South Street Seaport: The All-in-One

The South Street Seaport traces its roots back 400 years – to the earliest days of the area we now know as lower Manhattan.  

In the 17th century, as a steady influx of European settlers precipitated the displacement of the native Lenape tribe, the waterfront and surrounding neigborhoods of the South Street Seaport District were quickly becoming developed. The Dutch West India Company establish an outpost there, the first pier was built in 1625, and the area attracted many settlers and traders eager to take advantage of the riches and promise of this “new world”.

Throughout the following centuries – during peace and war, and despite The Great Fire of 1835 – the port and surrounding neighborhoods (such as Schermerhorn Row) grew and prospered into a vital international port and commercial hub.  In its heyday, the seaport was known as The Port of New York, becoming the nation’s “largest system of maritime trade” by the earlier half of the 19th century. Yet, into the early-to-mid 20th century, depleting real estate, inadequate waters to accommodate newer vessels, and changes in the shipping industry caused many of the docks and piers to fall into disrepair or obsolescence.

South Street Seaport

By the 1970s, a group of citizens organized to both protect the area from impending demolition, and create a harmonious co-existence of history and modern development. Over the years, this group and its supporters not only purchased many of the abandoned buildings along Schermerhorn Row, but installed many historic vessels, opened a maritime museum, and funded a complete revitalization of the area which ultimately became one of New York City’s favorite tourist destinations.

Designated as a National Historic District in 1978, the seaport district boasted the city’s biggest collection of restored 19th century buildings, boutique shops, a museum, Pier 17 Mall, historic destinations, fine dining, and beautiful views of the river, the Brooklyn Bridge, Brooklyn’s waterfront, and the NYC skyline.

True to New York City’s spirit of evolution and revitalization –  and recovery after 9/11 and Superstorm Sandy – today, the district is undergoing yet another multi-phased redevelopment by one of the country’s most pre-eminent master plan-community builders, Howard Hughes Corporation. In the middle of a multi-phased renovation project, tourists and native New Yorkers alike are enjoying the best in culture, history, shopping fine dining, entertainment and waterfront attractions.  

Pier 17

The showpiece of Hughes’ $1.7 billion renovation project is Pier 17, currently underway. While many sections of this brand new structure at the former site of the Pier 17 Mall are already open, its completion will make available the finest in first-class dining, designer and retail brand shopping, culture, and entertainment.

Comprised primarily of glass, the waterfront and view of The Brooklyn Bridge serve as a major design element in this 4-story marvel of modern architecture. Along with its surrounding streetscape and separate structures, the newly imaged Pier 17 offers 400,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, studios, open-air pedestrian walkways, and eventually, a 1.5-acre rooftop venue with a bar and restaurant – perfect for concerts, fashion shows, and many other special events.

South Street Seaport

Tin Building

Adjacent to Pier 17 is The Tin Building, which was home to the centuries-old Fulton Fish Market until it relocated to the Bronx in 2005. With a nearly-completed reconstruction project underway, Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten brings his Midas touch and sense of nostalgia to the newly-imagined fish market and eatery.

Vongerichten’s vision is to honor the area’s history and connection with the waterfront, while reclaiming its original purpose as one of the country’s most renowned seafood warehouses. The new market will feature “locally-sourced, organically grown products as well as authentic and accessible prepared foods and merchandise.”

South Street Museum

The heart and soul of South Street Seaport can be found among the restored 19th century buildings and nearby exhibits that comprise the South Street Museum complex. Everything you’d ever want to know, see, touch, or explore regarding this historically-significant maritime hub can be found walking along the original cobblestoned streets that lead to many of these vibrant and varied exhibits and destinations.

There are many exhibits featuring maritime artifacts and culture, architectural landmarks, archaeological finds, a 19th century letterpress and more. The museum also offers walking tours of Schermerhorn Row and the Seaport, or for something more adventurous, board the museum’s fleet of five historic vessels. You can even set sail aboard one of these ships – an 1885 schooner called the Pioneer, for 2-hour day or evening cruises along the New York Harbor.

South Street Seaport

Boat Excursions

South Street Seaport is also the boarding point for many other sight-seeing cruises and tourist destinations around New York’s waterways. From landmark cruises, to voyages to the Statue of Liberty, to dining, brunch and social cruises, the seaport area is a convenient departure point.

The Fulton Market Building’s iPic Theaters

For a luxury dine-in theater experience, the newly refurbished Fulton Market Building offers a series of iPic theaters complete with comfy oversized chairs, cocktails, and delicious food to enjoy while you watch your movie. For a bit more luxury, splurge on a premium ticket for full reclining chairs, pillows and blankets, and waiter service.

Every Day Is An Event At South Street Seaport

With so much going on in the South Street Seaport District (and so much more in store once the Hughes’ revitalization project is complete), you’ll never run out of things to do, see, eat, or experience.

Along with everything listed here, the district hosted many concerts, festivals, seasonal events and other happenings throughout the year that will keep you coming back time and time again.

Look for next week’s blog, “Ferries: The Experience and Destination.

Explore New York City

Discover top attractions and see how close they are.