Board Gets Stood Up by Seaport Museum Officials

June 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

WNYC, June 22, 2011:

The president and chairman of the Seaport Museum New York opted out of attending a meeting on the maritime museum’s future at the last-minute Tuesday night, drawing the ire of community members who felt they were stood up by the officials for the second time in as many months.

An hour into the meeting in Lower Manhattan, the Manhattan’s Community Board 1 Seaport/Civic Center Committee received a letter from the museum’s president and CEO, Mary Ellen Pelzer, saying she and chairman Frank Sciame would not be attending.


Many Angered by Silence from Seaport Museum Officials

June 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

From the Tribeca Trib, June 22, 2011:

Leaders of the financially capsized Seaport Museum drew anger from a standing-room-only crowd on Tuesday after backing out of their promised appearance before a Community Board 1 committee.

For the second month in a row, CB1’s Seaport Committee had expected to hear what is going on in talks between the museum and the city over the institution’s future and the possible sale of its boats, docked at Piers 16 and 17.

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.

Thoughts on a Meeting, and Leadership

June 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

Last night several Friends of Bowne members attended the meeting of Manhattan Community Board 1 in the community room of Southbridge Towers, near the Seaport Museum. In hopes that the museum’s chairman, Frank Sciame, or president, Mary Pelzer, would appear, turnout for the meeting was large and included many activists from Save our Seaport. After an exasperating, curious round of community business that included a discussion of rodentology and bike paths, the agenda turned to museum matters.

Needless to say, we were all disappointed that Mr. Sciame and Ms. Pelzer did not show up. Sciame was receiving an award from the American Institute of Architects that night and he and Ms. Pelzer decided that a letter to the community, which was read aloud, was sufficient. The letter, in neutral language, repeated what we have been told before: the museum is in negotiations with the city to fix its financial troubles and reopen. Once these plans are further along, they will share them with the community.

After witnessing last night’s meeting, one can imagine why Sciame and Pelzer would refrain from attending. The feisty, defensive crowd was ready to lay into any representative of higher power and seemed to believe that they receive only half-truths and outright lies about any city- or corporate-planned project in their neighborhood.

By continuing to keep their planning opaque, the Seaport Museum and the city only fuel the frustration, anger, and speculation of the former volunteers, employees, and community members who have a vision of what the museum could be and who want to be helpful. If this lack of communication continues, the museum administration will face mounting ill will, even if they succeed in restoring the museum and no matter how clever and appropriate their solution. They will also make a future appearance at meetings like this more embarrassing for themselves.

Not surprisingly, anger quickly surfaced during the call for comments and questions from attendees: “We’re being too polite,” said one woman, and another called upon us to “make more noise.” A former ship volunteer stood up and demanded that “forensic accounting” be focused on the museum’s books in order to uncover the fiscal corruption that he suggested is behind the museum’s collapse. Interestingly, the Community Board member who is also on the Museum’s board, Harold Reed, scowled at this comment and shook his head slightly (it is, by the way, one of the stranger aspects of the meeting that he sat there listening to all of this yet said nothing and was asked nothing). Photographer Barbara Mensch stood and drew our attention to several men in suits in the back of the room who were from the Howard Hughes Corporation, suggesting they should explain their role in plans for the neighborhood and museum. Disappointingly, they never spoke nor were asked any questions directly.

The museum, city, and mysterious others involved in the real estate game at the Seaport are treating us like noisy, bothersome children, to be silenced with a condescending pat on the head and a “because I said so,” much like Robert Moses treated the housewives who resisted his presumptuous plans for lower Manhattan. This isn’t good parenting and it isn’t good leadership.

Seaport Museum Officials Skip Out on Public Meeting Again

June 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

From, Weds, June 22, 2011:

SOUTH STREET SEAPORT — Officials at the struggling Seaport Museum New Yorkbacked out of a public meeting at the last minute this week, leaving more than 100 locals who wanted to question them about its faltering future in the lurch….

Bowne in 1975 – Four Early Photographs

June 4, 2011 § 2 Comments

Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

In February, 1975, New York City mayor Abraham Beame visited the brand new Bowne & Co., Stationers shop for the bicentennial of Bowne & Co, Inc., the large financial printing company. In front of the mayor, who is talking to Edmund Stanley, then CEO of Bowne & Co., Inc., is the Lucite time capsule that was placed under the wall safe in Bowne. The capsule is meant to be opened in 2075. Type historians will be glad to see that the typeface Optima, then fashionable, appears on one of the documents in the capsule. Also inside: a playbill from Grease and a copy of W magazine.

Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

Mayor Beame declared February 25, 1975 “Bowne Bicentennial Day” and presented a proclamation to Edmund Stanley and Peter Stanford.

Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

The Mayor printed a business card for himself on a tiny card press.

Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

Edmund Stanley and unidentified friends in Bowne.

All photos from the Edmund A. Stanley Collection at the Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library

History of a History Museum

May 30, 2011 § 6 Comments

excerpt from page 8 of The Livable City, 1981

We’ve discovered in our work with Friends of Bowne that there is a lot of confusion about the history of Bowne & Co., Stationers and the Seaport Museum, leading to much speculation, conspiracy theories, and uncertainty about how to change things. In an effort to make sense of the past and the present, we are making available a PDF scan of an article about the Seaport that was published by the Municipal Art Society in New York City. Entitled “The South Street Seaport Museum,” the article appeared in The Livable City Number 8/1, in June 1981, and was written by the architectural historian Barry Lewis and Virginia Dajani, at that time an Associate Director of the Municipal Art Society and a Loeb Fellow at Harvard University.

You can find the article PDF here: South Street Seaport Museum article PDF

The article took two years to write and the authors interviewed 35 people, most of whom requested anonymity. Lewis and Dajani attempted “to take an objective look at the history of the South Street Seaport Museum” and succeeded in writing a mostly even-toned account of the complex dealings that established the museum and kept it alive during the economic recession of the 1970s. Only occasionally do notes of anger emerge, especially in a sidebar about the Jasper Ward House, a former Seaport property with a complicated past. The Jasper Ward sidebar ends with the question “What is really going on down at South Street?,” a question many of us still ask. The authors would probably have been even more exasperated if they had known that the Seaport Museum would eventually sell the Jasper Ward House to a private buyer.

Bowne & Co. is briefly mentioned in the article. In a section about the Museum’s difficulties caring for its collection (p. 6), there is this:

“One board member has said: ‘After ten years of existence, there was nothing to show except the Bowne Shop on land and the Peking on the sea.’ Both the Peking and the Bowne Shop were helped financially – and spiritually – by individual Museum board members who acted as project godfathers. The Peking was given to the Seaport by board member Jack Aron, who paid for its restoration. The much-acclaimed Bowne Shop, a restored, 19-century print shop, was created and is still maintained by board member Ted Stanley, who is the head of the the very-much-alive Bowne & Company publishing house on Hudson Street. Stanley has been mentioned by several Museum-watchers as one of the few board members left who understand the Seaport’s original vision.”

On the same page:

“Some of the Museum’s programs have been admirable: The Bowne Shop, the excellent Viking ship program presented in Autumn 1980, the Seaport’s traditional summer programs for children, the exhibit on the Hudson river ships (one of the Museum’s best), and the revival, at long last, of the ship restoration program.”

Apologies: the PDF is a scan of a xerox, so the images are not clear. One page of drawings by the developer Rouse, page 10, was left out because the images were illegible.

Doug Clouse