Contract - Poetry Lessons: The Angel Island Immigration Station restoration

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Poetry Lessons: The Angel Island Immigration Station restoration

14 March, 2011

-By Jennifer Thiele Busch


At a time when immigration policies are hotly debated across the United States, one poignant reminder has come full circle to educate the public about a somewhat forgotten chapter in America’s immigration history. The Angel Island Immigration Station in San Francisco Bay, which is undergoing a multiphase restoration and adaptive reuse plan by Bay Area firms Architectural Resources Group (ARG) and Tom Eliot Fisch, served from 1910 until 1940 as a detention center that enforced the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which controlled the flow of Chinese immigrants into the country. Incorrectly dubbed “the Ellis Island of the West,” Angel Island was neither a hopeful nor liberating place for many of the 175,000 Chinese who encountered it as their point of entry into the United States. In fact, for many it was the beginning of a lengthy detention and a shameful ordeal that they hid from their friends and families for the rest of their lives.

In a rare find of architectural history, the barracks that housed Angel Island’s incarcerated immigrants contains poetry carvings that literally tell the story of these people and their time. And it is in the barracks and the footprint of the old administration building—which according to legend was burned down for a Hollywood film—where the restoration story begins.

Following its term as an immigration station, Angel Island served as a prisoner of war processing center from 1941 until the end World War II, at which time it was abandoned. Over the next decades, the buildings suffered neglect, vandalism, and decay, and they were scheduled for demolition in 1970, when the discovery of poems carved into the walls by detainees saved the barracks and surrounding buildings. The barracks opened to the public in 1983, and in 1997, the station became a National Historic Landmark. In 2000, California voters passed a state bond measure providing $15 million to restore the station. Phase One is completed and includes the faithful restoration of the barracks, plus landscaping and outdoor exhibits. Phases Two and Three will be the adaptive reuse of the old hospital building into an education center, and the transformation of the old power plant into a visitor center.

According to ARG managing principal Aaron Hyland, there were two significant pieces to the first phase of the project: the poetry carved in the walls and what to do with the footprint of the burned administration building. The latter part of this challenge was handed to San Francisco-based Tom Eliot Fisch. “A basic problem was ADA accessibility up to the barracks,” explains principal Doug Tom, who also had a relative who was detained at Angel Island. With large elevation differences between the entry point to the island and the barracks, an important goal of the project was to create a new stair. “Getting to that point was really difficult to do gracefully,” he notes.

The solution was to create an open hardscape that actually gives the visitor the sense of the administration building without replicating it. Ultimately, theangel island cover shot design work provided an open space that follows the footprint of the former administration building and creates a canvas to exhibit information and documents about the building and its role in the detention station. “Along the way, you see all the salient features of how that building was used,” notes Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation executive director Eddie Wong.

The poetry writings, dating from 1910 to 1940, represent a significant part of the Asian-American immigration experience and guided the barracks restoration work by ARG. “The site wasn’t understood or interpreted until the poetry was discovered,” says Katherine Petrin, a senior associate with ARG and the preservation planner and historian on the project. Since many who were detained there maintained complete silence about Angel Island after their release, these poems provide “physical remnants of the memories and history,” notes Hyland. “For members of younger generations trying to understand the memories of their parents or grandparents, the poetry makes the site all the more poignant,” Petrin adds.

Exhibit designer Daniel Quan of Daniel Quan Design, who’s grandfather was detained on Angel Island, explains that in order to protect the carvings and enrich the educational value of the barracks, it was decided that public access would be limited to docent-led tours. “We didn’t want a free-for-all kind of visitor experience, and we didn’t want barriers on the walls. Docents can tailor the experience a little bit,” he says.

Focusing the exhibit design in certain rooms and intentionally leaving others more bare, Quan set about recreating the Angel Island detainee experience—numbering as many as 200 to 600 at a time. The careful placement of period artifacts—from bedding and clothing to games, furniture, and dinnerware—recreate the scene of daily life at the center, while pictorial and text explanations throughout the three floors of the barracks provide explanation. “It puts you back in the shoes of someone who was there,” notes Wong. “It evokes a lot of powerful emotions.”

But the real focus of the restoration was the more than 200 poems carved in walls and some floors throughout the barracks building. ARG conducted a detailed investigation of the poems, including documentation of their locations and condition, analysis to determine their component materials, and research into the most appropriate methods of conservation. Interior walls containing poems were cleaned and preserved, and repairs were made to the building to insure their ongoing preservation. Translations were copied to exhibits placed throughout the barracks. “The poetry mostly is about [the detainees’] experiences,” says Quan. And while detainees were not mistreated, their writings do convey a lack of cultural understanding about their plight, according to Petrin. Hyland adds,” The poems express sorrow and frustration about why they were being held.”

