South St Seaport Among America’s Endangered Places

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South Street Seaport in the 1970sThe South Street Seaport has been named one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Places according the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Since 1988, the National Trust has used this campaign to raise awareness about the threats facing some of the nation’s greatest treasures.

The South Street Seaport is a designated NYC Historic District and is considered the first World Trade Center, as it was NYC’s birth place of commerce.

Located just steps from the skyscrapers of Lower Manhattan, the seaport is a neighborhood of early 19th century commercial buildings. The centerpiece of the district is Schermerhorn Row, built in 1810-12, which represents the earliest commercial-style architecture in New York and houses the South Street Seaport Museum. On the water, this neighborhood boasts historic ships and the Tin and New Market Buildings, all of which create a sense of the city’s maritime past.

These buildings, piers and docks that comprise the Seaport are owned by the City of New York’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC). Citizens have the right to help determine their future as it is not private property. Despite this, the area is threatened by insensitive proposals for development by the lease-holder, Texas-based developer Howard Hughes Corporation (HHC). Despite years of feedback from elected officials, Manhattan Community Board 1, advocacy organizations and residents, HHC has not revealed their entire plan for public comment. Part of the plan shown on official corporate renderings display a skyscraper on the site of the New Market Building, neon lighting underneath the FDR, and the Tin Building altered to a market building.

The results of this plan are a skyscraper that blocks views of the Brooklyn Bridge; neon lighting throughout the district which is garish and confusing; Schermerhorn Row gutted for housing; and the Tin Building irreparably altered (if not downright demolished) to exploit its full commercial potential.

In May 2015, EDC, citing structural issues, announced it would demolish portions of the only historic market buildings left in the Seaport and that the public should accept a “plan” from the developer to save them. HHC has not presented to the public regarding any plan since December, 2014. What’s more is that the plan presented this past winter was misleading: the public was only allowed to comment on specific components, but not the tower. As the public and City agencies await the newest proposal for public property from the private developer, the market buildings and all City-owned assets in the Seaport are allowed to crumble.

Read Charles Bagli’s article in The New York Times

To learn more about local efforts to save the Seaport visit:

Friends of the South Street Seaport
Save Our Seaport
The New York Landmarks Conservancy

Photo: The South Street Seaport, circa 1979. Building in the center (waterside) is the landmark Tin Building. White building (to the right) is the unprotected New Market Building (photo from the Library of Congress).

2 thoughts on “South St Seaport Among America’s Endangered Places

  1. James S. Kaplan

    The plan to build a 40 story high rise tower at the South Street Seaport by its current developer, the Howard Hughes Corporation, that would provide funding for the renovation of historic buildings that have comprised the South Street Seaport Museum
    has indeed been controversial and is the subject of ongoing discussions between the
    city Economic Development Corporation, Community Planning Board no. 1’s Seaport Committee and other interested parties.
    This controversy, typical of development in New York City, however, should not obscure the significant progress that is being made and is planned to be made in restoring the South Street Seaport area and Museum to its former glory. In July 1976, during the national Bicentennial the Tall Ships festival centered at the South Street Seaport and the euphoira thaqt it created was a significant factor in leading New York City and Wall Street out of the economic doldrums of the 1970s into the much more prosperous 1980’s and 1990’s. Recently, the arrival of the Hermione, the replica of Lafayette’s 1780 sailing ship at Pier 15 at the South Street Seaport for the July 4 weekend (in which our organization played a role) was a huge success, as was the first July 4 weekend parade in Lower Manhattan in almost 40 years, which began at the Hermione and ended at Bowling Green. At the beginning of the parade, Jonathan Boulware, the recently elected President of the South Street Seaport Museum, announced his plan for a visiting ships program in which different historic ships like the Hermione would regularly visit the Seaport. He also expressed his hope to rebuild the membership of the Museum to its 1976 level of 25,000.
    These efforts this July 4 weekend involved the support and cooperation of significant members of the community, including Borough President Gale Brewer, Community Planning Board 1 and its President Catherine Hughes, the South Street Seaport Museum, the various patriotic societies including the New York Veteran Corps fo Artillery, Sons of the Revolution (and its President Ambrose Richardson), the Sons of the American Revolution (and is President Wes Oler), our organization, the Lower Manhattan Historical Sociiety, and the Howard Hughes Corporation.

    With this kind of support, I hardly think the South Street Seaport will be “endangered”.

    James S. Kaplan
    President, Lower Manhattan Historical Society

  2. steve mark

    Lest we not forget, this sounds eerily familiar. The High Line was on the critical list at one point and look at it now .’Development’ shouldn’t mean just another high-rise. Those who supported the High Line instinctively knew it would develop a neighborhood, not just private real estate and it has. NYers, when exposed to their beloved City’s history seem to respond, just as it did with Hermione.


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