

A splendid example of the Early Italian Renaissance Revival style. This structure was built in 1925 and designed by Fisher & Fisher; it showcases terra cotta gargoyles on the penthouse. The building was renovated in the late 1990s and is now comprised of condominiums and called the Midland Lofts. During and immediately after World War II, this building was the headquarters for Denver’s War Relocation Authority’s Relocation Office and the WRA’s Photographic Section, a unit responsible for comprehensively documenting the diverse resettlement experience of Japanese Americans.

Portal 10: Fairmount Cemetery – 430 S. Quebec Street, Denver, CO: (303) 399-0692

Fairmount, which was founded in 1890, is Denver’s second oldest (and most populous) cemetery and, accordingly, serves as the final resting place for many of the city’s pioneers. Conceived as a rural cemetery park, one in marked contrast to the old style cemetery initiated at Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Fairmount hired German architect Reinhard Schuetze to tackle its creation. He planted more than 4,000 trees, with the result that Fairmount is still Colorado’s most diverse arboretum. This necropolis includes an assortment of obelisk and Greek-temple mausoleums, all of which can be viewed in a self-guided sculpture tour around an inner circle route of 10 burial blocks. Among those interred at Fairmount is former Governor Ralph Carr, best known for his opposition to the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, a public position that led almost certainly to his later defeat as the Republican candidate for the US Senate. In 1996 the Colorado General Assembly honored Carr with a resolution in appreciation of his “efforts to protect Americans of Japanese descent during World War II.” Also, the Denver Post, which during World War II was among the most anti-Japanese American newspapers in the US, named Governor Carr as Colorado’s “Person of the [Twentieth] Century,” citing his “decency” and “humanity.” Those wishing to pay their respects to the living memory of Ralph Carr should consider making a visit to his gravesite at the Fairmount Cemetery.      

A view of Fairmount Cemetery in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Jfrlkb from Wikipedia)

PORTAL 11: Auraria Library, University of Colorado, Denver – 1100 Lawrence Street, Denver, CO: (303) 556-2805

The Auraria Library is located on the University of Colorado, Denver, campus, but it is jointly sponsored by that institution along with Metropolitan State College of Denver Community College of Denver, and the Auraria Higher Education Center. The Auraria Library has an Archives and Special Collections Department which acts as a repository for documentary materials generated by all four sponsoring units. One of its most prized collections came into existence in 1984 when the late Minoru Yasui, a famous Japanese American constitutional resister and, after 1944, Denver social activist and human rights advocate, donated his papers to Metropolitan State College. After Yasui’s death in 1986, his family donated additional materials. The collection consists of personal, professional, and organizational records that document Yasui’s many civic activities and interests as well as his involvement in the Japanese American community, including his major role in the Japanese American fight for redress and reparations from the 1970s and 1980s.      

The Lawrence Street entrance to Auraria Library. Photo by the Auraria Library (Wikipedia)

Portal 12: Colorado State Capitol Building - 200 E. Colfax Avenue, Denver, CO

The Colorado State Capitol Building is the home of the Colorado legislature and the offices of the Colorado Governor and Lieutenant Governor. In appearance, it is reminiscent of the United States Capitol building in Washington D.C. Serving as the beginning of the Capitol Hill district, the historic building sits slightly higher than the rest of downtown Denver and provides a nice panoramic view of the city. The interior of the building features copious amounts of Colorado Rose Onyx, a rare rose marble from a quarry near Beulah, Colorado. Within the building visitors can find a portrait of former Colorado Governor Ralph Carr, who gained fame for resisting efforts to imprison Japanese American citizens during World War II and to prevent them from voluntarily resettling from their West Coast homes within the boundaries of his home state. In the garden behind the Colorado State Capitol Building there is a small memorial garden dedicated by Japanese Americans to the memory of Governor Carr for his wartime efforts on their behalf. Before or after visiting this memorial garden, you may want to search out and view in the building the stained glass window, designed by Issei artist Yuri Noda, that powerfully and poignantly depicts pioneer labor contractor Naoichi Hokuzono.  

