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Neglected Titanic Memorial: ‘Like their graves have not been tended’

At the entrance to the South Street harbor stands a dilapidated, rusty old lighthouse at the corner of a landlocked street, its lanterns dark, dwarfed by modern towers to its south and west. Rarely at a glance from most people who visit the shops and bars on Fulton Street, this 109-year-old Titanic Memorial lighthouse, which once presided over the East River watershed from a much higher altitude, illuminates its distinctive green beacon miles. Near Sandy Hook at the southern entrance to Lower New York Bay.

A new conservation group, which includes descendants, has been pushing for the restoration of the lighthouse for more than two and a half years, while the owner of the structure, the South Street Seaport Museum, has more immediately focused on the struggle for survival.

After decades of financial hardship, the museum could finally come to the brink of long-term stability with the payment of $ 40 million for museum facilities as part of Howard Hughes Corporation’s development plan for 250 watts cents. A large parking lot to the north of the lighthouse.

Hughes, who controls most of the South Street Seaport Historic District, paid about $ 183 million in 2018 to buy the parking lot, which is located on the western edge of the district. The corporation has received original approval from the city to install a 324-foot-tall, mixed-use luxury tower on the site, but the project is being challenged in court by a local advocacy group.

The 109-year-old Titanic Memorial Lighthouse at the South Street Seaport Museum in New York, June 1, 2022. A new conservation group is calling for the restoration of the long-tolerant memory lighthouse, but funding is lacking. (NYT)

On April 15, 1913, a year after more than 1,500 souls were lost after the Titanic collided with an iceberg, the Titanic Memorial Lighthouse Tower was dedicated with great ceremony and mourning. Designed by Warren and Wetmore, architects of the Grand Central Terminal, the lighthouse stood on the 12-story roof of the Flemish-style Seamen Church Institute in the waters off 25 South St.

It was raining, the institute’s magazine The Lookout reported, “and the tower came out of the fog a little detached from the impressive, dignified, New York and surrounding skyscrapers that make up its background.”

About 300 people gathered in the auditorium of the institute, half staffed with British and American flags. A speaker announced that the “heart of the city” was “as shocked and saddened as it rarely has been” by the failure to reach the Titanic’s port of New York.

Above the lighthouse was a “time ball” that dropped a mast at noon on a telegraph signal from the US Naval Observatory in Washington. The time ball allows captains to set their chronometers before leaving port. They can later find their longitude at sea by calculating the difference between the local time of a ship, determined by the position of the sun and stars, and the local time in New York City is shown on their chronometers.

For 55 years, the monument’s distinctive green light has shone on the harbor, helping guide ships in the harbor. But in 1968, the Siemens Church Institute moved to the new quarters, and the lighthouse was donated to the South Street Seaport Museum by the Kaiser-Nelson Steel and Salvage Corporation. The lighthouse sat on Pier 16 until 1976, when it moved to a bicentennial. Grants from Exxon Corporation to its current location on Fulton and Pearl Road.

In stark contrast to the high-profile 1913 dedication, the April 15 lighthouse event this year, the 110th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, was a humble affair.

“There will probably be more speakers than spectators,” said Adrian Sacker, president of the Friends of Titanic Lighthouse Recovery, as he laid a wreath at the monument’s pockmarked concrete base. “But when it is restored to its original historical status with its time ball and beacon, they will come in groups.”

In the end, only 17 people gathered to listen to the four speakers, many of whose voices were carried in the air or lost in traffic jams.

Angelica Harris spoke to her husband’s uncles, Alberto and Sebastiano Perachio, assistant waiters at the restaurant A la Carte on the Titanic who drowned as teenagers.

“Those who don’t have graves,” he said, placing a bouquet of roses under the lighthouse, “let it be their graves.”

A plaque on the 109-year-old Titanic Memorial Lighthouse in New York, June 1, 2022. A new conservation group is calling for the restoration of the long-tolerant memorial lighthouse, but there is a lack of funding. (NYT)

The Friends has huge goals, including restoring the lighthouse to its original working condition at a cost of over $ 500,000. Finally, Sacker, a marketer and fundraiser who was born to British parents and is now a U.S. citizen, hopes to hold an international design competition for a vertical Titanic museum at Pier 16, with a restored lighthouse at the top.

There are museums dedicated to telling the story of the Titanic in Belfast, Liverpool and Southampton, he said. “The question is: why not New York?”

In 2017 Sack contacted the first South Street Seaport Museum about restoring the lighthouse. After being repeatedly told by the museum’s president and chief executive, Captain Jonathan Boulevard, that the museum has no staff and no funds, Sack formed his independent friends to launch the project. Group in 2019. She received support from descendants of Titanic passengers such as Helen Benziger, granddaughter of Margaret Brown, a Titanic survivor, led fundraisers for Titanic survivors, and gained a reputation as the unsinkable Molly Brown.

Benziger said of the lighthouse, “It was built to honor those who were killed, and it did not take care of their graves.”

In the long run, friends’ funds are significantly lower. Despite collecting 21,600 signatures and support from elected officials to list the lighthouse in the National Register of Historic Place, the group failed to translate that wish into cash. Corporate sponsors rejected the group’s initiative and in late June, a GoFundMe campaign launched in January 2021 raised just 5,106.

Nor did the seaport museum show any interest in following Saker’s leadership.

“The Titanic lighthouse is a connected object in the museum’s collection as a practical matter, which puts us in a position of legal responsibility to take care of the specimen and indeed restore it,” Boulevard said. He added: “The Louvre is not responsible for the recovery of the Mona Lisa to a private group.”

When Friends prepared the paperwork to include New York State in the State and National Register of Historic Places program in 2020, the museum did not sign the proposal, hampering the effort.

Boulevard said the museum is open to following a national registration list, but the effort has been led by the museum, “but we are very focused on making sure the museum can survive.”

Hughes plans to raise 1 million to improve the tiny Titanic Memorial Park, on which the monument stands, along with new trees and seating, but no work on the lighthouse.

Above the road, the developer’s proposed 250-watt cent tower has received design approval from the City Planning Commission and the City Council, as well as the Landmark Commission. But in February, the Sport Support Coalition, a local advocacy group, filed a lawsuit in the New York State Supreme Court against multiple city agencies seeking to revoke and vacate land use and zoning approvals for Hughes’ proposed tower.

If the Seaport Coalition fails, the $ 40 million that Hughes paid the city for development rights to build its tower will be placed in a fund that the museum can use as an endowment. The city is providing $ 10 million for the museum’s capital project.

“For the past eight years, the museum has hung at its fingertips,” Boulevard said, “and now we find ourselves in a position we need to join and that includes the lighthouse” – a “powerful artifact” whose Recovery “needed.

The immediate priority of the museum is to re-open museum spaces to make them available to the public.

Boulevard says he has no timeline for any lighthouse recovery, “but if a $ 25,000 or $ 5 million check arrives this week, we’ll start this week.”

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