North Bay News

Historic Angel Island restoration moving along

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The first phase of a $60 million project to restore historic buildings on Angel Island is finished.

The State Parks Department Tuesday unveiled the renovated Immigration Station Barracks.

It includes exhibits of what life was like for the mostly-Asian immigrants held on Angel Island between 1910 and 1940. They were not allowed to leave until they could prove they were joining family already in the U.S.

The Immigration Station reopens to the public in February.

Angel Island was also the scene of a major wildfire in October, but it had no impact on the restoration project.

Between 1910 and 1940 the Angel Island Immigration Station was where immigrants were detained if they were sick, their papers weren't in order or they were Chinese. After 1924 immigrants were detained there if they were from anywhere in Asia.

Between 1882 and 1943 the Chinese Exclusion Act prohibited any Chinese except the relatives of American citizens from entering the country.

The station is three years into a restoration project.

"It was open from the late 70s to 2005. Downstairs tours have been given. Thousands and thousands of school kids have come through and had tours. But, now you're going to be able to see twice as much and the exterior is really what's been recreated outside," said Dave Matthews with California State Parks.

Visitors will be able to walk in the footprint of the administration building where detainees were questioned.

87-year old Dale Ching was 16-years old when he was detained there in 1937. Tuesday he walked up the rebuilt staircase into the building where he lived for 3.5 months.

"I expected to see my father and my uncle and so on. But, since I get here, they put me over here. Why? I didn't do anything wrong. To me it's just like a jail," he said.

The $15 million restoration has recreated the living quarters where a million people passed through over thirty years. It's estimated that two to eight percent of them were sent back.

"Right here. This bunk right here," said former detainee Don Lee recalling the place where he used to sleep.

81-year old Don Lee was 11 when he arrived here with his uncle and quickly found himself alone.

"He smoked opium. When he hit here, it's illegal so he went right back and I was left here, 11 years old," said Lee.

The poetry and stories of the immigrants are carved into the walls. It was the discovery of writings that started the push for restoration.

This first of a five-phase project cost will open to the public February 15th.

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