I took the free ferry over to Staten Island to visit the Island and the examples of 1930’s architecture that were outlined on the Art Deco Society’s Registry Map. This is a good opportunity to see the Statue of Liberty, and the ferries are very regular there and back – you don’t have to wait at all.
I spent a long time walking the coastline of Staten Island, which is very large in itself, and is off and across the tip of Manhattan. Along the coast the areas are very different, varying from very industrial, with derelict buildings and wasteland, to hilly shopping areas, to very large mansion type houses at the top of the hill on the island.
The first building I went to see was the Electric Cinema which was about a 25 minute walk from the ferry port in what now seems quite an industrial area. The cinema is now empty, unused and looks very much like it is falling apart internally and externally.
A highlight of the architecture on Staten Island was an apartment block which was situated in one of the hillier areas of Staten Island. Just out of nowhere you come across this majestic building with elaborate swirls, pattern and detailing. The architecture near to it is quite conservative and plain, wooden style housing, so it seems quite out of place, up a hill.
On the same day I took the ferry back to the Manhattan port, and transferred to the Ellis Island and Statue of Liberty ferry, which costs $18 for both which is pretty good value. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to visit Liberty Island on that day too, as both islands close sharply at 5pm, but you get a pretty good view of Lady Liberty as the boat drops off on the way there to Ellis Island.
Ellis Island was the immigration point for oceanliners entering the US, where potential immigrants had their papers, health and history checked before they were allowed entry to New York. Between 1892 and 1954, over 12 million immigrants entered through this island.
The island still has the majority of the original buildings intact, thanks to a volunteer preservation and fundraising drive, which included a large hospital to treat immigrants with infectious diseases, many of which spread on the journey from their homeland.
The Ellis Island Immigration museum is located within the main immigration station where people were assessed. Much of the interior architecture such as fixings, tiling, windows and door frames are still intact with the narrative displays situated in the middle of each room. This gives you a feel on the institutional, somewhat cold entry to the new promised land.
The museum itself tells in great detail the experience of an immigrant entering Ellis Island, and the different stages of this process in a very informative and thorough way, with visuals, audio, original artefacts, text and films.
The museum successfully depicts the experience of the hopeful immigrants to the ‘Island of Hope and Tears’, as it was so known then. Everyone would arrive exhausted and often malnourished from a very long passage on an ocean liner leaving family and the familiar homeland.
Each and every person would be inspected in all aspects of their being from health to criminal history. Sometimes people would be detained on the island for months due to lingering illnesses or an extended trial to decide whether they should be allowed entry to the country.
Although those detained were lonely and living with uncertainty, the conditions were said to be good as they were fed well three times a day, and kept clothed and warm. When it was time to leave Ellis Island and enter New York, there were numerous organisations for different nationalities and religions, that helped people make their way in the brave new world, with clothing support, financial aid and advisory groups.
A small proportion of people very denied entry and had to return on the very long journey on ocean liners to their homeland. From the documentation on occupations, Ellis Island was the route for working and lower middle classes to the USA, upper middle classes it seems were not subjected to these checks and scrutiny.
A very interesting exhibition was the promotional material that was used to advertise moving to the USA in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, and how this change in circumstances would impact on your life. A large proportion of immigrants came from Ireland and mainland Europe, which were economically struggling at the time.
I spent around 4 hours within the museum and the island, also looking at the 1930s Ferry Terminal, and there was still very much more to look at in relation to the experience of those immigrating to the USA. There are multiple rooms and archives within which you can trace routes, ocean liners, and genealogy. Unfortunately, the museum closes sharp at 5pm and you must embrak the last ship at 5.15pm back to downtown Manhattan. Defintely one to return and they also have great online resources.