New York City's South Street Seaport Museum is in crisis mode.
Its ships are in terrible condition and, according to the NY Times, the museum is in talks to move all its ships to another port. This is a terribly sad turn of events, at least for those who realize that South Street is more than just a collection of chain stores on a quaint cobblestoned street.
Even the most absent-minded of shoppers and tourists can't miss the tall-masted ships in the harbor. Soon enough, those ships may be gone with no money to bring them back. If that happens, South Street will truly be just an outdoor mall.
The museum's 84-year-old founder Peter Stanford, who no longer has any connection to the place, has spoken out publicly and called for the current museum president to be fired. "They have no plan whatsoever," Stanford told the website DNAinfo. "It's just unreal. It gives you a headache."
Volunteers -- the museum has always had many good volunteers -- have started a blog called http://saveourships.wordpress.com/ and are calling on supporters to petition the mayor and other elected public officials to lend some financial support. The hope is that it's not too late. Given the tight budget and the loss of money from Albany, the city may not be in a generous mood for a museum but maybe the mayor, who gives away millions to charities each year, can come to the rescue.
Like a lot of what I write about, I have a personal connection to the Seaport because my wife was the editor of the Seaport magazine for several years in the mid to late '80s. At the time, I was working at City Hall for the NY Daily News and I'd often drive her to work or we'd have lunch together either on one of the docks or at one of the few remaining restaurants that were not pushed out by the Rouse Corporation's renovation. Nearly all those restaurants are gone now.
But forget those restaurants. South Street helped make NYC what it is today. Back in the 19th century, this seaport was the busiest port in the young nation with hundreds of tall-masted ships coming and going each and every day. All that's history of course but that was the whole point of the museum -- to recall that history and celebrate it, to remember how NYC became the great metropolis it is today.
I remember when the whole area -- before the vaunted renovation in the early '80s -- was all but abandoned and forgotten by the city. A hearty band of holdouts stayed and gave it some panache. Its beyond irony that being rediscovered may prove to be worse than forgotten. At least then it had charm.