PB’s Japanese Truck Farmers

In the first years of the twentieth century Pacific Beach was a semi-rural community with few houses or other structures and a lot of open land, much of which was used for agricultural purposes. From 1892 to about 1905 the primary agricultural activity had been lemon ranching, but by 1910 the lemon economy had collapsed and most of the groves had disappeared. In some areas, like on Hornblend Street between Lamont and Jewell streets, the former lemon ranches were being converted to residential blocks, with graded streets, paved sidewalks and new house construction. Other areas remained agricultural but adopted different crops and methods, like truck farming – vegetables grown for shipment to distant markets. Folsom Bros. Investment Co. advertised a whole block of 40 lots in Pacific Beach as ‘suitable for chicken ranch or small truck farm’ in 1912.

Among those who moved to Pacific Beach to become truck farmers were immigrants from Japan. Yataro Yamaguchi was born in Japan in 1865. Census records indicate that he arrived in the United States in 1890 and in 1910 was working as a fruit farmer in El Cajon. By 1915 he had been joined by Matsu, apparently a ‘picture bride’ who had arrived in the United States in 1912, and the couple moved to Pacific Beach where the 1916 city directory described him as a rancher living at the northeast corner of Diamond and Olney streets (the house on that corner was the ranch house built in 1896 for lemon rancher Frank Marshall, and then owned by the Baker family).

Mr. Yamaguchi made news in 1915 when he retained an attorney and threatened a criminal libel suit against the San Diego correspondent of the Los Angeles Japanese Daily News for writing an article (in Japanese and English) that accused the ‘Pacific Beach vegetable dealer’ of treating his young wife with great cruelty after he had induced her to come to California to marry him following an exchange of photographs. According to the Evening Tribune, Mr. and Mrs. Yamaguchi both emphatically denied the charges and claimed that no couple ever had more harmonious relations. In the end, the journalist agreed to publish an apology and denial of his former story, in two languages, and displayed as conspicuously as the original article.

By 1920 the Yamaguchis had three children and had moved to the northeast corner of Lamont and Diamond streets (again a lemon ranch house, built in 1895 for the Coffeens). Apparently they intended to move to a new home in July 1924 but after Mr. Yamaguchi had spent the Fourth of July cleaning and painting it he arrived with his belongings the following morning to find only a ‘heap of ashes and charred lumber’. According to the local papers, the home of Y. Yamaguchi on Jewell Street, across the street from a schoolhouse, was totally destroyed. No alarm had been received and no effort made to stop the fire. Neighbors reported that they had seen the fire but thought it was a bonfire celebrating the national holiday, and speculated that a skyrocket may have been responsible. Presumably this was the property near the southeast corner of Jewell and Law streets where an improvement assessed at $30 until 1924 was ‘gone’ in 1925 (the $30 value also suggests a very small building; houses in the vicinity ranged in assessed value from about $150 to over $500). This lot was a few blocks from the Pacific Beach school, which opened in 1923 on Ingraham between Emerald and Diamond streets and is now the PB middle school, but at the time they would have been separated only by open fields and Ingraham Street.

The 1920 census also listed two other Japanese households along Lamont Street. A. J. Yamaguchi (apparently no relation to Yataro), his wife Tomoye and daughter Yuriko lived 4775 Lamont, south of Chalcedony Street (also a former lemon ranch house, built in 1904 for the Roxburghs). The Morimoto family, Chonosuki, his wife Masuye and four children were listed as living on Lamont, near Beryl. The heads of these households were each described as truck farmers. The Japanese families rented these homes and presumably rented the land that they farmed, located east of Lamont along the intermittent creek that is now a storm drain under Academy Street.

Academy and Law streets, formerly Japanese truck farms, now Lamont Terrace subdivision.

Further to the east, near Rose Creek, Aizo and Komuma Sogo and their two daughters lived at 2480 Garnet. He was described as a garden laborer, and possibly worked at Kate Sessions’ nearby nursery.

Another group of Japanese lived in the area at the northwest corner Pacific Beach. The 1920 census listed 31-year-old Toshitaro Yamashita as manager of flower gardens in Bird Rock, along with his 33-year-old wife Tome. Eight Japanese men ranging in age from 17 to 61 at the same address were listed as helpers. Yonesuke Nakata, a farmer, and his brother Yozo, a laborer, with his wife Kataye and their month-old daughter Riuo, lived next door. Two other adjacent residences housed another seven Japanese men described as truck farmers or truck farm laborers. A note on the census form stated that this group of Japanese ‘speak English a little’. Two other residences housed Japanese truck farmers, their wives, relatives and helpers, 13 in all, nearby on Turquoise Street. These residents were said to ‘speak English very poorly’.

