This brief is part of the WHY WE FIGHT FOR THE SOUTH STREET SEAPORT series, to inform the public about the struggle to keep the Seaport historic in the face of commercial pressure.
Pier 15 is the two-story structure on the East River between John and Fletcher Streets where Hornblower Cruises docks its sight-seeing and party vessels. It is also home to a bar and outdoor parties.
Pier 15 had been one of the South Street Seaport Museum’s piers until the City of New York took it back, in 2008, as part of a settlement for back rent owed the city. Deferred maintenance had also seriously compromised its safe use.
Pier 15 was a standard dock of 400 to 500 feet long by about 100 feet wide built by the Department of Docks (later called Marine and Aviation, Ports and Terminals, and finally Economic Development Corp.). All were then of wood construction.
Pier15 was leased to the Museum at its creation in 1967, as were piers 16, 17 and 18. In 1981 Pier 17 and 18 were absorbed into the “festival marketplace” revitalization effort by the Rouse Corp., which built a shopping mall on what became the double-wide pier 17. (That mall has now been replaced by a new mall owned by the Howard Hughes Corp.)
Pier 15 held on. Moored there were Wavertree, ferry Maj. General Hart (the last steam ferryboat in NYC), schooner Caviar (currently known as Lettie G. Howard), tug W.O. Decker, Standard Boat lighter Vernie S. of 1885 (succeeded by lighter Ollie of 1913), sharpie schooner replica Russell Grinnell, tug Spuyten Duyvil, two Monomoy lifeboats, brigantine Black Pearl, and various other public and private vessels. Among those was a fuel vessel, Kevin D., later succeeded by Linnekin Islander. These vessels fueled a large number of vessels in the harbor, including all the Circle Line vessels. They also provided fuel free to the Museum’s vessels. (They used so little, the owner used to say that “it was just draining the hose…”)
In late 1985, the Museum, in anticipation of Tall Ships 1986, installed an L-shaped “temporary” floating dock bisecting the area between Pier 15 and 14, which were tennis courts at that time. This provided transient, rent-producing dockage space for smaller vessels unable to moor to the larger pier. Many, many small craft visited. Some stayed. The Museum employed a dock master to manage the traffic. That “temporary” finger lasted to the late-1990s.
That Pier 15 was closed in 1996. In 2008, the city took back Pier 15 from the Museum and, using money targeted towards rebuilding Lower Manhattan after 9/11, developed the most recent version. In 2011-13, SHoP Architects, the city’s designated waterfront designer, created a two-story venue to maximize views of the Brooklyn Bridge. It also minimized berthing options for anything less than an excursion boat.
Mariners were to be second class citizens on the new pier. The NYC Economic Development Corporation (EDC), now the landlord for the new pier, made its Request for Proposals for tenants and programs, but declined to extend the deadline to allow a new administration of the revived South Street Seaport Museum to participate.
Pier 15 is now used by the California-based Hornblower Cruises for its sight-seeing and party vessels. It is also home to a bar and some deafening outdoor parties.