Densho Digital Archive
Friends of Manzanar Collection
Title: Bill Watanabe Interview
Narrator: Bill Watanabe
Interviewer: Sharon Yamato
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: February 8, 2012
Densho ID: denshovh-wbill-01-0018

<Begin Segment 18>

SY: But your, your parents never really got to own property there?

BW: Well, so they were leasing the property from the Meichtry family, and then in 1952 they purchased their first land in Granada Hills, on Woodley.

SY: And that, at that time it was legal for your father to purchase?

BW: Right. Actually, my uncle, Tomio, he could've purchased it sooner, I believe, 'cause he was a U.S. citizen, so I don't know why they didn't. At the time that my father leased the property from the Meichtrys, Tomio was still a young man. He was probably like twenty years old. So maybe they didn't feel comfortable putting it in his name or whatever, but from '45 to, say, '52 Tomio moved in. He got married to Mrs. Akita's daughter, and so they moved into that second house on Montague, so we lived side by side for a while. And so the Tomio Furuyama family and the Watanabe family farmed that Montague Street farm for eight years, and then in 1952 they bought the property in Granada Hills on Woodley and built two houses, one house for the Watanabe family and one house for the Furuyama family. By that time he had about two kids already, but this was a pretty big farm, something like twenty-five acres, which is pretty good size piece of land, and it was fortunate because Granada Hills was booming at the time. So we only lived there about three years, and I remember very clearly when we moved in, that whole area was alfalfa and they were growing hay and there were horse ranches, there were lemon and grapefruit groves all around, and I used to run around barefoot chasing after pheasants and quail. It was almost like Tom Sawyer kind of thing. And in three years we were totally surrounded by tract homes, if you can believe that. [Laughs] And the ranches were gone, the citrus groves were gone, everything was gone. We were surrounded by tract homes, and of course, the value of the land quadrupled or whatever and so they sold the farm and they bought another farm in Lakeview Terrace.

SY: Lakeview Terrace being how close to Granada Hills?

BW: Four or five miles, towards Sylmar. It wasn't called Lakeview Terrace. Might've been called Sylmar back then. Lakeview Terrace was sort of a new community that was created. But by that time they were doing quite well.

SY: So they were able to buy a fairly large, another large piece of...

BW: No, they bought a smaller piece of property. They really didn't need twenty-five acres.

SY: Wow. So it just was a growing business by then.

BW: It was, and they did probably very well by the real estate as much as they did by the farming. So when they moved to Lakeview Terrace, that was only about a five or six acre farm. Again, they built two brand new houses for the Furuyama and Watanabe, and then they farmed that land. And by that time Jiukichi came back from Japan, and so my parents and uncles helped them to get settled in a farm near, right near us in Lakeview Terrace. And then Tomiji, who had always been separate during the war, and like I said, we weren't quite as close, so he always had a separate farm, separate house. [Laughs] But they always did things together, like they sold the flowers together and they would help each other. Like when I was about eleven, we took our first family vacation, and so when our side took a vacation Tomiji would help to watch the plants and water it and everything, and when he took a vacation we would do the same. So there was that kind of teamwork, but again, they chose to live separately. And then, but Densaku never came back. So by that time we had, Jiukichi had a farm, my father and Tomio shared the farm, and Tomiji had a separate farm, and so they formed kind of a company selling flowers. And because we had, like, three separate farms, when you put it all together we could come up with a lot of flowers, so occasionally we would get big sales. I remember, I must've been about twelve, a call came in saying for the Rose Parade they needed something like a hundred thousand chrysanthemums or carnations or something, must've been carnations. And so we, everybody -- I was eleven and I was out there picking flowers -- and anything that looked like a flower, we're picking it, and so packed it up and sent it off to fill the order.

SY: Yeah, big business. Very interesting. What was the name of this collective? Did it have a name, the flower company?

BW: I don't know. My uncle Tomio was kind of like the businessman for the family. He was very shrewd, very smart guy, and of course he was bilingual, and so he was the one who took the flowers every night, I mean every, I think it was about three times a week, not every night, to the market. So he had very odd hours. He would, he would take the flowers around midnight and then sell all night long, and then by six AM, if you do well, you're sold out. And then he'd have breakfast and then sleep the rest of the day to catch up again.

SY: You mentioned he was bilingual. Your father never really learned how to speak English even though he was dealing with the flower market?

BW: He could, he actually could understand English fairly well and spoke some limited English, but not enough to be comfortable or to be fluent. So he preferred to and often did speak just Japanese.

SY: So after the war your father was still active enough that he, he felt able to go back into farming.

BW: Oh yeah. Let's see, in 1945 he would've been forty-one years old, so he was still pretty young.

SY: And that was, I mean, at some point your parents decided not to go back to Japan, so farming was something that they knew. I mean, is that, do you know, I guess, why they chose to go, come back to the same place, go back into the same work?

BW: Well, before the war, in a relatively short time he did very well. I mean, he had enough money to build these two houses and the packing shed. They'd just bought a brand new truck. So I think he was doing pretty well, and if it hadn't been for the war, who knows, you know? Again, I might be rich. [Laughs] But anyway, so I'm sure he felt that...

SY: He could do well.

BW: It was a good business. Yeah, it was a good business. And my mother told me that while they were still in camp they went to talk to a kind of respected elder, and it was this respected elder who kind of said, "You know, you could go to some other country, Brazil or wherever, but even though it's bad here you can do pretty well. And so you should, you should think about staying." And I think if my father thought about, yeah, he actually did pretty well before the war, and so even though it's bad, even though got taken to camp, once it's over, maybe staying is the best choice. So at some point that was what they decided. And it proved to be true. I mean, again, right after the war -- and of course, my parents are fortunate that Mr. Meichtry was an honest man, and so they picked up pretty much where they left off. And like I said, by 1952 they had enough money to buy twenty-five acres outright, plus build two houses.

SY: We sort of left your mother in camp, when your father came and your brothers ended up at Koyasan. So she was there with the two children, two babies really, and did she ever talk about that period of time when she was still left by herself?

BW: No, she never did. I never asked her. I should have.

SY: And so she ultimately was able, somehow, to get back to, reunite with your father.

BW: Around March of 1946 she apparently got clearance to leave, so my uncle Tomio and my father -- actually, my father bought a car.

SY: After the war.

BW: After the war. There weren't many, actually, people who could afford to buy a car, but he had money and so, from the house, I guess. I don't know how he bought the house back, but anyway, so he had enough money so he bought a car. And my uncle and my father drove back to Tule Lake from southern California and picked up my mother and me and my brother, and then we all came back.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright &copy; 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.