When anyone thinks of U.S. immigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries they picture Ellis Island. But the West Coast’s counterpart was the US Immigration Station at Angel Island, a 1910 collection of modest timber buildings located off the coast of Tiburon, just outside San Francisco.
Until the end of World War II thousands of immigrants arrived here; most from the far east. And while Ellis Island was no picnic, this was an even harder place. Technically a detention center, its crowded barracks held hundreds of people for up to a year at a time. Thanks to California State Parks’ recent $20 million renovation by SF-based Architectural Resources Group and Tom Eliot Fisch, you can now visit.
To capture detainees’ authentic experiences, the architects left the barracks virtually as they found them (plus a renovated entry stair and support infrastructure and minus the grime and the crowds of huddled masses)— including holes in the walls, peeling paint, and even etchings in the walls in several languages.
With the help of exhibit designer Daniel Quan they also recreated life scenes, using artifacts like tables, chairs and clothing that had been in storage. The next phase of work will include a large art installation on the site of the old administration building (to be decided by an international competition) and a new education center, built into the island’s former hospital. Explore the project in this slideshow.
Click a thumbnail to launch the slideshow. All photos courtesy David Wakely.