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Plaza Pillar Maquettes

    Plaza Pillar Maquettes

    Plaza Pillar Maquettes
    Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience
    C. 1990
    Plaster and paint
    Gift of Jim Gion
    2011.23.01 and 2011.23.02
    Bill Naito standing in front of one of the pillars at the Plaza dedication ceremony in 1990. Photo courtesy Homer Yasui
    Doves were released near the pillars during the Plaza dedication ceremony in 1990. Photo courtesy Roberta Tsuboi

    The Japanese American Historical Plaza, at the north end of Tom McCall Waterfront Park, was dedicated on August 3, 1990. The success of the project was made possible by the combined reputation and artistry of landscape architect Robert Murase, political influence of Bill Naito, and organizing efforts of Henry Sakamoto and many other local Japanese American community leaders. The award-winning design depicts the story of Japanese Americans in Oregon, from immigration through World War II incarceration and beyond, through the use of landscape design, poetry, granite stonework, and two bronze pillars at the west entrance to the park.

    These plaster maquettes were used as models for the actual pillars, which are cast in bronze. Sculpted by Jim Gion, the pillars depict scenes of Japanese American experiences from immigration to incarceration: immigrants walking down a gangway, a child on an old man’s back, faces of children as they’re tagged and transported to the camps, a woman and child behind barbed wire, and the Japanese American 442nd and 100th infantry battalions.

    In one of Bill Naito’s many appeals in favor of building the Plaza, he wrote, “This would be the first national memorial to civil liberties…Over 3,000 Portland Japanese people, two-thirds of which were U.S. citizens, were taken overnight to concentration camps during World War II. This is pretty significant. We didn’t get a public hearing or due process. The Constitution is in place to protect people. It is very important to have this reminder of our civil liberties, which this country is very proud of.”

    The dedication of the Plaza in 1990 served as the kickoff to a weekend reunion for around 1,000 Japanese Americans who had resided in Oregon prior to their 1942 incarceration. The reunion allowed many who had not seen each other since being released from the camps to reconnect.  Banquets, mixers, cocktail parties, golf tournaments, tours, picnics, and other activities filled the weekend. Together with the dedication of the Plaza, the reunion weekend was an ideal time for remembering, acknowledging, and healing.