The Titanic Memorial Lighthouse could use a little freshening up. The landlocked lighthouse at the corner of Fulton and Pearl Streets in the South Street Seaport was last restored in 1976. Now, the South Street Seaport Museum has requested new proposals from “qualified architectural firms to provide architectural and preservation services.” The goal of this latest round of restoration work is to have the lighthouse shine once more.
The Titanic Memorial Lighthouse hasn’t always stood at the spot it does now. The beacon was originally constructed to adorn the roof of the Seamen’s Church Institute at the corner of South Street and Coenties Slip (now Vietnam Veterans Plaza). When the cornerstone of the building was laid, a plan was conceived to create a memorial to the 1,500 lives lost in the tragic sinking of the RMS Titanic.
The memorial lighthouse, designed by Warren & Wetmore (architects of Grand Central Terminal) was a crowd-funded effort. The construction of the lighthouse was funded by everyone from the wealthiest of New York City’s elite to schoolchildren who sent in their hard-earned pennies and nickels. More than 300 people showed up to the dedication ceremony at the Seamen’s new building at 25 South Street on April 15, 1913, one year after the infamous shipwreck.
The lighthouse towered 13 stories above the street, 240 feet in the air. This lighthouse was unique in that it was the only one in the country to use a green light. This light could be seen by ships in the Narrows up to 10 miles out and served the practical purpose of helping to guide them to the shore. It was the only official Coast Guard light on Manhattan Island. Another interesting feature was the time ball that topped the structure. This mechanism was made up of a four-foot bronze frame covered with canvas and painted black. Controlled by a telegraphic signal from the Naval Observatory near Arlington, Virginia, the black ball dropped every day at 12 noon from 1913 to 1967.
In 1968, the Seamen’s Church Institute building was set to be demolished as the organization was moving to a new building at 15 State Street. To save the lighthouse, a group of concerned citizens convinced the demolition company to donate it to the South Street Seaport Museum. The Kaiser-Nelson Steel and Salvage Corporation accepted this proposal and donated the lighthouse in July of 1968. It was originally placed on Pier 16.
The lighthouse was moved to its current location in 1976 and also underwent a partial restoration. The lighthouse you see today is quite different from that which stood atop the Seamen’s Church Institute. The original 1913 part of the lighthouse is the metal green top, which stands upon a newer concert base. The base of the lighthouse was originally made of brick and stone. Missing from the current lighthouse are the original catwalks that once ringed the structure below the lantern. In 1991, the firm of Jan Hird Pokorny Associates (JHPA) prepared conceptual design drawings to replicate the original features of the 1913 lighthouse, but those plans never came to fruition.
With the new restoration project, the Museum hopes to ensure the integrity and stability of the concrete base while performing any necessary repairs. The Museum will also work with the selected firm to develop appropriate signage for the structure as a public art piece and memorial artifact. The Museum still has the original components of the lighthouse’s interior lighting mechanism and hopes that the light can soon shine again! Check out more recent photos of the lighthouse memorial in the gallery below:
Next, check out Top 10 Secrets of the South Street Seaport