REAL ESTATE

The Ellis Island Museum to be ‘reimagined’ in $100M makeover

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Baggage Room Rendering. Courtesy of Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation

New York City’s Ellis Island Museum is getting a $100 million makeover. The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation on Thursday announced a revitalization project to upgrade the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration and reimagine it for the 21st century by improving exhibits, preserving its 19th-century landmarked building, and offering a more immersive experience with stories of the 12 million immigrants who arrived in the country via Ellis Island. The project, slated for completion in 2026, will also expand the museum’s Records Discovery Center, allowing millions more to trace their heritage.

Ellis under construction in 1900. Courtesy of Statue of Liberty National Monument – National Park Service

The Federal Immigration Station on Ellis Island opened on January 1, 1892. Over the next six decades, until the facility closed in 1954, about 12 million immigrants would enter the United States through Ellis Island.

Beginning in the 1980s, the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Foundation restored the Main Immigration Building and opened the museum in 1990.

Over 30 years later, the museum will undergo a thorough revitalization, including reimagining 100,000 square feet of exhibits, renovating the records center, and expanding the Wall of Honor.

“We are a nation of immigrants, and Ellis Island is the symbol of that history. Our project will ensure that the National Museum of Immigration will welcome, educate, and inspire visitors for decades to come,” Jesse Brackenbury, president and CEO of the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, said.

Lounge area.
The “Ellis Years” installation.

In addition to delivering much-needed building and systems upgrades, the project will make existing installations more interactive, highlight the 125-year-old building’s historic architecture, and improve accessibility across the 137,000-square-foot space.

The reimagined installations will begin with a “Timeline of Immigration” that guides visitors across the museum’s three floors through centuries of history in new galleries: the Pre-Ellis Years on the third floor, the Ellis Years on the second floor, and the Post-Ellis Years on the first floor. Each level will feature artifacts, maps, models, and murals to engage viewers.

Additionally, the museum will include several new theaters and public spaces, including a 120’ x 7’9” media screen, a temporary gallery, and a flexible program space for events and programming.

The museum will offer new self-guided tours in 12 languages, included in the purchase of a ferry ticket to the island. The new tours will include one in American Sign Language, a family-friendly tour for kids ages six through 10, and an immersive audio tour for guests with visual impairments.

As part of the project, the Foundation will expand the museum’s family history center and include new exhibits, a mini-theater, a green screen to welcome visitors, and increase the number of public research stations by 50 percent.

The Foundation will also double the database of the Records Discovery Center, which allows visitors to find records of their families’ immigration to the United States. The project will more than double the existing database from 65 million Port of New York arrival records to about 154 million, with records from ports of entry across the country.

Theater.

The renovation adds more seating, upgrades air conditioning and heating systems, improves signage, and enhances the WiFi network, according to the New York Times.

The interior renovation work will complement the ongoing exterior upgrades by the National Park Service, including repairs to masonry facades, windows, skylights, and clay tile roofing.

“Ellis Island was the gateway to the American Dream for millions of immigrants in search of a better life in the United States for themselves and their descendants,” John Piltzecker, superintendent of the Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island, said.

“The National Park Service is grateful to our partners at the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation for supporting the restoration of this iconic building and helping to share the countless stories of hope and triumph associated with it. We look forward to working collaboratively to ensure that this site, so crucial to American history, is properly preserved and enhanced.”

In 2019, a new Statue of Liberty Museum opened to accommodate the growing number of visitors to both Liberty Island and Ellis Island. The museum explores the history of Lady Liberty and its enduring symbol of hope.

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