In March 1923 the Yamashitas bought three blocks of land north of Turquoise Street, across from what is now Pacific Beach Elementary School. Apparently the California Alien Land Laws of 1913 and 1920 prevented Mr. Yamashita, an ‘ineligible’ alien, from purchasing the property directly. Instead, an American citizen, Charles Butler, acquired the land for $8000 and then the ‘contract and all right, title and interest in the land’ was ‘assigned, transferred and set over’ to Shigeru Yamashita and Shizu Yamashita, ‘native born citizens of the United States of America’ (the Yamashita’s son, 3, and daughter, who would turn 1 in another week). A year later, in March 1924, a building permit was issued to T. Yamashita for a ‘frame cottage and garage, 1166 Turquoise, $2700’. In January 1925 he received another permit for a board house at 1254 Turquoise Street, Pacific Beach, valued at $200.

By 1930 the Yamaguchis had three more children and were paying $40 a month to rent the house at 4775 Lamont Street. Another family of Japanese-Americans, Kimitaro and Hatsuyo Nakamoto and their four children, were boarding at a house a block north at 4807 Lamont, north of Law Street (this was also a former lemon ranch house, built in 1893 for R. C. Wilson). The 1930 census described the heads of these households as truck ranchers and noted that they were able to speak English, although their wives were not. Across Pacific Beach, the Yamashitas lived with their four children and four Japanese boarders at 1166 Turquoise Street, on the property they had acquired in 1923. In the census, Mr. Yamashita and the boarders were listed as gardeners at truck and flower farms and everyone except one of the boarders could speak English. Another Japanese family, Tokubei and Yone Ono, with two daughters, lived nearby at 1186 Tourmaline. According to the census, both parents were gardeners at truck and flower farms and Mrs. Ono did not speak English. Strawberries were apparently the main crop in this area; a Journal of San Diego History article about the electric railway line to La Jolla noted that the open country, truck garden land, between Turquoise and Colima streets in the 1930s was commonly called ‘the Jap strawberry fields’.

The Yamaguchi family was still living in Pacific Beach in 1940, at 1871 Grand Avenue, where Mr. Yamaguchi was described as a farmer and Mrs. Yamaguchi as a farm laborer. It is not clear whether their farm was near their home on Grand or whether they traveled up Lamont to Chalcedony Street and the same plot they had worked in previous years. Their son Alfred, 25 years old at the time, still lived with the family and was listed as a gardener for a private home. Daughter Yone, or Lois, 24, had moved to Los Angeles and worked as a cosmetologist in a beauty shop. The Yamashitas still lived at the 1166 Turquoise address with three of their children, and five Japanese and five Mexican hired hands. Their oldest son, Edward, 31, had married and lived on E Street in downtown San Diego, where he was a wholesale florist.

Although PB’s Japanese residents initially clustered together in neighboring homes and had a limited ability to communicate with the larger community, they were certainly aware of current events and on occasion showed a remarkable level of pride in their adopted country. In August 1923, after United States President Warren Harding died and was succeeded by his vice-president Calvin Coolidge, the San Diego Union reported that San Diego was believed to bear the distinction of having the first baby named after the new president. The distinguished youngster was Samuel Coolidge Yamaguchi, son of Pacific Beach truck gardener Yataro Yamaguchi (the ‘Samuel’ was said to be taken from ‘Uncle Sam’).

The children of the Japanese immigrants attended local schools and participated in community activities. 11-year-old Yone Yamaguchi received a silver star for 90 percent attendance in Big Chief Troop of Pacific Beach girl scouts in 1928.  Her 9-year-old sister Edith joined the troop in 1934. Third-grader Yuriko Ono played an Indian in a Thanksgiving play at the Pacific Beach school in 1929. Alfred Yamaguchi was in the first class to graduate from Pacific Beach Junior High School in 1932. Several of the Yamaguchi and Yamashita children graduated from La Jolla High School, where Ed Yamashita played football and wrestled for the Vikings and Kiku Yamashita was vice president of the Girls’ Athletic Association. Shigeru Yamashita was a champion model yacht racer in the mid-1930s and went to the University of California at Berkeley in 1940.

