Thursday, March 05, 2015

It Is All Water Under the Ship

James M. Lindgren. Preserving South Street Seaport: The Dream and the Reality of a New York Urban District. New York: New York University Press, 2014.

The New York City Planning Commission created a plan for Lower Manhattan in 1966. David Rockefeller was among those seeking to reverse the loss of corporate and banking headquarters from the Lower Manhattan Wall Street area. Rockefeller proposed creating a $355 million World Trade Center over the Fulton Fish Market. The World Trade Center eventually was built a mile to the west.

Efforts arose to preserve the Fulton Fish Market-South Street Seaport area. It has history and preserved buildings. The loss of the Penn Station which preservationists wishes to preserved strengthened the resolve of preservationists from 1966 on. The Friends of the South Street Maritime Museum sought to preserve the area and create a museum. The museum idea was inspired by the San Francisco Maritime Museum.

The museum was created and struggled. It was taken over by the city government in 2011. The area was damaged by the strong Hurricane Sandy in 2012

Ada Louise Huxtable write for the New York TImes arguing for preserving buildings and streetscapes. She criticized public funds existing only for “expressways to rush people out of our dull and deteriorating cities.”

Whitney North “Mike”” Seymore, Jr. was elected to the State Senate in 1965. e worked on preservation issues. He saw existing 19th century buildings as an attraction for preservation and tourist. He noted Mystic Seaport in Connecticut was doing well as a reconstructed seaport.

Mystic Seaport began in 1929 as a museum. It added the Charles W. Morgan, the older remaining U.S. whaling ship, in 1941. It then expanded to create a village resembling older buildings.

Some Planning Commissioners wanted Lower Manhattan preservations to focus around Fraunces Tavern, an 18th century tavern that had been renovated in 1907. Huxtable opposed this focus as she saw Fraunces Tavern as “a 20th century fabrication on a few 18th century remains.”

The seaport museum had to make payments to the Fulton Market Watchmen’s and Protection organization for organized crime payments. Organized crime was involved in all Fulton Fish market transactions.

Fulton Street is the only Lower Manhattan street crossing the entire island river to river.

Schermerhorn Row in the Seaport area was designated as a historic landmark.

Mayor John Lindsay predicted the Seaport area would be preserved with private funds only, declaring that would “serve as a model for creative urban planning.” The master plan was to restore four and a half blocks with four blocks of commercial offices along with new apartment up to 30 floors.

David Rockefeller in 1970 agreed to co-chair a reception to favor the preserving the Ambrose ship, which would be featured in Seaport tourism. Efforts continued to preserve more old ships. Some ships were promised help in restorations that did not come through. This led to the observation that “too much plannign can kill anything.”

A private venture brought many tall ships to New York. The success o the operation, Op Sail, boosted interested in maritime tourism and Lower Manhattan sea programs.

Opposition grew against plans for high rise buildings in the Seaport area. Robert Burn, a city planner, wanted private development to finance the Seaport preservations and to improve the quality of life in the area.

It was noted Boston’s Quincy Market attracted 15 million visitors a year compared to Disney World which attracted 14 million visitors a year. The tourist aspects of Seaport preservation were heralded.

The Rouse Corporation sought to renovate the area. They wanted the fishmongers removed, in part because of the strong fish smells.

The Rouse Corporation opened the Pier 17 Seaport Mall in 1985. The odor of the 140 million pounds of fish sold there annually tried to mix with the Wall Street lunch crowd. the ara became a popular Yuppie Happy House hangout. The Seaport Marketplace was the leading Rouse company in sales per square foot. While the private Rouse venture made money, the corporation for the museum and attractions ran a deficit

In 1987, the Seaport was New York City’s third most visited site behind the Statue of Liberty and the World Trade Center.

In 1985, Jacob Isbrandtson observed “a ship is a hold in the water into which you pour money.” The Seaport had two ship attractions move to other cities and tow other ships were were decaying due to lack of financial support. The neglected ships hurt Seaport tourism and its image.

The 2001 terrorist attack severely cut tourism in September into late in the year. Foot traffic declined 80% and sightseeing buses declined 75%. Happy hour attendees vanished. Mayor Rudy Guiliani provided $5.3 million for the city owned portion of the Seaport. Suddenly in December 2001, tourism returned. “Bodies”, an exhibit of cadavers and preserved body organs drew in tourists. Hurricane Sandy forced “Bodies” to close in 2012.

Peter Stanford views the Seaport as “the great game of snatching the real estate for private profit. In short, it was all a vast swindle.” Other believe the concessions to private developers allowed preservation efforts to happen. Some decaying ships were put up for sale. A grassroots effort saved the museum. The Seaport’s future is in doubt.


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