Trust News

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 →

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.

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.

Major Win: Obama Administration Scraps Controversial Utah Lease Sales

Posted on: February 5th, 2009 by Jason Clement

 

Interior Secretary Ken Sa

President Barack Obama and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. (Photo: AP)

"I believe, as President Obama does, that we need to responsibly develop our oil and gas supplies to help us reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but we must do so in a thoughtful and balanced way."

Those are the words of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar given yesterday in a statement that was heard around the preservation world.

In what will likely be the first of many high-profile reversals of the Bush administration's approach to energy exploration, the government is scrapping the issuance of 77 lease parcels on federal land for oil and gas drilling in Utah's red rock country. The announcement is a major win for Nine Mile Canyon and the thousands of Native American rock art images that cover the canyon’s wall.

"In the last weeks in office, the Bush administration rushed ahead to sell oil and gas leases near some of our nation's most precious landscapes in Utah," Salazar said. "We will take time and a fresh look at these 77 parcels to see if they are appropriate for oil and gas development."

Since December 2008, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has been a voice in a coalition of conservation and preservation organizations fighting leases - which are valued at $6 million - on more than 110,000 acres of Utah public land. On January 17, the group received its first major victory in the new year when Judge Ricardo M. Urbina of the U.S. District Court granted a temporary restraining order preventing the Bureau of Land Management from moving forward with the leases.

Nine Mile Canyon contains the nation's greatest density of ancient rock art, which is threatened by clouds of dust and corrosive chemicals created by the heavy industrial truck traffic associated with oil and gas development.

"Secretary Salazar’s decision sends a strong message about the Obama administration’s approach to preserving America’s public lands," said Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, in a press release put out yesterday by the Natural Resources Defense Council. "Today’s action ensures that the damage being inflicted on cultural resources near Utah’s Nine Mile Canyon - often called the ‘world’s longest art gallery’ because of the density of ancient rock art panels there - will not be exacerbated by additional oil and gas leases. This is a great decision, and indicates that Secretary Salazar and President Obama take very seriously their responsibility as stewards of our public lands."

Learn more about the National Trust’s efforts to protect Nine Mile Canyon, and check out the full text of an excellent article in today’s Washington Post.

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.

Jason Clement

Jason Clement

Jason Lloyd Clement is the director of community outreach at the National Trust, which is really just a fancy way of saying he’s a professional place lover. For him, any day that involves a bike, a camera, and a gritty historic neighborhood is basically the best day ever.

 

Preservation-friendly site plan for Charity Hospital. (RMJM Hillier)

Preservation-friendly site plan for Charity Hospital. (RMJM Hillier)

It was really remarkable that the Louisiana House Committee on Appropriations devoted an entire day this past week to a hearing about Charity Hospital and LSU’s and VA’s plans for new medical centers in New Orleans. We had an attentive and polite group of lawmakers, whom we thanked repeatedly for holding essentially the first real public hearing on these major plans. I presented the National Trust for Historic Preservation's email petition signed by more than 650 people to the committee chairman, Representative James Fannin.

The presentation by RJMJ Hillier’s Colin Mosher and Steve McDaniel on their feasibility study for the building’s reuse; resident Bobbi Rogers’ passionate statement about the neighborhood; attorney Laura Tuggle’s cautions about the costs and challenges of expropriation and relocation; National Trust Community Investment Corporation’s Kirk Carrison’s tax credit work sheet; Sandra Stokes’ overview; my observations on the plan and preservation’s role — all of these pieces came together to paint a picture designed to show legislators what was at stake and what was possible in New Orleans. It was at this meeting that we presented an alternative to the over-powering and destructive LSU-VA scheme. The image at the top of this post, created by RMJM Hillier shows our proposal, in which Charity is back in play, thereby enabling the new VA medical center to be built on a portion of what would have been the LSU site, saving the majority of Lower Mid-City's historic homes and cultural landmarks.

What was also remarkable was how little information LSU officials could provide in response to repeated questions about the financing of the proposed $1.2 billion plan. The state is already beginning the process of acquiring the properties on the preferred LSU site — yet no more than about $300 million dollars is committed so far by the legislature for the new hospital. State officials are pinning their hopes on an appeal to President Obama's FEMA and receiving an award of nearly $500 million for the damages to the Charity Hospital building. Without this sum, the financing plan falls apart.

