Polishing the Golden Door
New Jersey's big plans for Ellis Island

New Jersey has a $300 million dream for Ellis Island, the gateway through which 12 million immigrants entered America. Closed in 1954 and put up for sale as surplus federal property, Ellis Island underwent a seven-year, nearly $170 million restoration unveiled in 1990. But much of the historic island remains overgrown with weeds and fenced off from visitors. The New Jersey plan, announced in January by Governor Christine Todd Whitman, calls for redeveloping the island with two new museums and a center for meetings ranging from corporate confabs to international peace talks.

As a first step, Whitman said, $8.6 million has been committed in state, private and federal money to stabilize falling-down historic buildings. The island's southern half, where sick immigrants were once hospitalized, is in particularly bad shape.