The 1958 plan to turn Ellis Island into a vacation resort | Story


Sol G. Atlas’s Vision of Turning Ellis Island into an Entertainment Center
1958 Pacific Stars and Stripes

After Ellis Island closed in November 1954, no one was sure what to do with it. The 27-acre government facility in New York Harbor had stopped processing immigrants entering the United States and no government entity was moving forward with a plan for the site. So in 1956, the US government began soliciting bids for any private company or person wishing to purchase it.

As Vincent J. Cannato notes in his book American Passage: The Story of Ellis Island, there were a number of different proposals:

“… A clinic for alcoholics and drug addicts, a park, a ‘world trade center’, a modern and innovative ‘college of the future’, private apartments, homes for the elderly and a refuge for young offenders. Other proposals were less realistic. Bronx Congressman Paul Fino suggested that a national lottery center would be in keeping with the island’s history, as immigrants “were playing for a new life on our land.”

Sol G. Atlas with his proposal for Ellis Island (1958)

But perhaps the most lavish idea came from the highest bidder, Sol G. Atlas. Mr. Atlas offered the government $ 201,000 and wanted to build a $ 55 million resort. According to the February 17, 1958 issue of Independent Monessen Valley in Pennsylvania, “Plans call for a 600-room hotel, museum, language school, music center, swimming pool, convention hall, shops and boardwalk. The island would also have a helipad, a seaplane base and a ferry dock.

The government declined Mr Atlas’ offer – they thought the facility was worth at least $ 6 million – and Ellis Island has been dormant for years. In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed a proclamation that made Ellis Island part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument, dashing once and for all plans for a chic resort. A Museum on Immigration History was first opened at the site in 1990, and today it is one of the National Park Service’s most popular tourist destinations, even without swimming pools.


About Brad S. Fulton

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