BY JANEL BLADOW | Busy times in the neighborhood this last month. Lots of news to report.
Meet the captain… The nice thing about writing a column is that I don’t have to stick to reporting the news all the time; I can actually have an opinion.
I spent a morning talking with Captain Jonathan Boulware recently then watched him in action as he officiated sending one of his “babies,” Wavertree, out to get a $10.6-million over haul.
The South Street Seaport Museum, which named him executive director two months ago, now finally has the right captain at the helm of this teetering ship. Not since Peter Stanford founded the museum has it had such a dynamic presence to pilot it through rough waters ahead.
Boulware, who started with the museum in 2011 as the waterfront director and was promoted to interim president last year, has been around historic sailing ships all his life. He grew up in Mystic, Conn., where his dad was the head rigger at Mystic Seaport: The Museum of America and the Sea.
“I grew up steeped in America’s nautical history,” he said.
He went to sea on his first ocean voyage at 19 years old aboard the tall ship HMS Rose, a frigate built in 1757. “It was quite an experience and I was smitten with the life of ships and the sea.”
But for him it wasn’t as much about being on the ocean, on a deck and out at sea as it was about the history and traditions of ships and seafarers.
“I’ll let you in on a dirty little secret,” he said with twinkle in those eyes the color of both the sea and sky, “I’m not that passionate about sailing. I’m interested in people and how they experience their time on ships.”
As an example, he talks about his most exciting moment aboard a ship and it was during that first Atlantic sail on a tall ship.
“I remember climbing aloft in the rigging during a gale and being terrified,” he said. “I had a moment of hesitation and was hovering above a boiling sea. I remember thinking ‘I can’t.’ The guy behind shoved me. We had a job to do and there wasn’t room to not be able to do it. It all ended well and in hindsight it was quite safe. But I learned a valuable lesson about feeling smaller, less important, yet part of something amazing.”
He wants New Yorkers and tourists alike to have such moving experiences, to experience our nautical history hands-on.
“That’s one of the most overlooked aspects of what we’re about. Here’s an opportunity to touch artifacts, experience history.
“This museum is about education first and foremost. Being able to see and touch history is what makes it different from any other institution in the city….
“The South Street Seaport Museum is different from Mystic, different from maritime museums, because of its history. New York harbor played a fundamental part in America’s beginning. This is the birthplace of the United States, the center of its commerce.”
Among his plans are to get tall ships coming back to dock at Pier 16. “Having ships call here at the Seaport is vital for tourism and will drive foot traffic.”
From July 1–4, the museum will host L’Hermione, a full-size replica of the 1754 Concorde class frigate of the French Navy, which famously ferried General Lafayette to the U.S. following the American Revolution.
To see the East River as a “Street of Ships” once again will only be possible with a thriving museum in the South Street Seaport. And to that end, Captain Boulware is so committed that he and his family — his wife of 20 years and young son — are moving here this summer.
His key goal is to revitalize the museum. He notes that when it began in the 1970s, it had 25,000 members, “more than any other museum in New York City.” Today membership is growing again, and the number of volunteers is also up, more than 400.
“We want to have programs and provide experiences for schoolchildren, tourists and adult New Yorkers,” he said. “It is a vital, community-based organization that can grow as a community center in the Seaport. This museum is the people.”
The sounds of music… Seaport’s own Knickerbocker Chamber Orchestra kicks off the summer with a free concert on Friday, June 5, 8 p.m., “Hear the History” at Melville Gallery, 213 Water St. Pieces to be performed include J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations, a rollicking Mozart Divertimento, and nautical-themed treasures by Charles Ives.
Fun fundraising… Last Saturday night saw more than 150 people, including Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Councilmember Margaret Chin, wander in Cannons Walk for the Old Seaport Fundraiser. They shopped the booths of 12 local artists selling handmade soaps to pet portraits.
Music played from the newly launched Little Water Radio Station, prizes from local businesses were raffled off and bar was manned by local talents: Diane Honeywell (Nelson Blue) and Pete O’Connell (Paris Café). Organizers are so thrilled they hope to do more of these community-building events.
Hot dogs… In another fun event, the first annual “Strut, Swagger and Slobber” bulldog rescue event Saturday, May 16, in the median park on Peck Slip. Some 250 people and more than 150 dogs partied and pranced. The afternoon featured a Fido fashion parade, kissing booth and obstacle course hosted by celeb trainer Travis Brorsen.
Even Leonardo DiCaprio was sighted stopping his bike to check out the cheeky canines.
Event sponsors want to send out a big thanks to everyone who participated, including Old Seaport Alliance which helped gain city permits, Howard Hughes Corporation which donated $1,000 to bulldog rescue as well as tents and chairs. The alliance and The Salty Paw report that they raised more than $4,000 total to help bulldog rescue and have gotten called from other rescue groups to do similar fests. Look for more pup-parties to come!