The assimilation of Japanese residents into Pacific Beach came to an abrupt end in 1942 after the United States declared war on Japan following the December 7, 1941 surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Fearing that some members of the Japanese immigrant community could engage in subversive activity on behalf of their former homeland, the military declared the coastal areas of the western states exclusion zones and planned to evacuate all Japanese aliens and their Japanese-American children to relocation or internment camps outside of the coastal areas.

Restrictions on ‘enemy aliens’ began soon after war was declared. Japanese were required to surrender cameras, short-wave radios, firearms and other ‘contraband’. Beginning in February 1942 they were subject to a 9 P.M. curfew and only allowed to travel between home and work. Voluntary evacuation began in March, when 1000 Japanese from the Los Angeles area agreed to go to Manzanar in the Owens Valley to help set up a reception center there, and authorities made it clear that evacuations would continue with or without such cooperation.

In San Diego County, operators of Japanese controlled farms were registered and required to list details of their acreage and crops to assist in their transfer to American ownership with minimal effect on the food supply. They were told they must be ready move out ‘very shortly’, and advised to make preparations to transfer their properties and wind up their other affairs prior to their projected move inland. The first mass evacuation of 1150 Japanese and Japanese-Americans from the south half of San Diego County, including Pacific Beach, occurred on April 7. The evacuees departed from the San Diego union depot on two 16-car trains for an assembly center at the Santa Anita race track near Los Angeles. The San Diego Union noted that the departing Japanese left behind many farms and truck gardens, which the county agricultural department was seeking to staff with citizens to prevent loss of food.

Most of the former Pacific Beach residents ended up at the Colorado River Relocation Center, also known as the Poston Internment Camp, near Parker on the Arizona side of the Colorado River. The camp was built in early 1942 on the land of the Colorado River Indian Reservation, over the objections of the tribal council, and opened on June 1, 1942.

The Yamashitas; Toshitaro, Tome and three children, arrived at Poston from Santa Anita on August 27, 1942. The parents remained at Poston for the duration of the war, returning to San Diego in September 1945 after more than three years at Poston. Since the internment program was nominally intended to remove Japanese from coastal areas, some internees could obtain ‘indefinite leave’ from the camps, under certain conditions, as long as they went to non-coastal destinations. Shigeru Yamashita, 22 years old when interned, received indefinite leave by ‘community invitation’ and left for Chicago in April 1943. Shizu, or Elizabeth, 20 years old in 1942, left for Milwaukee in February 1944, also by community invitation. The youngest Yamashita daughter, Kikuya or Kiku, who was 18 when she arrived at Poston, married fellow evacuee Nobuo Kawamoto in February 1943 and their daughter Christine was born at Poston in December 1943. Nobuo received indefinite leave for employment at Salt Lake City in September 1943 but Kiku and Christine Kawamoto remained at Poston until July 1945, when they departed for San Diego.

The Yamashitas’ oldest son Edward, who had married and was living in downtown San Diego in 1942, also went to Poston via Santa Anita, arriving with his wife Florence and daughter Mildred on August 28. His wife and daughter received leave to join family in Colorado in April 1943 and he received leave for employment in Colorado in July 1943. They also returned to San Diego after the war, living in Lemon Grove.

The Yamaguchis; Yataro, Matsu and five of their children were sent directly to Poston on August 3, 1942, avoiding the Santa Anita assembly center. Their oldest son, Alfred, 27 in 1942, had also been sent directly to Poston, on May 15, 1942. Yataro, Matsu and their youngest daughter Jane, who was 15 years old in 1942, remained interned for the duration of the war, departing on September 19, 1945 for San Diego. The other Yamaguchi children did receive indefinite leave from Poston; Alfred joined the U. S. army and left in May 1943, Yone (Lois), 26 in 1942, departed to Chicago for employment in March 1943, Manuel and Edith, 20 and 17, also went to Chicago to join family (presumably Lois) in October 1943 and February 1944. Samuel Coolidge Yamaguchi, who turned 19 a week after arriving at Poston, went to Smithfield, Utah, by community invitation in June 1943. He later enlisted in the army and was deployed to Italy as a member of the famed all-Japanese 442nd Regimental Combat Team, where he was wounded in July 1944.

