Seaport Museum in Danger

For many years, the masts and spars of the tall ships Peking and Wavertree, docked at piers 15 and 16 on the Manhattan waterfront, have been a familiar sight from the Promenade, as have the schooner Pioneer and the doughty little tug W.O. Decker sailing on the East River. Unfortunately, all of these ships are in danger of being sent elsewhere or, in the case of the magnificent Peking, the largest of the tall ships in the photo above, of being sold for scrap. Already, the Seaport Museum of New York (formerly the South Street Seaport Museum) has laid off all of the staff responsible for maintaining the ships, and cruises on Pioneer and Decker have been cancelled. In addition, the historic Bowne & Co. Print Shop has been closed, and is in danger of losing its valuable antique presses and other artifacts. Friends of the Museum, including its founder, Peter Stanford, are trying to rally support to save it, the ships and the print shop from being lost. In the photo above, the retired fireboat John J. Harvey, now privately owned, sprayed water yesterday afternoon in support of a rally to save the Seaport. To learn more, see the website Save Our Seaport. There is also a Friends of Bowne website.

Share this Story:

, , , , , , , , , ,

  • Buddy Holly

    Tow them across the river to the BBP.

  • bornhere

    I know I tend to argue for “things were better ‘before,’ ” but I firmly believe that is the case here, and that the “mallishness” ruined South Street. When the “draw” was the Museum, the big ships, the Fulton Fish Market, and restaurants such as Sweet’s and Sloppy Louie’s, the history of the area lived; now it has devolved into yet another “venue,” and the loss is ours. I really hope the efforts to save the Museum succeed.

  • Jeffrey j Smith

    To understand what is now happening to the Seaport area you first have to go back to the power group who saw BIG profits and lots of personal glory and threw out Peter Stanford, the inventor and founder
    of the seaport and, just as bornhere said, replaced the historic structure with, well, the typical yuppie/tourist “destination”. Thinking people region wide saw how Peter Stanford was treated and quietly but firmly began to limit their involvement..and support of the “new” venture.

    Everyone interested should look into the actions and influence of the major downtown Real Estate families (especially one that starts with “R”) in converting the seaport from what it had gained nationwide fame and respect as and what it later became.

    By the way, callous destructiveness is not limited to downtown Manhattan. Remember when Howie Golden saw to it that the National Maritime Historic Society and sea Museum was thrown out of its
    Home in the former Harbor Fire station? Remember when certain neighborhood associations and MAJOR Heights figures REFUSED to take any action to help the society or make any objection
    Whatsoever to what was happening?

    My family and especially my mother was present for all of this (yes, That, Mrs. Smith)

    Now lets see….its no longer the debt driven 90’s or early 2000’s the yuppie have run out of money, tourism is for some strange reason is no longer surging. There has been NO explosion in real estate riches anywhere near what was expected. The Brooklyn Harbor firehouse is a little used shell…and the Seaport is “in trouble”….

    Peter Stanford is the nicest guy in the world; he wants to help the situation. Most people who were
    Treated like he was would be looking around for a source of fissionable material…

  • forkuu

    they have always added astmosphere to the seaport . to see them go and decline is terrible.. something must be done .. if they can be kept there how about the new brooklyn area behind ikea or behind safe way.. open them up for vistors charge a fee.

  • Hicks on hicks

    Have any of you actually visited this “museum”? I visited the museum with my 3 daughters several years ago. Not a single one of us found it the least bit interesting. This “museum” should fade away.

  • Claude Scales

    Hicks on hicks: because a sample of four people didn’t find the museum interesting, all of us who care deeply about New York’s maritime history should be denied it? What did you see while you were there? Did you go on board any of the ships, or visit the print shop?

    The museum has been poorly run for some time. Those of us who want to save it want to see it run so that if you and your daughters re-visit it you may come away with a different impression.

  • Hicks on hicks

    We checked out every aspect of the museum. The most interesting item was the model of the Queen Mary, the ship my mother was on as she emigrated from France.

    If a museum is poorly run and shouldn’t be shut down, what kind of museum should be shut down?

  • David on Middagh

    @bornhere: You are too polite, calling South Street Seaport a “venue”. It’s a tourist trap.

    I’m afraid our Brooklyn Bridge Park is going the same way.

  • Claude Scales

    Shutting down the museum instead of trying to make it better means depriving New York of its maritime history. It also means losing the sight of sailing ships from the Promenade, not to mention cruises on Pioneer and Decker.

