1920-2012 - IN MEMORIUM

Phil Lax, who had served as President of the Ellis Island Restoration Commission for more than 30 years, passed away in April of 2012 at age 91. He was born April 22, 1920 in Newark, New Jersey to Beckie and Nathan Lax , immigrants from Eastern Europe, graduated with a B.S. from New York University, and made a career in interior design that evolved into real estate development and management.

Phil, along with several other visionaries in the mid-1970s who had ties to, or an interest in, U.S. immigration history and its hub, Ellis Island in New York Harbor, organized to begin to try to save the facilities there. The last significant use of the Islandís many buildings and ornate reception hall had been 30 years earlier, and buildings were deteriorating and crumbling. A "Save Ellis Island Committee" was formed, initially headed by Peter Sammartino. In 1976, working with a number of other individuals who were interested and had knowledge or connections useful to the effort, Phil Lax took over as President and organized the effort into what it is today, The Ellis Island Restoration Commission. Initial meetings were at Federal Hall in New York City, and it was this Commission that pushed Washington officials to create an agreement to restore Ellis Island. Following a Commission meeting in Washington D.C. in 1980, at a ceremony in the offices of the Department of Interior, the restoration documents were signed by the Commission representatives and the Secretary of Interior. Ultimately, the actual restoration management and public funding effort was lead by Lee Iacocca, former Chrysler Corporation CEO, in his role as Chair of the Ellis Island Foundation.

Even as restorations were ongoing in the early 1980ís, however, Lax and the other members of the Restoration Commission continued in other directions, most critically to push for immigration records on paper, such as ships manifests, to be preserved and to become available to the public. The Commissionís efforts resulted in The Family History Center, containing the arrival records of those who came through Ellis Island, which are available for viewing at the Island or through the internet. As president, Lax appointed Norm Liss, a Commission officer, as Chairman of Development.† It was under the auspices of the Commission, with Liss directing the effort, that the third floor library in the main building of Ellis Island was named the Bob Hope Memorial Library, after the comedian Bob Hope, one of the most famous of all immigrants who entered the United States through Ellis Island.

And it was under the auspices of the Commission that the third floor library in the main building of Ellis Island was named the Bob Hope Memorial Library, after the comedian Bob Hope, one of the most famous of all immigrants who entered the United Station through Ellis Island.

Beside his work with Ellis Island, Phil devoted much of his non-career time to other humanitarian and charitable causes, including Bínai Brith, Rutgers University Hillel, the American Jewish Historical Society, and the National Conference on Soviet Jewry.

Phil was predeceased by his wife of 55 years, Mildred, in 2003. He is survived by his second wife, Madeline; two daughters, Corinne Lax German and Barbara Lax Kranz; two stepsons, Alan and Mark Blondman; a brother, Oscar; three grandchildren; and four step-grandchildren.

© 2014 Ellis Island Restoration Commission