The South Street Seaport is a historic area in the New York City borough of Manhattan, centered where Fulton Street meets the East River, and adjacent to the Financial District. The Seaport is a designated historic district, and is distinct from the neighboring Financial District. It is part of Manhattan Community Board 1 in Lower Manhattan, and is bounded by the Financial District to the west, southwest, and north; the East River to the southeast; and Two Bridges to the northeast.
It features some of the oldest architecture in downtown Manhattan, and includes the largest concentration of restored early 19th-century commercial buildings in the city. This includes renovated original mercantile buildings, renovated sailing ships, the former Fulton Fish Market, and modern tourist malls featuring food, shopping, and nightlife.
The Fish Market during the Great Depression
Scan by NYPL
The first pier in the area appeared in 1625, when the Dutch West India Company founded an outpost here. With the influx of the first settlers, the area was quickly developed. One of the first and busiest streets in the area was today's Pearl Street, so named for a variety of coastal pearl shells. Due to its location, Pearl Street quickly gained popularity among traders. The East River was eventually narrowed. By the second half of the 17th century, the pier was extended to Water Street, then to Front Street, and by the beginning of the 19th century, to South Street. The pier was well reputed, as it was protected from westerly winds and ice of the Hudson River.
In 1728, the Schermerhorn Family established trade with the city of Charleston, South Carolina. Subsequently, rice and indigo came from Charleston. At the time, the port was also the focal point of delivery of goods from England. In 1776, during the American Revolutionary War, the British occupied the port, adversely affecting port trade for eight years. In 1783, many traders returned to England, and most port enterprises collapsed. The port quickly recovered from the post-war crisis. From 1797 until the middle of 19th century, New York had the country's largest system of maritime trade. From 1815 to 1860 the port was called the Port of New York.
On February 22, 1784, the Empress of China sailed from the port to Guangzhou and returned to Philadelphia on May 15, 1785, bringing along, in its cargo, green and black teas, porcelain, and other goods. This operation marked the beginning of trade relations between the newly formed United States and the Qing Empire.
On January 5, 1818, the 424-ton transatlantic packet James Monroe sailed from Liverpool, opening the first regular trans-Atlantic voyage route, the Black Ball Line. Shipping on this route continued until 1878. Commercially successful transatlantic traffic has led to the creation of many competing companies, including the Red Star Line in 1822. Transportation significantly contributed to the establishment of the New York one of the centers of world trade.
One of the largest companies in the South Street Seaport area was the Fulton Fish Market, opened in 1822. In 2005, it was moved to the area of Hunts Point, Bronx.
In November 1825, the Erie Canal, located upstate, was opened. The canal, connecting New York to the western United States, facilitated the economic development of the city. However, for this reason, along with the beginning of the shipping era, there was a need to lengthen the piers and deepen the port.
On the night of December 17, 1835 a large fire in New York City destroyed 17 blocks, and many buildings in the South Street Seaport burned to the ground. Nevertheless, by the 1840s, the port recovered, and by 1850, it reached its heyday:
At its peak, the port hosted many commercial enterprises, institutions, ship-chandlers, workshops, boarding houses, saloons, and brothels. However, by the 1880s, the port began to be depleted of resources, space for the development of these businesses was diminishing, and the port became too shallow for newer ships. By the 1930s, most of the piers no longer functioned, and cargo ships docked mainly on ports on the West Side and in Hoboken. By the late 1950s, the old Ward Line docks, comprising Piers 15, 16, and part of 17, were mostly vacant.
Part of Schermerhorn Row, early 19th-century mercantile buildings
The South Street Seaport Museum was founded in 1967 by Peter and Norma Stanford. When originally opened as a museum, the focus of the Seaport Museum conservation was to be an educational historic site, with shops mostly operating as reproductions of working environments found during the Seaport's heyday.
In 1982, redevelopment began to turn the museum into a greater tourist attraction via development of modern shopping areas. The project was undertaken by the prominent developer James Rouse and modeled on the concept of a "festival marketplace," a leading revitalization strategy throughout the 1970s. On the other side of Fulton Street from Schermerhorn Row, the main Fulton Fish Market building, which had become a large plain garage-type structure, was rebuilt as an upscale shopping mall. Pier 17's old platforms were demolished and a new glass shopping pavilion raised in its place, which opened in August 1983.
The original intent of the Seaport development was the preservation of the block of buildings known as Schermerhorn Row on the southwest side of Fulton Street, which were threatened with neglect or future development, at a time when the history of New York City's sailing ship industry was not valued, except by some antiquarians. Early historic preservation efforts focused on these buildings and the acquisition of several sailing ships. Almost all buildings and the entire Seaport neighborhood are meant to transport the visitor back in time to New York's mid-19th century, to demonstrate what life in the commercial maritime trade was like. Docked at the Seaport are a few historical sailing vessels, including the Wavertree. A section of nearby Fulton Street is preserved as cobblestone and lined with shops, bars, and restaurants. The Bridge Cafe, which claims to be "The Oldest Drinking Establishment in New York" is in a building that formerly housed a brothel.
