Immigration Building denied landmark designation

May 26, 2010
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Despite its historic significance in the neighborhood, the Boston Landmarks Commission (BLC) ruled last week that the East Boston Immigration Station did not meet the criteria for Landmark designation citing its deteriorating condition of the building and its lack of architectural integrity.

“Due to the deteriorated condition of the building, its lack of architectural integrity and loss of what minimal detail it once possessed, combined with very limited potential for adaptive

re-use due to the building’s large size, stringent zoning restrictions, and the restrictive grid of interior structural columns, the staff withholds recommendation to designate the East Boston Immigration Station as a Landmark,” the BLC wrote in their ruling.

However, the BLC recommended that interpretive materials be developed and installed at the site, outlining and commemorating the history of the East Boston Immigration Station.

“It is recommended that interpretive materials also address the wider context of immigration in East Boston, potentially linking to nearby sites associated with immigration history, including the Golden Stairs and the Immigrants’ Home, both located on Marginal Street,” they wrote.

As Boston’s first purpose-built immigration facility, the East Boston Immigration Station was the entry point and holding place for an estimated 23,000 of the 230,677 immigrant aliens arriving at the Port of Boston between 1920 and 1954 who required further review, detention, or custody prior to deportation. Although the facility was in use for less than forty years, the Immigration Station is associated with the period of immigration during which ethnic quotas were developed and strictly enforced, under the Emergency Quota Act of 1921 and the Immigration Act of 1924.

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 1990s 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.

In the fall, 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.”

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 Brauner who tried to lead an effort to preserve or save the building. “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.”

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