Trust News

Notes from New Orleans: The Return of the 'Miracle Mile'

Posted on: March 24th, 2009 by Walter Gallas

 

In November 1952, Mid-City New Orleans pharmacist Nick Persich wrote the following letter to the editor of the New Orleans States in response to a slum clearance order in his neighborhood:

Let any honest-hearted and fair-minded citizen visit this section and then ask this question: Aren’t there hundreds of thousands of square feet of area lying almost unused in the business and industrial districts? Why not use them first and then, when our city’s growth is such that all other space has been used up, then, and only then, the argument that our area is needed for the progress of our city will be sensible, logical, honest, and acceptable to us.

This letter appeared as citizens learned that the City of New Orleans was clearing “slum” housing near Mid-City (from Tulane Avenue to Poydras Street, and from South Claiborne Avenue to South Broad Street) as a part of the "Miracle Mile" redevelopment of Tulane Avenue.

Today, the "Miracle Mile" vision has been replaced by a new vision called the "Greater New Orleans Biosciences Economic Development District." The LSU Medical School sits on some of this land, surrounded still by the area made vacant by that order. Yet even today, those lands aren’t sufficient for LSU’s vision for its new medical center, and so the latest city-engineered land grab continues across Tulane Avenue to Canal Street and up to South Rocheblave, threatening once again to displace more people and destroy more property.

M. L. Eichhorn, who grew up in the lower Mid-City neighborhood that is now ground-zero for the new hospitals, has been a tireless researcher of this area, digging up the names, personalities and professions of those who made this part of the city home over the last 100+ years. In a piece entitled “Sacrificial Land" that appears in the latest issue of Louisiana Cultural Vistas, Eichhorn weaves that research into a narrative that not only brings this area alive, but that very fittingly concludes with Mr. Persich's important observations above.

Read "Sacrificial Land" in Louisiana Cultural Vistas

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Notes from New Orleans: The Elephant in the Room

Posted on: March 16th, 2009 by Walter Gallas

 

If there ever was a time when the city of New Orleans needed the City Planning Commission to show some leadership, it is now. One could point to the exercises being led by the consulting firm Goody Clancy for the development of the city’s new master plan and comprehensive zoning ordinance as evidence of such leadership. The problem though, is that there’s an elephant in the room—the plan by Louisiana State University and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to build two new medical centers from the ground up—and neither Goody Clancy nor the City Planning Commission is dealing with it.

It is all well and good to call on the city’s tireless citizens to participate in crafting what could ultimately be the city’s first master plan with the force of law. But as long as the huge hospital plans are not examined as part of the master planning process, the whole citywide process is under a cloud. If the hospitals’ plan—which is a classic straight from the days of urban renewal—proceeds as it has until now with the City Planning Commission taking a hands-off attitude, what is to prevent this from happening again with another project in another part of town?

Some City Planning staff have said that they can have no involvement in this plan, because it is the work of state and federal agencies. The plan involves wholesale clearance of portions of a National Register District, covers 70 acres and would require the demolition of as many as 263 structures, 165 of them considered historic. What the city doesn’t acknowledge is that it has been intimately involved in these destructive plans all along, as evidenced by a number of agreements forged with the state and with the VA. Further, it was the city which engineered an offer to the VA of cleared construction-ready land. This was made possible by the expenditure of $74 million in Community Development Block Grant funds for demolition--money that could have been used for housing rehabilitation. This offer apparently was too good for the VA to refuse. So, the city is deeply involved in setting these plans into motion.

Will the LSU-VA hospital plan be marked with an asterisk in the city’s master plan? Will a note say, “We did this one the old-fashioned way, by having special interests push it through, but we won’t do it this way again”?

Today’s Times-Picayune makes it clear that the two hospitals will be proceeding independently of one another, and that the arguments for co-location and shared services were false. Instead of waiting for the continued drip-drip-drip of revelations emerging about these ill-conceived plans, New Orleans’ planning leadership should show some spine and actively engage its citizens in participating in planning what is conceivably the largest economic development project ever proposed in this town.

***

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Day of Remembrance Links the Present to the Past

Posted on: February 19th, 2009 by Guest Writer 1 Comment

 

Minidoka in the 1940s.

Minidoka in the 1940s.

In February 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which ordered the forced removal of 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry from their homes on the West Coast and parts of Hawai`i. They were unconstitutionally imprisoned during World War II in 10 War Relocation Authority (WRA) Camps and in numerous Justice Department prisons throughout the United States.