Several Japanese families who had lived in Pacific Beach in the 1920s but who lived elsewhere in San Diego in 1942 were also reunited, first at Santa Anita and then at Poston. Aizo and Komume Sogo, with six daughters and a son arrived at Poston on August 27, 1942. The parents and youngest daughter, 13 when she was interned, remained until 1945 but the other children, ranging in age from 15 to 25, were given indefinite leave and departed for eastern cities in 1943. Chonosuke and Masuye Morimoto and two of their children arrived on August 28. Chonosuke and Masuye remained for the duration, leaving for San Diego in September 1945. A 30-year-old son and 27-year-old daughter received indefinite leave for employment in 1943. Seiichi and Ekino Matsumoto, who had lived on Turquoise Street in 1920, arrived at Poston with three children on August 27 and remained with their youngest daughter, 13, until August 1945. Two other children, 15 and 21 when interned, received indefinite leave in 1944.

Yonesuke Nakata, his wife Haruno, and his brother Yozo, wife Kataye and their three children, who had moved from Turquoise Street to Solana Beach, were sent directly to Poston on May 17, 1942. The adults remained for the duration, returning to San Diego at the end of October 1945. One of Yozo and Kataye’s children went to Chicago in 1944, another returned to Encinitas in September 1945. The oldest daughter married another internee in September 1943 and the couple remained until they were released and returned to Monterey in September 1945.

Not all of the former PB residents sent to relocation camps went to Poston. Tokubei and Yone Ono, gardeners who had owned a home at 1186 Tourmaline Street in 1930, had moved on to Gardena by the 1940s and after assembly at Santa Anita they were sent to Arkansas, to the Rohwer Relocation Camp, with their two daughters, Lillie (Yuriko), 24 and Mary (Meriko), 23, arriving on September 30, 1942. Another 23-year-old from Gardena, James Ichiya Yoshida, also arrived at the same time and when he received leave for employment in April 1943 he and Meriko were married. She then also received indefinite leave and the couple moved to Chicago, where Lillie also went to ‘join family’ in October. The adult Onos remained until March 1945 when they also left for Chicago.

Kimitaro and Hatsuyo Nakamoto and their three children had lived on Lamont Street in Pacific Beach while working a nearby truck farm in 1930 and had moved to a farm on Torrey Pines Road in La Jolla by 1940. In 1942 the family was first sent to the Santa Anita assembly center and then to the Heart Mountain relocation center in Wyoming in September 1942. A year later, in September 1943, they were transferred to the Tulelake segregation center in California. Although the circumstances of their transfer are not clear, Tulelake was the center with the highest level of security and more armed guards and was where internees considered less loyal to the United States were segregated. It was also the last camp to close after the war; Kimitaro and Hatsuyo and their daughter Chieko (Katherine), 14 years old in 1942, remained at Tulelake until January 1946. The older children, Kenichi (Ken), 22, and Kimiye (Kay), 19, did not leave until March 1946.

Back in Pacific Beach, the war years had brought thousands of defense workers from the huge Consolidated Aircraft plant downtown to federal housing projects which in many cases were built on the site of the displaced Japanese residents’ former homes, farms and gardens. The Los Altos Terrace project, 428 homes, was built on land surrounding the Pacific Beach Junior High School (now PB Elementary), covering the former farmland and homes of the Japanese families who once lived there. When the federal government filed suit to condemn and acquire the tract in July 1942, Shigeru and Shizu Yamashita, the 22-year-old son and 20-year-old daughter of Toshitoro Yamashita, were among the defendents; the ‘apparent and presumptive owners’ of three blocks around Everts and Agate streets, across Turquoise from the school. Another large housing project, Bayview Terrace, with 1127 homes, occupied almost all of Pacific Beach east of Olney Street, including what had been Kate Sessions’ nursery property where a number of Japanese gardeners had formerly worked.

Although the land between Lamont and Academy streets was not taken over by housing projects during the war years, population growth in Pacific Beach had made it far more valuable for residential development than for truck farming and it was soon subdivided, as Lamont Terrace between Chalcedony and Beryl streets, in 1947, and Picard Terrace on the south side of Chalcedony, in 1950. The developers of Lamont Terrace cleared the entire subdivision, including the ranch house at 4807 Lamont where the Nakomoto family had boarded in 1930 (only sparing a large Moreton Bay fig tree still standing in front of 1922 Law Street). The former ranch houses at 4775 Lamont and 1932 Diamond, occupied by the Yamaguchis in the 1920s and 1930s, are still there but are surrounded by newer construction and barely visible from the street. With Pacific Beach transformed during their absence, former residents who had spent the war years in internment camps settled elsewhere; the Yamaguchis in the Shelltown area of Southeast San Diego and the Yamashitas in Lemon Grove.

The former ranch house at 4775 Lamont where Japanese truck farmers lived in the 1920s and 1930s.