Tom maintains that, “This project was extremely important. It was one of the most important projects anyone can be involved in.” And in fact since the restoration of Angel Island began, some of the attitudes toward incarceration there have shifted from shame to pride for having played a role in this important piece of history. “Once the physical remnants are gone, the memories of these experiences can be lost,” says Hyland. “We worked hard to preserve the physical structure, but what we were really trying to do is preserve the memory.” With that accomplished, the lessons learned cannot be far behind.


who
Client: California State Parks, Marin District, Angel Island State Park; Don Bybee, Project Manager and Senior Architect; Maria Baranowski, Architect and Manager of Architecture Section; Charles Miller, Project Manager; Danita Rodriguez, Superintendent; Roy H. McNamee, Former Superintendent; Dan Osana, Historian; Casey Lee, Park Ranger and Interpretive Specialist; and Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation; Eddie Wong, Executive Director; Katherine Toy, Former Executive Director. Lead architect/preservation architect: Architectural Resources Group; Aaron Hyland, AIA, Principal & Project Manager; Stephen J. Farneth, FAIA, Principal; David Wessel, FAPT, AIC, Principal & Conservator; Andrew Blyholder, AIA, Project Architect; Katherine Petrin, Preservation Planner/Historian; Kelly Wong, Job Captain; Evan Kopelson, Conservator; Zemei Yang, CAD specialist. Associate Architect: Tom Eliot Fisch; Doug Tom, Principal. Contractor: West Bay Builders; Nick Ivashkevich, Superintendent. Exhibit Design: Daniel Quan Design; Dan Quan, Principal. Landscape Architect: California State Parks; Cheryl Essex, Landscape Architect. Structural Engineer: SOHA Engineers; Art Dell, Project Engineer; Steve Lau, Principal. Electrical Engineering: O’Mahony & Myer; Pieter Colenbrander, Principal Engineer. Mechanical Engineering: Guttman & Blaevoet; Jeff Blaevoet, principal. Cost Estimator: Leland Saylor Associates; Natalie Saylor, Principal; Ian Slight, Estimator. Hazardous Materials/Geotechnical: Winzler & Kelly; Lionel “Butch” Reynolds, Project Engineer. Geotechnical Engineer: Fugro West; Andy Herlache, Principal Engineer. Civil Engineering: Olivia Chen Consultants, Inc.; Nader Gorji, Project Engineer. Photographer: David Wakely Photography.

what
Paint: ICI. Sealants: Sonneborn. Flooring: Marmoleum by Forbo. Lighting: Prolume LED Lighting. Wheel Chair Lift: Nationwide Lifts.

where
Location: Angel Island State Park, Tiburon, Calif. Total floor area: 14,000 sq. ft. No. of floors: two. Average floor size: 7,000 sq. ft. Cost/sq. ft. $700.



Poetry Lessons: The Angel Island Immigration Station restoration

14 March, 2011


David Wakely

At a time when immigration policies are hotly debated across the United States, one poignant reminder has come full circle to educate the public about a somewhat forgotten chapter in America’s immigration history. The Angel Island Immigration Station in San Francisco Bay, which is undergoing a multiphase restoration and adaptive reuse plan by Bay Area firms Architectural Resources Group (ARG) and Tom Eliot Fisch, served from 1910 until 1940 as a detention center that enforced the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which controlled the flow of Chinese immigrants into the country. Incorrectly dubbed “the Ellis Island of the West,” Angel Island was neither a hopeful nor liberating place for many of the 175,000 Chinese who encountered it as their point of entry into the United States. In fact, for many it was the beginning of a lengthy detention and a shameful ordeal that they hid from their friends and families for the rest of their lives.

In a rare find of architectural history, the barracks that housed Angel Island’s incarcerated immigrants contains poetry carvings that literally tell the story of these people and their time. And it is in the barracks and the footprint of the old administration building—which according to legend was burned down for a Hollywood film—where the restoration story begins.

Following its term as an immigration station, Angel Island served as a prisoner of war processing center from 1941 until the end World War II, at which time it was abandoned. Over the next decades, the buildings suffered neglect, vandalism, and decay, and they were scheduled for demolition in 1970, when the discovery of poems carved into the walls by detainees saved the barracks and surrounding buildings. The barracks opened to the public in 1983, and in 1997, the station became a National Historic Landmark. In 2000, California voters passed a state bond measure providing $15 million to restore the station. Phase One is completed and includes the faithful restoration of the barracks, plus landscaping and outdoor exhibits. Phases Two and Three will be the adaptive reuse of the old hospital building into an education center, and the transformation of the old power plant into a visitor center.

According to ARG managing principal Aaron Hyland, there were two significant pieces to the first phase of the project: the poetry carved in the walls and what to do with the footprint of the burned administration building. The latter part of this challenge was handed to San Francisco-based Tom Eliot Fisch. “A basic problem was ADA accessibility up to the barracks,” explains principal Doug Tom, who also had a relative who was detained at Angel Island. With large elevation differences between the entry point to the island and the barracks, an important goal of the project was to create a new stair. “Getting to that point was really difficult to do gracefully,” he notes.

