BY JANEL BLADOW
More people out enjoying our cobblestoned streets… yay spring!
STEEPED IN HISTORY…
Enjoy the season and learn about our neighborhood’s unique past with the South Street Seaport Museum’s series of fun and informative walks. Led by William Roka, historian and operations associate at SSSM, the program appeals not only to tourists and history fans but also to locals who love to learn about our neighborhood.
“We get a pretty good mix,” Roka told Seaport Report. “About a third tourists, a third New Yorkers and a third of the people on the tours live in the Seaport area.”
The tours started last week with a three-time limited run walkabout of the area’s ties to the tragic passenger liner HMS Titanic. Commemorating the 104th anniversary of the ship’s sinking, Roka detailed the ship’s wealthy first-class passengers’ connection to the Seaport. John J. Astor IV went down with the ship — he was the youngest child and only son of John B. Astor, Jr. and Caroline Schermerhorn Astor — yes, of Schermerhorn Row on Fulton St.
The next tour, “The Secret Life of the Brooklyn Bridge”, begins Thursday, April 21, and runs every Thursday through May 26. Roka gives details of construction and secret vaults in the archway supports.
“Years ago there were actually stores in the chambers under the bridge approach roads. In the late 1880s to 1900s, all the newspapers were on Park Row — then known unofficially as Newspaper Row — and the publishers stored machinery, newsprint and other printing materials there. In 2000, construction workers actually uncovered in a secret chamber the remains of a Cold War-era bomb shelter.”
The next walk, “A Wicked Tour of the Fourth Ward,” starts the next day, Friday, April 22, and runs for five consecutive Fridays.
“This is my favorite,” Roka explained. “In the middle of the 19th Century, the Fourth Ward was known as the Wicked Ward, the heart of the vice district. The area was rampant with prostitution, people selling alcohol on the streets, gambling and more saloons than people.”
One story he enjoys telling is actually about an early proprietress of the saloon where the Bridge Café is today.
“Gallus Mag was a real tough one,” he said. “If bar patrons were drunk or in other ways unruly, she would climb over the bar and bite off their ear. She filed her teeth to points and kept the ears in a jar behind the bar.”
Years ago, when my husband Chris Oliver was a reporter at the New York Post, he recounted that story in an article about the café. The next day, the manager presented him with a huge pickle jar filled with plastic ears floating in water. (The jar, by the way, was there for years; hopefully it still will be when the restaurant returns. On that front, the trim has been freshly painted, windows washed… but owner Adam Werpin is still waiting for Verizon!)
Those two SSSM walking tours run on Thursdays and Fridays through May, 12:15–1:30 p.m.; $25 adults, $15 seniors & museum members, $10 children. After Memorial Day, several new tours will be added to the program. Sign up online, https://southstreetseaportmuseum.org/seaportwalkingtours/.
CELEBRATION AT SEA…
The Old Seaport Alliance fund-raising gala cocktail cruise on April 5, was a massive success, organizers say. More than 200 people attended and raised $28,000 for the neighborhood improvement organization.
“It was an amazing evening,” OSA Executive Director Whitney Barret told Seaport Report. “People were meeting or reconnecting with each other. Everyone had a great time.”
Barret says the organization has been both humbled and energized by all the support they received. Among the supporters are the Downtown Alliance and New York Presbyterian Hospital, as well as newer partners such as Project Rebirth, Empire Oyster, Defend Brooklyn, and North Street Creative, which designed the gala invitations and helped create the evening’s slideshow.
The party was aboard the Hybrid, donated for the event by Hornblower New York. “Their generosity allowed us to create a really special evening for our neighbors and supporters, and gave us the opportunity to cast a wider net, so-to-speak, about the work we’re doing on behalf of the Seaport community,” said Barret.
More than 50 items for both the live and silent auction were contributed by Seaport restaurants, stores and others, including a package of 30 pounds of lobsters! Seaport resident and TV personality Contessa Brewer served as the evening’s MC, while Borough President Gale Brewer — no relation! — spoke in support of the work OSA has done for the Seaport community.
Barret offers special thanks to the evening’s gala committee headed by Diane Honeywell (Nelson Blue) and Maura Kilgore (Cowgirl Seahorse). She also sang the praises of NY Tab maps, from their gala sponsorship and guidance of the President/CEO Audrey Bretillot, who is also an OSA board member, and Kortlyn Shoemaker, who designed the evening’s program.
“We are fortunate to have an active and dedicated board, all of whom offer invaluable skills and resources to the OSA,” she said. “It was so wonderful to see how the community came together to show support for their neighborhood organization. Having so many Lower Manhattan and Seaport stakeholders represented — from the South Street Seaport Museum, to the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, to local restaurants and businesses, to friends, neighbors, local PTA members, and so many others — was incredibly meaningful. We are stronger together, and it is this kind of support that makes us more resilient as a community.”