The night before the committee hearing, we spoke about these issues before a packed meeting hosted by Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents and Associates, the French Quarter's oldest neighborhood group. The meeting attracted a variety of people from all over town -- not just French Quarter types, and it showed that all neighborhoods need to be worried when bad planning like this happens. Here we presented a new flyer summing up the situation.

We are up against some serious opposition. As is so common in these cases, we are accused of delaying progress when we start raising questions or presenting alternatives. But the week was full of good press -- print and TV.

On Friday, I was the guest on (yet another) call-in radio show. It was clear that my point of view on good planning and re-use of existing buildings fell flat with my host. He focused on the bad condition of the Mid-City neighborhood, and the need to build something new. A caller said that I was being inflexible, that before Katrina the neighborhood was dangerous, that the houses on the site could be moved to one of the former public housing sites. Another caller, the leader of the movement to create the biosciences district, once again disparaged the Hillier report, and said it was time to move on and plan for the new hospitals.

I took a look at the preliminary designs for the new hospitals for the proposed sites which were released on Thursday. How depressing that was. The massing schemes didn’t even begin to deal with any of the measures we suggested in our December 31 comments as consulting parties to the Programmatic Agreement. Furthermore, there was no evidence that any elements of the two hospital plans had any relationship to one another—putting the lie to the oft-stated argument that the LSU and VA facilities would achieve certain efficiencies through shared facilities.

The designs portend the future of Mid-City if these plans are realized. The rest of the historic district is clearly at risk of further obliteration.

See for yourself what may be on the horizon (click images to enlarge):

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.

A Victory for Nine Mile Canyon’s Rock Art

Posted on: January 23rd, 2009 by Jason Clement

 

Art should be revered, which is why we all know the unspoken rules when it comes to museums.

No loud talking because you should be thinking. Don't get too close because you'll probably get beeped at. No refreshments because Dali wouldn't approve of slurping. And of course, keep your hands to yourself because, well, you know how it goes: you break it, you...

But what about those masterpieces that are found in our nation's backyard rather than in its National Gallery? How do we protect relics from the past that - rather than gum chewing and flash photography - face growing threats from industrial development and the dust-stirring truck traffic that it creates?

Pictured above, Utah's Nine Mile Canyon and the region surrounding it contains the nation's greatest density of ancient rock art, with tens of thousands of prehistoric images already documented and many more yet to be discovered. Unfortunately, due to ongoing oil and gas lease sales, the fate of these irreplaceable cultural resources was largely uncertain in the final months of 2008.

However, with the new year has come a new victory for what is also known as the world's longest art gallery.

On January 17, 2009, Judge Ricardo M. Urbina of the U.S. District Court granted a temporary restraining order that prevents the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from moving forward with leases on more than 110,000 acres of federal land in Utah, including land near Nine Mile Canyon. The decision comes as a result of a lawsuit filed in December 2008 by a coalition of conservation and preservation organizations, which includes the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the Wilderness Society, and Earthjustice.

In the ruling, Judge Urbina found that the conservation groups "have shown a likelihood of success on the merits" and that the "'development of domestic energy resources' … is far outweighed by the public interest in avoiding irreparable damage to public lands and the environment." The merits of the case will be heard later in 2009. Until that time, BLM is prohibited from cashing the checks issued for the contested acres of Utah.

As is often the case in preservation, protecting Nine Mile Canyon is an ongoing project. We invite you to stay tuned over the coming months as we continue to be a watchful eye and a strong voice for the region's prehistoric masterpieces. And in the mean time, check out our previous blog posts on Nine Mile Canyon to read more about this story as it developed, and visit PreservationNation for additional resources and information.

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.

Jason Clement

Jason Clement

Jason Lloyd Clement is the director of community outreach at the National Trust, which is really just a fancy way of saying he’s a professional place lover. For him, any day that involves a bike, a camera, and a gritty historic neighborhood is basically the best day ever.