Changes in immigration laws and modes of transportation as well as the cost effectiveness of operating the island all played a role in the closing of Ellis Island as an immigrant processing center.
In 1954 the federal government declared Ellis Island surplus government property and the site was abandoned. Proposals were made for selling or redeveloping Ellis Island, but none were considered suitable. With no funding the empty and unused buildings deteriorated until the 1980’s when the Main Building and adjacent structures were designated for restoration and reuse and money was provided for their stabilization.
A private/public partnership was also proposed to raise funds to stabilize the remaining 30 buildings. By then, the hospital facility had been vacant and abandoned for nearly 50 years. The buildings were showing the effects of neglect and deterioration; windows broke apart, roofs caved in, the brick and limestone cracking and falling to the ground. Trees and other vegetation began to dominate the island and cover the broken buildings.
The stabilization strategy developed by the National Park Service outlined treatments in the context of a long-term preservation and reuse plan. These treatments were expected to halt further deterioration for a period of 10 and 15 years – needed to complete a long-term reuse plan and raise the funds necessary for rehabilitation of the buildings.
The New York Landmarks Conservancy joined with the National Park Service to undertake a pilot project to stabilize one endangered south side building. Funds were raised for this project and a team of professionals employing contributed materials and labor successfully stabilized the c. 1909 Office & Laboratory Building, demonstrating appropriate techniques for use in the remaining 29 buildings.
After Save Ellis Island Inc. was established in 1999, they worked with the NPS to secure $8.6 million for stabilization of all of the structures on the South Side.
The south side was, at that time, completely covered in vegetation. There were trees growing from the buildings as well as into the buildings. One of the first priorities was to clear the site of unwanted vegetation taking careful precautions with the historic landscape. The stabilization work also included roof repair. In some of the more serious cases, structural repair was performed, such as work to reconstruct a section of brick corridor.
Work also had to be done to remove hazardous materials such as asbestos and lead paint. And to keep the elements out of the building, stabilization work included the placement of panels in the window and door openings yet allowing air and light to enter the buildings. Utilities such as water and fire protection also were installed.
All structures on the South Side have now been stabilized including the Baggage and Dormitory Building located on the north side of the island which was stabilized 2010 with funding from the Obama administration’s American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.
From 1892 to 1954, over 12 million immigrants entered USA through the portal of Ellis Island in New York Harbor
We are part of America's story
Ellis Island tells the story of the journey of millions of men, women and children from around the world who sought a new future on these shores.
Walking around these buildings we're not just talking about history-visitors are able to touch, feel, and understand in a way that connects them to the past. As we rebuild parts of Ellis Island, we are rebuilding its legacy and revitalizing living landmarks to a world gone by. Save Ellis Island is working to create a destination that echoes the beacon of hope that it once was for nearly twelve million immigrants and continues to be for the nearly two million visitors each year.
The Save Ellis Island website is made possible by a generous donation from Heidi Liebi Root in memory of her father Fred Liebi