Statement of the Historic Districts Council
Community Board 1 Manhattan
December 10, 2014
The Historic Districts Council is the advocate for New York City’s designated historic districts, individual landmarks and structures meriting preservation. We thank you for this opportunity to voice our opinions on the future of the South Street Seaport, one of the city’s oldest and most distinctive neighborhoods.
Built in 1810-12, Schermerhorn Row represents the earliest commercial-style architecture in New York City. Commerce in New York City began here, and for over two centuries, this group of buildings has survived as the heart of the Seaport. HDC is disturbed by the proposal to convert these rare spaces into housing of any type—affordable or not. Home to the South Street Seaport Museum, this conversion would effectively divorce the museum from its history, including the time capsule gem: the Fulton Ferry Hotel spaces. Not long ago this remarkable collection of buildings received expensive and publicly funded interior renovations to be able to operate commercially and as a museum. This functional use remains relevant and constructing a new building for the museum is unnecessary. Residential conversion will erase these spaces and leave behind only a shell.
Together, the Tin Building and the New Market Building are the city’s last remaining riverfront market halls. With only two buildings of this type left in New York City, the redevelopment and adaptive reuse of the Tin Building should preserve it in its original form, unadulterated. Accretions to the Tin Building are not merited as there is abundant space, both in the historic existing buildings and in the impending new construction. Further, HDC feels that moving a landmarked structure compromises its context: this building type is characterized by its location along the shore’s edge – directly over the water on piles.
The buildings and context of the South Street Seaport have precedence over what is proposed to exist, just as the public’s demands have precedence over the profit-making ambitions of the latest lease-holder. It is important to remember that most of the district, including the buildings in question, are not private property. They are owned by the City of New York, and its citizens have the right to help determine their future.