Location: 2-18 Fulton Street
My family’s main mall, Roosevelt Field, treated its pre-history with an appalling casualness. When it was the site of an airfield, Lindbergh began his famous trip across the Atlantic there. Apparently there was a plaque commemorating the flight somewhere, but even back when I went to the mall on a weekly basis, I’d be hard-pressed to tell you where it was.
I grew up with the South Street Seaport, too. After the divorce, when Dad made a point of bonding with me and my brothers, he’d sometimes take us there. It was the big new thing at the time, 1983, 1984: festival marketplaces, malls with history acknowledged rather than steamrolled. And malls all the same.
Excepting the ships—and that’s a huge exception, they were the most obviously interesting thing (to a kid, anyway)—Schermerhorn Row was the central thesis to the Seaport’s claim to Real Actual History. The Schermerhorns built this unbroken, undifferentiated series of Federal-style warehouses in 1811 and 1812 to support all the shipping activity nearby. Gradually they accrued distinctions and differences to fit the needs of their tenants: saloons, hotels, restaurants, craft shops, on and on. And then almost all of those distinctions were lost in the renovation that turned the seaport from a dying proposition to a tourist hangout. Still, if you go inside, up to the museum space on the top floor, the corroded brick walls of these buildings, scraped and sanded as they were, are still endlessly suggestive of the raw stuff of history.
Could the pre-adolescent Michael Daddino have told you what was so important about South Street Seaport? I doubt it. It was all over my head. (The ships were cool, though.)