Today, February 19, is annually commemorated as “Day of Remembrance” by Japanese American communities. A grassroots movement to petition the government for an official apology and reparations began in the 1970s and events like Day of Remembrance, organized in Japanese American communities throughout the country, sparked the successful grassroots redress campaign that culminated with the signing of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. This Act resulted in an official apology by the United States government and token reparations to any living Japanese American incarcerated during the war.

The first Day of Remembrance was held on Thanksgiving weekend 1978 at the Puyallup Fairgrounds, which had been used as temporary incarceration center known as “Camp Harmony” in the state of Washington. Thousands of people participated and demonstrated that the Japanese American community had not forgotten how they and their families were treated during World War II.

In the years following, Day of Remembrance events (held on or close to February 19) have been held annually. While for many Japanese Americans it brings back painful memories of a dark chapter in American history, the day also provides an ongoing reminder about the dangers of ever repeating the same offense against other individuals. In recalling the events of February 1942, Day of Remembrance is a reminder to all Americans about the need to protect civil liberties for all and to honor all who fought—and continue to fight—for freedom and equality among all people.

Efforts to ensure that these memories and lessons are maintained for generations to come have also continued through the preservation and interpretation of WWII Japanese American historical sites, such as the War Relocation Camp sites, Assembly Center sites, and other significant markers that are powerful remembrances of the past and its relevancy for today and the future. (In 2007, the National Trust for Historic Preservation listed one such site, Minidoka Internment National Monument, to our annual 11 Most Endangered Places list.)

For access to other Day of Remembrance, redress, and additional related information, visit DiscoverNikkei.org—a Web site coordinated by the Japanese American National Museum.

-- Irene Hirano

Irene Hirano is a trustee of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, as well as executive advisor and former president and CEO of the Japanese-American National Museum in Los Angeles.

- Excerpts taken from Achieving the Impossible Dream: How Japanese Americans Obtained Redress, by Mitchell T. Maki, Harry H.L. Kitano, and S. Megan Berthold and the websites of the Japanese American National Museum, www.janm.org, DiscoverNikkei, www.discovernikkei.org and www.densho.org.

Updated: to correct Ms. Hirano's current affiliation with the Japanese-American National Museum.

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Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

How Poetry Saved a Building: The Re-Opening of Angel Island Immigration Station

Posted on: February 17th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

A packed tent at the re-opening ceremony.

A packed tent at the re-opening ceremony.

It was an inspiring moment. Despite pouring Pacific rains and high wind warnings, I joined an enthusiastic group of more than 500 on the ferry at San Francisco’s Pier 41 on Sunday morning to witness history. We were headed for the grand re-opening of the Angel Island Immigration Station, this time, thankfully, not as a detention facility, but a newly restored interpretive site.

Often described as the “Ellis Island of the West,” more than 350,000 immigrants were processed, and sometimes detained at Angel Island before they were allowed entry to San Francisco and could call America home. The arrivals not only braved an uncertain future, far from the world they knew, but entered a hostile world where racism was written expressly into law. Starting in 1882 the Chinese, who made up the majority of the immigrants processed at Angel Island, were subject to the Chinese Exclusion Act, a race-based law that persevered for an astonishing 61 years. The Immigration Act of 1924 made that law even more severe and established strict quotas on immigration with a particular focus on Asian countries.

The newly restored detention barracks.

The newly restored detention barracks.

The centerpiece of Sunday’s ceremony was the completed restoration of the building that served as detention barracks for immigrants from 80 countries. In 1970 the building was in serious disrepair and slated for demolition. It was then that Alexander Weiss, a ranger with the National Park Service, made an astonishing discovery. Inventorying the building by flashlight, Weiss stumbled upon Chinese characters carved into the wooden walls where the detainees were housed. Experts soon revealed that the characters formed poems, many fully intact. These written memories have helped us understand the emotional experiences of newcomers to the West in the early 20th Century. On Sunday I heard the children of detainees, most of whom have now passed away, express gratitude for the restoration. The stories of crossing the ocean, they explained, were often too emotionally difficult for their parents to tell.

The translation for this carved poem is at left.

Translation at left, in italics.

“Detained in this wooden house
for several tens of days,
it is all because of the Mexican exclusion law, which implicates me.
It’s a pity heroes have no way
of exercising their prowess.
I can only await the word so I can snap Zu’s whip.

