Japantown Atlas - Northern California - Placer County

Auburn, Newcastle, Penryn, and Loomis

Overview Map: Placer County Japanese American Businesses of 1940

Introducing Placer County Japantowns on the Preserving California's Japantowns website, historian David Unruhe writes:

"Located in the foothills east of Sacramento, the towns of Loomis, Penryn, Newcastle, and Auburn were once surrounded by peach, plum, and pear orchards. Japanese farmers worked on a majority of the fruit ranches in this part of Placer County and supported a local economy of Japanese businesses.

"By the early 1900s, Penryn’s Japantown was established along Penryn Road and served as both a commercial and cultural center for many of the area’s Nikkei. Although smaller hubs, the neighboring towns of Loomis, Newcastle, and Auburn had several community institutions and Japanese businesses that catered to local residents and were mainstays of their respective communities." - David Unruhe, http://californiajapantowns.org/placer.html

David's Placer County page has detailed histories and photos of landmarks including Tsuda Grocery, fruit packing sheds, Penryn Buddhist Church, and Loomis Mutual Supply.

Four Towns, None Alike

Lucky for us, all four towns were substantial enough to attract the Sanborn Insurance Map Co. in the early 1900s. Auburn pre-dates the railroad; its Old Town and Chinatown grew up with a knot of streets around the handsome courthouse; the town grew north to meet the railroad (and then, to add to the town's tangle, the second SP RR main line ran along the opposite side of town). Several Japanese American sites, including Tsuda's Grocery and the Auburn Buddhist Church, were located in or near the existing Chinatown.

Loomis, Penryn, and Newcastle's tiny downtowns are pressed up against the railroad right of way, with sidings and fruit packing sheds on whatever flat ground was available. The Sanborn map for Newcastle shows a small, densely packed Chinatown on the opposite side of the fruit packing sheds from the main town; by the 1920s there was apparently a Japanese school, store, and boarding house there. The old Chinatown is now mostly covered by the I-80 interchange).

In Penryn, the Japantown was on Penryn Road, east of downtown – the Sanborn maps miss showing them by about half a block.The old Buddhist Church remains today (used by a Hispanic church), the former JA business district was across the road; Google satellite photos don't reveal anything that looks like an old commercial district, just a couple newer houses.
One account says many of the Japntown buildings were burned as the owners passed away (in the tradition of rural fire departments using donated, disused buildings for fire practice).

In Loomis, for once, the terrain is flat enough to accomodate an orderly street grid parallel with the railroad. David Unruhe notes the JA businesses were integrated with the rest of town, and indeed the Mutual Supply Co. was within a half block of the railroad on the main cross-road through town. On the other hand, the founders of the First United Methodist Church chose to purchase a large plot of land far outside town (perhaps central to nearby farms), and supported the church by growing crops on the surrounding 10 acres. (http://www.fumc-loomis.org/history.htm)

The overview map lists the handful of known Japanese American sites corresponding with the photo tour. We've also listed the fruit packing companies shown on the Sanborn maps (thin black type). We don't know if any of these companies were Japanese American-owned; there was clearly a wide diversity of European American surnames! As David notes, these packing operations were major summer employers for Japanese American young adults in the mid 20th century.

The green-shaded orchard district is traced from my old, trusty DeLorme Northern California Atlas. Look for a comparable orchard area nearby (up or down slope, or north or south along the foothills) and you won't find another district that jumps out so boldly. I have no idea what date the USGS maps are that DeLorme used for their treecover, but probably the 1960s. I'm guessing a similar area of orchards existed in 1940. Fast-forward to today and what do we find? David Unruhe uses the past tense to describe the area's agricultural heritage, and driving around (or snooping around on Google's satellite views, orchards (while not entirely gone) are giving way to malls and ranchettes.



9/3/07, revised 2/14/08