One of the United States’ most beautiful places is also the home of one of its most shameful episodes.
Bainbridge Island, home to some twenty-three thousand people, has gorgeous views of Mt. Rainier, the Seattle skyline, and the Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges. On March 30, 1942, 227 Bainbridge Island men, women and children of Japanese ancestry – more than half of whom were United States citizens – began their long trek into betrayal, as they left the island under armed guard to what was for them an unknown destination. These were the first of more than 120,000 citizens and immigrants in the entire country to be imprisoned under Presidential Executive Order 9066 and Civilian Exclusion Order No. 1. They did not know at the time that their imprisonment would last for three long years and take them from Manzanar in California’s Mojave Desert to Minodoka Relocation Center in Idaho, or that only 150 of them would eventually return.
These residents had less than one week’s notice to close their businesses, store their belongings, make arrangements for their homes and land, and choose which parts of their lives to fit within a single suitcase. Those who were able to return came back to find a changed landscape. Some found a welcome, and their property maintained by caring neighbors. Others found nothing remaining for them.
Fast forward some fifty years or so. Bainbridge Island is again in the news for a shameful event. A creosote plant severely contaminated the harbor with wastewater discharged directly into the water and treated timber stored in the waters, while shipyard pollution contributed dangerous chemicals and heavy metals to those same waters. The Environmental Protection Agency placed the site on the “National Priorities List,” more commonly known as “Superfund,” reserved for those sites most harmful to human health and the environment.
This time, though, the challenge of dealing with economic loss and contamination is prompting a focus on transition rather than change. Besides the complex and long-term cleanup that has occurred and that continues today, the Island residents are finding a way to recover both land and community. The community is taking a site that has been contaminated both physically and psychically and turning it into a place of memory and education.
The site of the memorial will be at the former Eagledale ferry landing, the very location that saw the Japanese-Americans leave the Island. The vision is for a memorial area that is evocative and contemplative with the power to instruct future generations about the injustices of the past and the fragility of assumed rights. Perhaps most importantly, the memorial will commemorate and honor the strength and perseverance of the people involved and celebrates the capacity of human beings to heal, forgive and care for one another.
Designed by nationally-recognized architect Johnpaul Jones of the Seattle firm Jones & Jones – designer of several award-winning major projects including the new National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C. – the centerpiece of the memorial design is a long walkway towards Eagle Harbor, recreating the walk taken by those islanders who were forced to leave their homes in 1942. Visitors will be literally walking on the same path in “the footsteps of history.”
The design elements include a 272 foot-long “story wall” that will contain the names of all 272 Japanese American residents who lived on the island in 1942. In chronological fashion the wall will tell their American story. At the end of the story wall near the harbor’s edge, a 150 foot pier – one foot for each of the 150 people who returned to Bainbridge Island – will rise from the same spot of the former Eagledale ferry dock, where visitors can experience a literal and symbolic departure from the land and freedom.
Future phases include a 5,000 square-foot interpretive/research center, a meeting room, a contemplative seating area, sculptures and other historical designated areas.
Led by the planning consulting firm E2, IEN was part of a team that worked with EPA’s Superfund Redevelopment Program and other site stakeholders, including The City of Bainbridge Island, Bainbridge Island Nikkei WWII Exclusion Memorial Committee, and EPA Region 10, in order to create a reuse action plan for the Wyckoff/Eagle Harbor Superfund site. This collaborative effort involved an interdisciplinary approach to reuse planning that addressed limitations, opportunities, and action items in each of the following areas of concern:
- EPA and Remedial Status
- Site Acquisition and Trustee Issues
- Site Design and Context
- Process for Facilitated Stakeholder Involvement, Consensus Building and Community Support
- Analysis of Potential Implementation Resources and Alliances