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LA Landmarks: Santa Anita Park

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Horse racing season has just begun at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, and from now until April 22, SoCal hopefuls (with $5 for general admission fee) can step up to tellered windows and pick the ponies to win, place or show.

But there’s a lot of history behind them horses: Santa Anita opened on Christmas Day in 1934, and still now traditionally opens on Dec. 26 each year. Seabiscuit brought the park more notoriety, but what's probably not as well-known is that for two years during World War II, horse racing was suspended because the United States government used Santa Anita as an Army camp -- and as a temporary “assembly camp” for Japanese Americans who were being shipped off to more permanent “internment camps” (read: domestic concentration camps) that were still under construction.

(Executive Order 9066, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, ordered all persons of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast to evacuate their homes since they were deemed too dangerous to American security – kinda like the WW II version of the Patriot Act.)

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According to the National Park Service:

Located at the world-famous Santa Anita Racetrack (Figures 16.46 and 16.47), the Santa Anita Assembly Center was the longest occupied assembly center, used for 215 days, from March 27 to October 27 [1942]. It was also the largest assembly center, housing a total of 19,348 persons from Los Angeles, San Diego, and Santa Clara counties, with a maximum at one time of 18,719. Those interned lived in hastily constructed barracks and in existing stables, with 8,500 in converted horse stalls (Figures 16.48 and 16.49).

So maybe the next time you take a walk through the gates of Santa Anita, before boxing your next trifecta, take a look around and just try to imagine those families instead of furlongs.