From now on,
I am departing far from this building.
All of my fellow villagers are rejoicing with me.
Don’t say that everything within
is Western styled.
Even if it is built of jade, it has
turned into a cage."

... Read More →

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National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

Newly-Restored Angel Island Immigration Station Re-Opening Today

Posted on: February 15th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 2 Comments

 

The Immigration Station on Angel Island.

The Immigration Station on Angel Island.

Today, the U.S. Immigration Station on Angel Island, which we included on our annual list of America's 11 Most Endangered Places back in 1999, will re-open after more than three years of restoration and preservation work. During that time, many improvements have been made to stabilize this National Historic Landmark, set within a California State Park, and the interpretation of the Immigration Station’s story has been enhanced.

Nowadays, when it’s difficult for us to imagine things other than as they are, places such as Angel Island Immigration Station serve as potent connectors to the past. How different our contemporary experience of travel is from that of the average immigrant arriving at Angel Island Immigration Station in San Francisco Bay. Like Ellis Island, the Immigration Station on Angel Island was a major gateway to America. Established in 1910 and in operation until 1940, the Immigration Station is often referred to as the "Ellis Island of the West;" however, it was also known as "The Guardian of the Western Gate" because of its role in policing and enforcing restrictive immigration policies.

This small island (barely one square mile) near Tiburon provided the setting for immigration processing for hundreds of thousands of immigrants arriving from Pacific routes. Imagine, after a sea voyage of a week or more, venturing down a gangplank and along a pier to face interrogations, physical examinations, and even detention in a cluster of institutional buildings on a small island surrounded by the glories of San Francisco Bay. In spite of the beauty of its setting, Angel Island Immigration Station evokes the hardships faced by generations of America’s Asian immigrants, particularly Chinese. Over the years the Immigration Station became such a well known bottleneck that immigrants developed strategies and crammed to ensure that they were able to parrot “right” answers during grueling interrogations.

Poems carved into the barracks wall.

Chinese poems carved into the barracks wall.

Although all nationalities were received at the island, the Immigration Station is especially poignant for the Asian American community because of restrictions on immigration imposed by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which was amended, extended, and expanded several times between 1888 and its repeal in 1943. Enforcement of the Chinese Exclusion Act was central to the Immigration Station’s function and transformed Angel Island from a reception and processing center into a residential detention facility for many Chinese nationals – as well as others. Over the years the victims of race-based exclusionary laws were detained at Angel Island for an average of three weeks, sometimes for months and even for years. The Immigration Station was the first, and sometimes only, foothold in a new and hostile country and its cramped barracks of tiered bunks provided an improvised home to detainees. The walls of the Immigration Station bear witness to the human traffic they sheltered: numerous inscriptions and an estimated 135 carved poems survive, tangible markers of loneliness, suffering, injustice, determination, and the lure of immigration.

Sometimes the scale of a specific historic resource and the vision for its revitalization demands a team effort, uniting staff and resources across offices, departments, and agencies. The results that will be unveiled today at Angel Island are the fruit of many years of effort and collaboration. The Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation (AIISF) is the nonprofit partner of California State Parks and the National Park Service in the effort to preserve, restore and interpret the historic immigration station. Save America's Treasures and American Express Partners in Preservation, two of the National Trust for Historic Preservation's valued partnerships, also contributed much-needed funding.

AIISF’s remarkable fundraising and planning achievements demonstrate the results of an undaunted and ambitious vision that started small and ended big and were only achieved through organizational persistence, creative collaboration, leveraged funding, and extensive public outreach. The refurbished site will offer visitors a taste of what immigrants must have felt as they first grappled with life in a new and foreign land.

For decades, the Immigration Station was a final gauntlet beyond which stretched family members, opportunities, freedoms, new horizons -- the golden west. Once symbolic of the intentional obstacles and systematic deterrents placed by governmental policies in the path of immigrants, Angel Island is now a monument to human resilience and endurance. Angel Island’s immigrants persevered and prospered and contributed to the growth of their adopted country, enduringly influencing its culture and democracy. Now is the moment for Angel Island Immigration Station to take its rightful place as a national symbol of Pacific immigration and for the lives and stories that still mark its walls to find a wider audience.

As AIISF’s website puts it: “Tell your friends to make the journey across the water, through time, and deep into the American soul.”

Public tours of the Immigration Station will resume April 1, 2009.

-- Hugh Rowland

Hugh Rowland is the program administrator and development associate for the Western Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.