In 2012, Hurricane Sandy heavily damaged the Seaport; tidal floods (seven feet deep in places) inundated much of the Seaport causing extensive damage that forced an end to plans to restore the Museum's fortunes by merging it into the Museum of the City of New York. Many of the businesses closed, and the remaining businesses suffered from a severe drop in business after the storm. The South Street Seaport Museum re-opened in December 2012. The Howard Hughes Corporation, the Seaport's owner, announced that it would tear down the Seaport's most prominent shopping area, Pier 17, as part of a broader redevelopment of the neighborhood. The new pier, containing retail, restaurants, and a rooftop performance venue, is set to open in summer 2018.
Ownership and management
The Seaport is currently owned and managed by the Howard Hughes Corporation. Formerly, it was run by General Growth Properties, who acquired the Seaport's longtime owner, the Rouse Company, in 2004. As part of its restructuring, General Growth spun off the Howard Hughes Corporation.
Designated by Congress in 1998 as one of several museums which together make up "America's National Maritime Museum", South Street Seaport Museum sits in a 12 square-block historic district that is the site of the original port of New York City. The Museum has over 30000sqft of exhibition space and educational facilities. It houses exhibition galleries, a working 19th-century print shop, an archeology museum, a maritime library, a craft center, a marine life conservation lab, and the largest privately owned fleet of historic ships in the country.
Shopping mall and tourist attraction
At the Seaport a mall and tourism center, is built on Pier 17 on the East River. Visitors may choose from among many shops and a food court. Currently, Pier 17 is closed and is scheduled to reopen in 2018. However, there are other dining and clothing boutiques opened in the area worth checking out. Decks outside on pier 15 allow views of the East River, Brooklyn Bridge, and Brooklyn Heights.
At the entrance to the Seaport is the Titanic Memorial lighthouse.
Sports broadcaster ESPN will open a radio and television studio at Pier 17, covering 17000ft2.
Ships in the port
The Titanic memorial
CC BY-SA 3.0
The museum has five vessels docked permanently or semi-permanently, four of which have formal historical status.
Name Year of launch Type Description Picture Notes
United States Lightship LV-87 1908 Lightship LV-87 is a lightship 135ft long and 29ft wide, built in Camden, New Jersey in 1907. It was stationed at the entrance to Ambrose Channel and became the third lightship there since 1854. In 1932 the ship was replaced by the new LV-111 ship and moved to the Scotland Station. LV-87 was retired in 1966 and sent to the South Street Seaport in 1968. In 1989 it gained National Historic Landmark status.
Lettie G. Howard 1893 Schooner The fishing schooner was launched in Essex, Massachusetts. The vessel is 125ft long overall and 21ft wide. The schooner was used for fishing mostly off the coast of Yucatan. In 1989 it was given National Historic Landmark status.
Pioneer 1885 Schooner The schooner was launched in Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania in Pennsylvania. Initially, it was rigged as a sloop, but in 1895 it was rerigged as a schooner. The vessel is 102feet long. Its hull was originally wrought iron but was rebuilt in steel in the 1960s. It was used for transportation of various goods: sand, wood, stone, bricks and oyster shells. Now it is used for educational tours of New York Harbor.
W. O. Decker 1930 Tugboat The 52foot steam tug was built in Long Island City, Queens and first named Russell I. Subsequently, the engine was replaced by a 175hp diesel engine. In 1986 the boat was transferred to the South Street Seaport museum. In 1996 it was entered in the National Register of Historic Places.
Wavertree 1885 Freighter The ship was launched in Southampton. It is 325ft long including spars and 263ft on deck. The ship is the largest remaining wrought iron vessel. Initially it was used for transporting jute from east India to Scotland, and then was involved in the tramp trade. In 1947 it was converted into a sand barge, and in 1968 it was acquired by the South Street Seaport Museum. In 1978 the ship was entered in the National Register of Historic Places.
- – Designated National Historic Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places
- – On the National Register of Historic Places
and W. O. Decker
operate during favorable weather.
South Street Seaport is currently served by the New York City Bus route.
New York Water Taxi directly serves South Street Seaport on Fridays, weekends, and holidays during the summer, while other New York Water Taxi, NYC Ferry, and SeaStreak ferries serve the nearby ferry slip at Pier 11/Wall Street daily.
The Fulton Street/Fulton Center station complex is the closest New York City Subway station. A new subway station, provisionally called Seaport, has been proposed as part of the unfunded Phase 4 of the Second Avenue Subway. Although this station will be located only 3 blocks from the Fulton Street station, there are no plans for a free transfer between them.
In popular culture
- The seaport is a crucial location in the movie I Am Legend (2007), in which Will Smith's character broadcasts that he will be there each day at noon, to meet any fellow survivors of a virus outbreak.
- The seaport was used in The Adjustment Bureau (2011) as well.
- In the video game Crysis 2 (2011), Pier 17 was featured as a multi-player map.
- The original Sub Pop version of Nirvana's "In Bloom" video was filmed here in 1990. The video features Kurt, Krist, and Chad clowning around inside the South Street Mall as well as on Wall Street.
- The venue is home to the Seaport Music Festival each summer.