The past and present – JPNA discusses future of Immigration Station

October 22, 2009
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Believe it or not, that dilapidated warehouse next to the Navy Fuel Pier on Marginal Street was second only to Ellis Island as a point of entry for thousands of Irish, Jewish and Italians immigrants into the U.S. during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Across Marginal Street from the former Immigration Station building are the ‘Golden Stairs’ named because they represented the final climb to golden opportunity in America for countless Europeans.

Along the docks this rich history survives but years of neglect have destroyed the old docks and now the Immigration Station building is about to topple over.

Situated on Massport property for decades long time residents and their families have always been concerned that the building’s historical role in this immigrant community be recognized and preserved. During the late 1990’s a request for Landmark status for the Immigration Building was filed with the Landmarks Commission, but was never acted upon. In 1999 the Jeffries Point Neighborhood Association (JPNA) made a proposal for the building to become a Boston Immigration Museum and Cultural Center. Former Senate President Robert Travaglini supported the plan and dozens of newspaper articles were written in support.

Massport bobbed and weaved, ignored and procrastinated until finally nothing could be done.

Last week, Massport’s Anthony Guerrero went before the JPNA to update residents on the current condition of the building.

“There was fire at a warehouse in South Boston on Massport property recently and since that fire the fire department has inspected all building on Massport property,” explained Guerrero. “Due to the deterioration of the former Immigration Station the building was given an X status which means if the building catches fire, firefighters are prohibited from entering.”

Guerrero said there are no plans to level the building but a community process should begin soon about what the Port Authority should do with the site.

While it seems the building is far from preserving Historically, much to the chagrin of many community activists, the grounds have remained a continuing source of concern as an attractive nuisance to adventurous kids and other opportunists.

“There have been fires, and for a number of years the grounds were a junkyard for derelict cars and trucks stuffed with other disposable goods awaiting periodic shipment to Haiti,” said Susan Parker Brauner of the JPNA. “Several years ago when the Boston Fire Department posted ‘one-slash’ cautionary entrance warnings, the building was closed to storage and work activity, but not secured against entry.”

When Roseland, principal developer of the Pier I project next to Piers Park, assumed control of the shipyard management it resulted in many improvements. Roseland development of a real marina, and good marine businesses in the shipyard led to a walkway through the shipyard to the other end of Marginal Street and the Piers Park area. This Harbor Walk now connects several parks along Eastie waterfront.

“However, the Immigration Building grounds periodically threaten to become a neglected dumping ground, and the area was allowed to be used as a feral cat sanctuary, the feedings leading to an explosion of the raccoon, skunk, pigeon, and rat populations,” said Brauner. “Furthermore the recent Boston and Massport Fire Department assessments that have down graded the condition of the building and roof, is very worrisome. It appears that years of neglect have resulted in the building’s gradual self-demolition.”

Guerrero’s presence on the behalf of Massport was in response to Brauner and the JPNA’s request to be better informed, and allowed to comment on future plans for the building as it evolves.

“We would hope that before anything further happens to the building, an Architectural Photographic Documentation like that done for the Neptune Road property will be undertaken to record the historical significance of the Immigration Building, as well as its long usage in the shipyard since its closure to immigration,” said Brauner. “Surely better use of the property could be found to maintain the marine industrial use status; like expansion of the marina.”

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