Written by Roberta Lane, Senior Field Officer & Attorney, Boston Field Office
The storm surged onto the South Side of Ellis Island, depositing debris and flooding the basements of the historic hospital and administration buildings.
One month after Hurricane Sandy barreled into the East Coast, repair and restoration continues apace at homes, religious structures, downtowns, parks, historic sites, and beyond. In particular, the damage at Ellis Island (one of our National Treasures) provides a snapshot of one kind of post-Sandy reality.
Our National Treasure and America’s 11 Most Endangered Places listings for Ellis Island focused on the 30 vacant buildings on the island to highlight their plight. These buildings have stood the test of time while they wait for a reuse. We were already concerned about their condition, though, so early reports that the stormwaters surged right over the island distressed us.
Indeed, Hurricane Sandy flooded through Ellis Island with a vengeance. Today, the National Park Service is working heroically, in awful conditions, to assess and repair the damage, and we are working with them and Save Ellis Island to try to ensure a brighter future for the south side of the island, a place that has endured so much.
The following slideshow features my photos from a staff trip to the south side of Ellis Island in spring 2012. Consider it a virtual tour, one that might deepen this site's significance for you:
Since the storm, we’ve met with the National Park Service and Save Ellis Island to learn about the current conditions and coordinate our assistance. Of note:
- One vacant building -- the Ferry Building -- was restored a few years ago by the National Park Service and Save Ellis Island. The storm blew out windows and doors at the Ferry Building and inundated the exhibits and interiors inside.
- At the vacant US Public Health Service buildings, boarding meant to protect windows was blown out and water got into the lower areas.
- The grand Main Building had basement flooding, destroying the island’s mechanical systems and most other parts of its infrastructure.
- The grand Immigration Hall and most exhibits at the Main Building were unaffected.
The National Park Service is finishing its assessments and stabilization of the many units of the National Parks of New York Harbor that were damaged in the storm. We plan to work with our partners to connect preservation professionals from the field with the Park Service’s experts, as needed. And we are building a broad coalition of agencies and organizations to help support the work ahead.
Ellis Island stands for a complex and wonderful American ideal: that we should garner the benefits of major change through immigration, while always ensuring our nation’s fundamental stability and constancy. This concept of well-managed change is also, of course, a value at the heart of historic preservation -- one we hope to demonstrate at this important site.
Post-storm photos are at the National Park Service's Sandy Response Flickr site. Also check out the National Park Service’s fascinating Facebook page, NPS Hurricane Sandy Response. Ellis Island was my first Instagram adventure. Find the National Trust Instagram at @presnation.