Polishing the Golden Door

By Leslie Stroope Premium

The fates of 30 unrestored buildings on the south side of Ellis Island are being decided right now. Rarely glimpsed by tourists, the island’s New Jersey side is a tangle of crumbling brick, broken flagstone and rusted metal. Since the immigration station closed in 1954, the 22 acres comprising the majority of the island have remained untouched, even after one section was restored in 1990. Weeds and weather have taken their toll, breaking windows and shrouding the remains in a cloak of green. The 30 dilapidated buildings include hospital facilities, a sanatorium and a morgue. Immigrants deemed too sick to pass inspection were detained and treated in these facilities. The majority of them were later released and allowed onto the mainland.

The National Park Service (NPS) and the nonprofit Save Ellis Island Foundation have drawn up three options for the decaying buildings. In the first scenario, the structures would be stabilized and furnished with Plexiglas windows and temporary shingles to keep the elements from doing further damage. When the buildings get beyond the point and cost-effectiveness of saving, they will be demolished.

The second scenario entails rehabilitating the structures over a period of 10 to 15 years. The facades would be restored, and the interiors stripped to house nonprofit institutions. One section of each building would be left in a stabilized, unrenovated condition for visitors to compare to the renovated areas.

The third scenario, which NPS prefers, would unveil, after a five-to seven-year rehabilitation period, a new Ellis Island Institute, complete with a conference and retreat facility, a policy research center and educational programs. The retreat facility would be available for only nonprofit organizations and appropriate corporate sponsors holding workshops on issues relevant to the island’s history, such as family history, public health, immigration, historic preservation and ethnic diversity.

Hopeful that the public will support the third alternative, NPS and the Save Ellis Island Foundation have launched a $300 million fund-raising campaign. For more information, visit <> and <>.
From the December 2003 Family Tree Magazine