  • Andrew Porter

    I was involved peripherally with Peter Stanford and his National Maritime Museum when it was headquartered in the old fireboat station on Brooklyn’s Fulton Ferry, now site of the ice cream store. As originally conceived, the South Street Seaport Museum was to showcase the proud maritime history of old New York, in an area which was a commercial backwater, kept alive by the many vendors and companies which supported the Fulton Fish Market.

    With the removal of the Market to the South Bronx, that support network dissolved, the restaurants frequented by a steady stream of tired fish workers now had to survive by catering to tourists. The area itself became a hotbed of highrise development, which threatened the very fabric of the area. And the control of the piers by the Rouse Company, which closed the many small shops on the upland and piers in favor of large retail tenants further caused a loss of interest in going to South Street. If you have retail stores that are no different than those in any other retail mall—or in any other Rouse destination (they controlled Faneuil Hall in Boston and Baltimore’s Inner Harbor shopping) — what’s the point of going there.

    As a result of that and ever higher commercial rents which forced out the quirky and individualistic shops, South Street Seaport lost its reason for existence. The loss of revenues was reflected by a loss of talent when they fired the many people who worked maintaining the ships and providing the public with evidence of New York’s now-lost maritime history.

    In an era where funding for such efforts is under severe attack, the future of this once fascinating center of nautical history is a sorry example of commercial greed and over-development getting in the way of its now-forgotten reason for existence.

  • Gerrry

    I attended a very nice fund raising dinner a few years back it was 1993 to raise funds for the South Street Seaport Museum and each guest was given a beautiful poster of 4 covers of New Yorker magazine nautical themes I had this poster framed and it hangs prominentily in my gallery at home — I had not known that the South Street Seaport Museum needed money?

    Tell me where to send a check?

  • David Sheldon

    Not everyone responsible for the maintenance of the vessels has been laid off. Certainly the work has only been made more difficult by the current situation. None the less, the crew labors on to maintain the working vessels. Volunteers still regularly join the effort. -David S.

  • Jeffrey j Smith

    Andrew Porter’s above statement is 100% correct. Except that anyone on the inside of what happened, On a day to day basis knows on a first hand basis how the board of the seaport be-
    haved, the role of the Rouse interests, and the real consequen
    ces of how Peter Stanford was treated. A very wide range of friendly and favorable figures immediately began quietly to with-
    draw their support. And the more they went toward the classic yuppie/tourist destination the more the most valuable people put distance.

    Remember when the National Maritime Historic Society and Museum went to the seaport after the forced closing of the Brooklyn Marine firehouse? Where is Howie Golden now? Where are the wonderful “directors” of the seaport now? Where are the leaders of many neighborhood associations in the Heights and elsewhere who knew all about this and directly refused to help. Sure, look at which names in real estate were involved… All of this, by the way was openly chronicled in dozens of articles in the Downtown News of that era.

    All of this is so disgusting for two reasons; First the founders of the seaport were some of the most honest and sincere people you could ever meet-who just honestly wanted to honor the seamen who braved dangerous oceans to found and grow this city…and America. They also wanted to do something of lasting good for this city…All of which made them prime targets for abuse. Second, as above, NONE of this would have gone on if key neighborhood “associations” and leading figures had not made the decision to remain quiet.

  • Mona Bregman

    I like the idea of moving the ships to Brooklyn.

  • Save Our Seaport

    There are lots of issues at the Seaport. The mall is one. From the start of it it was supposed to financially help the seaport. That failed. But the Museum held it’s course. After 9/11, revenue plumetted, yet while battered, the Museum held its course. Now, when most other Museums in the city are experiencing almost 30% more visitors, the Seaport has nearly none. During all this, they decided to change the name. To be unrecognizable completely? Who knows. There is a lot the Museum can still offer. There is a fabulous volunteer group standing by. There are able bodies willing and ready. And we welcome and need more.

    All it the Museum requires is new management.

  • BronxKid

    I agree with BornHere. The Seaport lost its “vibe” with the Pier 17 shops and the move of the Fulton Fish market. But it houses a vital part of NYC history that should be retained. So how do we lend support – other than by writing checks?

  • Save Our Seaport

    The best way to lend support is to write or call your elected officials. The city is in talks with the current museum administration to figure out some sort of transition. The same people who have driven the Museum into the hole it’s in over the last four years. Those people need to be removed now, before they can permanently spoil what is left.
    Those tall gallant ships seen from the Brooklyn shore and promenade, while perhaps not built in New York, are some of the last remaining examples of the vessels that made New York the city that it is. And grew the rest of the state, and a significant portion of the nation. And they are just a part of the resources the Museum has. But in order to save it, more people need to raise their voices.
    The Seaport won’t just move to Hunts Point like the fish market. It will be gone.