I’ve heard it called the Japanese Schoolhouse, but it is also known as the Japanese Language School, Nihon Go Gakko and Tacoma Yochiyen. It was constructed in 1922 and placed on the national historic register in 1984 and the Tacoma historic register in 1985. The building was used for cultural activities and education of Tacoma’s Japanese population until 1942 when it was closed. It was then used as a registration and processing center for local Japanese citizens when they were relocated to “camps” for the duration of World War II.
The National Archieves has this to say about the Japanese relocation (http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/japanese-relocation/)
The attack on Pearl Harbor also launched a rash of fear about national security, especially on the West Coast. In February 1942, just two months after Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt as commander-in-chief, issued Executive Order 9066, which had the effect of relocating all persons of Japanese ancestry, both citizens and aliens, inland, outside of the Pacific military zone. The objectives of the order were to prevent espionage and to protect persons of Japanese descent from harm at the hands of Americans who had strong anti-Japanese attitudes.
In Washington and Oregon, the eastern boundary of the military zone was an imaginary line along the rim of the Cascade Mountains; this line continued down the spine of California from north to south. From that line to the Pacific coast, the military restricted zones in those three states were defined.
Roosevelt’s order affected 117,000 people of Japanese descent, two-thirds of whom were native-born citizens of the United States. The Issei were the first generation of Japanese in this country; the Nisei were the second generation, numbering 70,000 American citizens at the time of internment. Within weeks, all persons of Japanese ancestry–whether citizens or enemy aliens, young or old, rich or poor–were ordered to assembly centers near their homes. Soon they were sent to permanent relocation centers outside the restricted military zones.
I was able to go through the schoolhouse before it was demolished and it was a fascinating bit of history. Some of the original desks were still there! When I went through the space was being used by a neon glass artist. Normally buildings on the historic register are saved from demolition, but this wooden structure was too far gone to be saved. The property is now owned by the University of Washington.
Pictures of the building can be found at the Tacoma Public Library http://search.tpl.lib.wa.us/buildings/bldgdetails.asp?id=BU-2563&vhash=T&i=1