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Tour South Street

ships at south street seaport

A Fresh Look at South Street – Saturday, October 2, 2:00 p.m.

We will explore the nooks and crannies of the old South Street Seaport area, which through much of the 19th century defined the New York economy and created many of the city’s greatest fortunes. We’ll look at historic buildings (some landmarked, others not), discuss historic buildings no longer standing, talk about the lives of the legendary South Street merchants, look at the 20th-century changes, peer into the future of the district, and consider the area’s literary associations.

Architectural historian Francis Morrone writes about his first impressions of South Street:

When I first moved to New York, South Street was very different from what it is now. There was no mall. The Fulton Fish Market was there, and the classic fish restaurants that Joseph Mitchell wrote about, such as Sloppy Louie’s and Sweets, were there. Marvelous crumbling buildings from the early and mid-19th century ringed the whole bottom of Manhattan island. They reminded us of the time the docks here were the busiest in America, when the shippers and counting house proprietors, engaged in the import and export of dizzying varieties of goods, built up the “old money” fortunes of New York, and originated Wall Street.

This was the South Street with which a young Manhattan native named Herman Melville became intimately familiar. And it was the South Street left behind by the tide of progress. Still, the Fish Market flourished and the area provided the setting for Joseph Mitchell’s classic mixtures of reportage and fiction that appeared in The New Yorker in the 1940s and 1950s, such as “Up in the Old Hotel” and “Old Mr. Flood.” I’d read some of these before I came to New York and they, as much as anything I’d read, formed my youthful picture of New York. And it’s why South Street was for me the most delectable part of Manhattan. For a while at least–until a new tide of progress eliminated the ghostly fringe of downtown (and shut down Sloppy Louie’s and Sweets). But in the process of progress, old buildings that had seemed on the verge of collapse were preserved, and they still provide enough of the South Street story’s backbone that what’s no longer there can easily be imagined. So I hope you’ll join me in seeking out some of the rich history of a neighborhood that once absolutely defined New York.