The solution was to create an open hardscape that actually gives the visitor the sense of the administration building without replicating it. Ultimately, theangel island cover shot design work provided an open space that follows the footprint of the former administration building and creates a canvas to exhibit information and documents about the building and its role in the detention station. “Along the way, you see all the salient features of how that building was used,” notes Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation executive director Eddie Wong.

The poetry writings, dating from 1910 to 1940, represent a significant part of the Asian-American immigration experience and guided the barracks restoration work by ARG. “The site wasn’t understood or interpreted until the poetry was discovered,” says Katherine Petrin, a senior associate with ARG and the preservation planner and historian on the project. Since many who were detained there maintained complete silence about Angel Island after their release, these poems provide “physical remnants of the memories and history,” notes Hyland. “For members of younger generations trying to understand the memories of their parents or grandparents, the poetry makes the site all the more poignant,” Petrin adds.

Exhibit designer Daniel Quan of Daniel Quan Design, who’s grandfather was detained on Angel Island, explains that in order to protect the carvings and enrich the educational value of the barracks, it was decided that public access would be limited to docent-led tours. “We didn’t want a free-for-all kind of visitor experience, and we didn’t want barriers on the walls. Docents can tailor the experience a little bit,” he says.

Focusing the exhibit design in certain rooms and intentionally leaving others more bare, Quan set about recreating the Angel Island detainee experience—numbering as many as 200 to 600 at a time. The careful placement of period artifacts—from bedding and clothing to games, furniture, and dinnerware—recreate the scene of daily life at the center, while pictorial and text explanations throughout the three floors of the barracks provide explanation. “It puts you back in the shoes of someone who was there,” notes Wong. “It evokes a lot of powerful emotions.”

But the real focus of the restoration was the more than 200 poems carved in walls and some floors throughout the barracks building. ARG conducted a detailed investigation of the poems, including documentation of their locations and condition, analysis to determine their component materials, and research into the most appropriate methods of conservation. Interior walls containing poems were cleaned and preserved, and repairs were made to the building to insure their ongoing preservation. Translations were copied to exhibits placed throughout the barracks. “The poetry mostly is about [the detainees’] experiences,” says Quan. And while detainees were not mistreated, their writings do convey a lack of cultural understanding about their plight, according to Petrin. Hyland adds,” The poems express sorrow and frustration about why they were being held.”

Tom maintains that, “This project was extremely important. It was one of the most important projects anyone can be involved in.” And in fact since the restoration of Angel Island began, some of the attitudes toward incarceration there have shifted from shame to pride for having played a role in this important piece of history. “Once the physical remnants are gone, the memories of these experiences can be lost,” says Hyland. “We worked hard to preserve the physical structure, but what we were really trying to do is preserve the memory.” With that accomplished, the lessons learned cannot be far behind.


who
Client: California State Parks, Marin District, Angel Island State Park; Don Bybee, Project Manager and Senior Architect; Maria Baranowski, Architect and Manager of Architecture Section; Charles Miller, Project Manager; Danita Rodriguez, Superintendent; Roy H. McNamee, Former Superintendent; Dan Osana, Historian; Casey Lee, Park Ranger and Interpretive Specialist; and Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation; Eddie Wong, Executive Director; Katherine Toy, Former Executive Director. Lead architect/preservation architect: Architectural Resources Group; Aaron Hyland, AIA, Principal & Project Manager; Stephen J. Farneth, FAIA, Principal; David Wessel, FAPT, AIC, Principal & Conservator; Andrew Blyholder, AIA, Project Architect; Katherine Petrin, Preservation Planner/Historian; Kelly Wong, Job Captain; Evan Kopelson, Conservator; Zemei Yang, CAD specialist. Associate Architect: Tom Eliot Fisch; Doug Tom, Principal. Contractor: West Bay Builders; Nick Ivashkevich, Superintendent. Exhibit Design: Daniel Quan Design; Dan Quan, Principal. Landscape Architect: California State Parks; Cheryl Essex, Landscape Architect. Structural Engineer: SOHA Engineers; Art Dell, Project Engineer; Steve Lau, Principal. Electrical Engineering: O’Mahony & Myer; Pieter Colenbrander, Principal Engineer. Mechanical Engineering: Guttman & Blaevoet; Jeff Blaevoet, principal. Cost Estimator: Leland Saylor Associates; Natalie Saylor, Principal; Ian Slight, Estimator. Hazardous Materials/Geotechnical: Winzler & Kelly; Lionel “Butch” Reynolds, Project Engineer. Geotechnical Engineer: Fugro West; Andy Herlache, Principal Engineer. Civil Engineering: Olivia Chen Consultants, Inc.; Nader Gorji, Project Engineer. Photographer: David Wakely Photography.

what
Paint: ICI. Sealants: Sonneborn. Flooring: Marmoleum by Forbo. Lighting: Prolume LED Lighting. Wheel Chair Lift: Nationwide Lifts.

where
Location: Angel Island State Park, Tiburon, Calif. Total floor area: 14,000 sq. ft. No. of floors: two. Average floor size: 7,000 sq. ft. Cost/sq. ft. $700.
 


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