Map showing the building footprint of the East Boston Immigration Station, in 1922 from the Atlas of the City of Boston.
Last month, advocates for East Boston’s immigration station finally received a negative response to their quest for landmark status for the building, clearing the way for the structure to be torn down.
Massport’s Anthony Guerrero once explained the extent of the building’s serious deterioration this way:
“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…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.”
In memorium: The East Boston immigration station opened in 1920 on property purchased on waterfront Marginal Street in 1909. Originally officials planned to use one of the Harbor Islands to replace their rented quarters on Long Wharf but the Marginal Street facility was built instead and operated through 1954 as a processing point for new immigrants to the region. Passengers originally questioned on the steamboat docks arrived in the building for further interviews and to resolve paperwork irregularities, also, sometimes, to be interned.
Opposite, steps leading to East Boston were called the ‘Golden Stairs’ “because they represented the final climb to golden opportunity in America for countless Europeans.”
A view of the East Boston Immigration Station from the water, from the Globe Archives, c. 1922.
Originally one story, the immigration station acquired a second and third floor with a cupola to expand detention facilities for immigrants–up to 582. Despite amenities including a player piano and rooftop exercise area, the building was an uncomfortable place to spend long periods of time. Selina Chippendale spent 7 months in the station in the mid 1920s before deportation back to England:
“I had a horrible time at the immigration station… The place was storming with cockroaches, the food was not fit for pigs and there was no privacy. My bed consisted of two planks and I had no pillow. They call it a station but it was more like a jail, for there were guards at all doors.”
More Reading: The Boston Globe put together a gallery of archival images tracing the history of the building with some incredible images of the decay of the interior today. A City of Boston report on the station includes a very thorough history (including the original quote above) and more images.