History + Architecture 4ever (why wedding photographers like the Seaport)

June 25, 2011 § 1 Comment

Water Street

Water Street at Bowne, before the renovation of Titanic Park

As the Save Our Seaport rally was breaking up on May 22, a few of us attending the event were distracted by a wedding party being photographed nearby. Oblivious to the rally’s cheers and singing, a wedding photographer arranged a couple and their attendants in front of the Seaport Museum’s ship Peking. We joked that the museum should raise money for the ships by charging photographers for using the ships as picturesque backdrops.
On the way out of the Seaport neighborhood after the rally, a couple of us peered in the windows at Bowne, which looked untouched. Another wedding group came up Water Street towards us and began to pose for photos in front of Bowne, despite the “Closed” sign on the door.
Wedding photography was common at Bowne when it was open. Formally dressed couples stood on the steps in front of Bowne, embraced awkwardly on the bench in Cannon’s Walk behind the shop, and even occasionally asked to come inside. The appeal of good-looking old buildings and ships as background scenery is obvious, but insufficient explanation for the number of weddings photographed at the Seaport, and, by extension, for the desire by anyone to visit the neighborhood. Newlyweds are notable representatives of all who visit the Seaport District because they choose to publicly record their union (perhaps legalized in nearby City Hall) in a space that is not only pretty and represents New York City, but is equal to the momentous experience of marriage. The couples at Bowne wanted to cleave to the significance of the place.
The appeal of the Seaport District transcends the picturesque. Effective preservation retains the sense of the “historical sublime” that first inspired preservationists. The surviving, decrepit Seaport neighborhood of the 1960s struck the founders of the South Street Seaport Museum as a thrilling link to the past, a place that evoked visions of life at sea, the frantic merchant activity along the water’s edge, and the emotional tumult of arrivals and departures by all nationalities and classes.
Judging by the number of newlyweds who are photographed in the neighborhood, the Seaport, despite its many setbacks, still retains some of what inspired the Seaport founders. Subtle scale differences in the streetscape signal that this place is significant, though most visitors may not be able to say exactly why. By trying NOT to change details of the Seaport, its founders passed on an environment that can still resonate today, if it is allowed to.
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