Photo from Amache internment camp in 1943 - a wooden framed, one-story building named Block 10-H


Amache: Visualizing the Past Through Restoration and Reconstruction

When you first visit the Granada Relocation Center, known to many as Amache, it’s hard not to be struck by the landscape. The vast arid plains run for as far as the eye can see, dominated by native grass and shrubbery with the occasional cottonwood. Hot and parched, the land bears witness to a dark chapter of the American story. No buildings remain at the large, 328-acre relocation center that interned more than 7,000 Japanese Americans from 1942 to 1945 during World War II.

Photo of Amache building before preservation work began. The long narrow building has exposed wooden frame and green metal roof, with boarded up windows and sits in the middle of an arid plain with only weeds surrounding it.

Building exterior before preservation work

Japanese internment sites are among the most significant physical remnants of World War II US domestic policy. It has been the goal of former internees and their descendants, the City of Granada, the Amache Preservation Society, the National Park Service, Colorado Preservation Inc., and the University of Denver Amache Project to preserve and tell the story of Amache to ensure that the site and its significance are not forgotten. In the early 2000s, an interpretation plan of the site was created. This plan has guided efforts to research and preserve Amache. The History Colorado State Historical Fund (SHF) is one of the funders that has been involved in realizing these efforts. Over the last two decades, SHF has awarded 13 grants, totaling $850,268 for physical restoration, reconstruction, and archaeological work at the site.

Photo of Japanese American male using small metal letters to lay out type in order to print something on paper, such as a newspaper

Typesetter at Amache Internment Camp

History Colorado Digital Collections

One of the main goals of the interpretation plan is to help visitors visualize the 1940s site with restored or reconstructed buildings based on the original plans. The most common buildings historically on-site included barrack housing, recreation buildings, and mess halls. Recreation buildings were essential to the daily lives of the internees. With activities like art and pre-school classes, newspaper publishing, scout meetings, and church services, those incarcerated strove to create a sense of normalcy in the forced environment.

Closeup photo of the original block number assigned to this structure as part of the Amache Internment Camp. The structure was labeled Block 11F Recreation Building.

Original building and block number stencil

While many of the original buildings from the site did not survive, half of the Block 11F Recreation Building, with the original building and block number stenciled on its side, was discovered in the Granda City Park. Danielle Lewon, State Historical Fund Historic Preservation Specialist for Southeast Colorado, explains that “finding an original building with this much historic material intact was extraordinary.” In 2017 the City of Granada donated the building to the Amache Preservation Society and relocated it back to its original location at Amache.

Photo of Amache building midway through restoration. Part of the building lumber has been replaced and the other part still shows the dilapidated lumber. In the dirt directly in front of the doorway, preservationists have uncovered a basketweave-patterned stoop which is an original feature of the building.

Basketweave-patterned brick stoop discovered in 2020

An SHF grant funded the stabilization of the building and helped restore its original foundation. Once it was stabilized, a plan was created for building reconstruction. This work was completed over the course of two years. “Fortunately, replacement materials for the roof, siding and interior finishes that match the original are still being made, so the restored building provides visitors an authentic experience,” Danielle explained. During construction, archaeological monitoring revealed two original features of the building: basketweave-patterned brick stoops at the north and east building entrances.

Photo of Students of the Amache Field School walking around the foundations of former buildings which sat in the midst of great arid plains.

Students collecting ground-penetrating radar data during the 2018 University of Denver Archaeology and Museum Study Field School

Prior to the building’s relocation, in a 2018 study funded by the SHF the University of Denver's Archaeology and Museum Studies field school completed research in the construction area. The Field School will return for its seventh field season at the site in 2021. You can learn about the project on their webpage. Hear lead researcher Dr. Bonnie Clark discuss research at the site on History Colorado’s podcast Lost Highways: Dispatches from the Shadows of the Rocky Mountains episode “Bonsai Behind Barbed Wire.”

And nationwide, each year pilgrimages to the other sites of wartime Japanese American incarceration occur to remember the past and the significance of these places. Experience 2020 pilgrimages through Tadaima! A Community Virtual Pilgrimage on the Japanese American Memorial Pilgrimages website.

photo of the completely restored Amache camp recreation building in the distance. The long green building with white trim is contrasted against the flat arid land surrounding it.

Building exterior after completed restoration work