Colorado State Capitol. Photo by Cris Gonzales (Wikipedia)

Portal 13: National Archives & Records, Rocky Mountain Region – W. 6th Avenue and Kipling Street, Denver, CO: (303) 407-5700

This facility is located approximately seven miles west of downtown Denver and about 35 miles west-southwest of Denver International Airport. As a regional affiliate of the National Archives, its archival holdings are comprised of Federal records relating to the Rocky Mountain Region, dating from the mid-1800s to the late 1900s, which have been received from over 100 federal agencies and courts. This branch archives maintain non-current records from federal agencies and courts and provides temporary storage of retired federal records. The Regional Archives at the facility has both a Microfilm Research Room and an Archival Research Room, and contains extensive microfilm holdings for genealogy research and general historical interest. A significant number of records relate to the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. These records cover those of the US District Courts, US Courts of Appeal, War Relocation Authority, and other record groups. The records consist of case files for individuals and families who were relocated, court records for those individuals who resisted the Selective Service draft, military service records for those who served from the camps, records of the construction and dismantling of the camps, and other topics.  

PORTAL 14: Simpson United Methodist Church – 6001 Wolff Street, Arvada, CO: (303) 428-7963

Tracing its roots to 1907, this church’s congregation of immigrant Japanese American Issei voted unanimously in June 1908 to become part of the Japanese Methodist Episcopal Mission. After successively occupying quarters on Park Place, West Colfax Avenue, and Curtis Street in Denver, in 1935 the congregation purchased facilities within the city on California Street. The enlarged population of Japanese Americans in Denver that came about during World War II led to significant changes of the church, including the introduction of English language services in 1943 to accommodate the burgeoning number of US-born citizen Nisei. After the war, growth continued, to the point where, in 1967, the church needed a new facility, which was built that same year in Arvada, Colorado, a city located 7 miles northwest of the Colorado State Capitol Building in Denver. Now an inclusive church, this historic Japanese American place of worship held its 100th Anniversary Celebration in June 2007.

Portal 15: US Navy Japanese/Oriental Language School, University of Colorado, Boulder – 914 Broadway Street, Boulder, CO: (303) 492-1411

During World War II the US Navy established a Japanese language school at the University of Colorado, Boulder campus in Boulder, Colorado, located 25 miles northwest of the Colorado State Capitol Building in Denver. Utilizing Japanese Americans as teachers, or sensei, the purpose of this facility was to augment the supply of Japanese speakers and writers among the non-Japanese American population to facilitate the US effort against Japan. Among the illustrious students to attend this school were Edward Seidensticker and Donald Richie. The former, a native son of Colorado, was born (in Castle Rock) in 1921 and died in 2007. A noted scholar and translator of Japanese literature, he was best known for two landmark English translations of Japanese classic novels: Madam Murasaki’s The Tale of Genji, written in the eleventh century and known as the world’s first novel, and Snow Country, by Yasunari Kawabata, which led to Kawabata winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1968. As for Richie, who was born in 1924, after serving in Japan with the American occupation force in the post-World War II years, he went on to establish an impressive reputation as the author of a series of books about the Japanese people and, most notably, the Japanese cinema. One of the Nisei teachers in the school was Fred Tayama, whose beating by fellow inmates at the Manzanar Concentration Camp in eastern California precipitated the so-called Manzanar Riot of December 6, 1942, which involved the killing by military police gunfire of two young detained Japanese American men and the wounding of nine others.


* This article was originally published within the program for the JANM-sponsored national conference “Whose America, Who’s American: Diversity, Civil Liberties, and Social Justice,” held in Denver, Colorado, July 3-6, 2008. The conference was a component of the multi-state project, Enduring Communities: Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, and Utah.


© 2008 Arthur Hansen

Colorado denver japanese americans resettlement World War II