In the early 20th Century, the sprawling, 29-building Public Health Service hospital on the south shore of Ellis Island was the biggest federal hospital in the country—and possibly its most state-of-the-art. The comprehensive medical institution treated over one million newly-arrived immigrants ill with diseases like tuberculosis, measles, trachoma, and scarlet fever.
When anyone thinks of U.S. immigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries they picture Ellis Island. But the West Coast’s counterpart was the US Immigration Station at Angel Island, a 1910 collection of modest timber buildings located off the coast of Tiburon, just outside San Francisco.
Until the end of World War II thousands of immigrants arrived here; most from the far east. And while Ellis Island was no picnic, this was an even harder place. Technically a detention center, its crowded barracks held hundreds of people for up to a year at a time. Thanks to California State Parks’ recent $20 million renovation by SF-based Architectural Resources Group and Tom Eliot Fisch, you can now visit.
Most visitors to Ellis Island only get to see the Ellis Island Immigration Museum. I was fortunate enough to go on a hard hat tour of the island’s south side, which is not open to the public, and explore newly stabilized structures including the new (‘new’ as of 1934) ferry building and part of the old South Side Hospital Complex.