South Street Seaport Museum Faces FEMA Funding Delays

South Street Seaport Museum
Hurricane Sandy left a swath of destruction along the eastern seaboard when she struck last October. New York City’s South Street Seaport Museum area was one of the locations hard hit with an 8-foot storm surge that left mud, sludge, and debris as part of its calling card. The museum is categorized by FEMA as a “non-essential non-profit” which means that it could take years to receive the expected funding. As a result, South Street Seaport Museum has closed its galleries at 12 Fulton Street.

Many businesses had already shut down due to the amount of damage sustained and the slow response for financial help. South Street Seaport Museum had been able to reopen its Fulton Street galleries in late December. Power was supplied by a generator but there was no escalator or elevator service. The exhibits and collections were on the upper floors and not damaged. By the end of January, the museum had raised over $800,000 from donations. Total estimated cost of repairs, however, was $22 million.

The museum was just getting back on its feet when the hurricane hit. It had undergone a change of management in September, 2011, and became part of the Museum of the City of New York. Both museums were under the leadership of Susan Henshaw Jones, President of MCNY, who wasted no time restoring the historical and maritime focus of South Street Seaport. After a year of raising money, making needed repairs on the fleet of historic ships owned by the museum, and getting down to business in all aspects of a non-profit organization, Hurricane Sandy struck.

The museum ships weathered the storm well. These 19th and early 20th-century vessels included fishing schooners used in the choppy waters of the North Atlantic, tall ships that had rounded Cape Horn, and a lightship that had been stationed in the Ambrose Channel–the main channel in and out of the Port of New York and New Jersey.

The Fulton Street location is part of historic Schermerhorn Row, a block of six counting houses constructed in 1811 by Peter Schermerhorn. Flood waters poured into the street level of the museum, neighboring stores, restaurants, and the former Fulton Fish Market buildings. The thriving tourist sight had become boarded up windows and doors.

Museum officials don’t know how long the Fulton Street galleries will be closed. Entire systems in the building have to be replaced. Until that happens, there is no temperature or humidity control, and no working elevators or escalators. Meanwhile, the buildings on Water Street are open, including Bowne Printers, a 19th-century print shop.

Written by: Cynthia Collins, Guardian Correspondent

Source: South Street Seaport Museum

Source: Working Harbor Committee

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