PLATTSBURGH — Dr. James Lindgren navigates the historical record of the maritime history of America.
His latest book, “Preserving South Street Seaport: The Dream and Reality of a New York Urban Renewal District,” is a New York University Press release.
Lindgren sails through the maritime museums in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Virginia and California. Of the museums, South Street Seaport is the most complicated story he ever came across.
“It’s a battle back and forth between the people’s movement and the corporate developers,” said Lindgren, who is a professor of history at SUNY Plattsburgh.
There was enough drama that South Street Seaport went from Chapter Six in Lindgren’s forthcoming book to a book of its own.
“In 1961, the area along the East River right below the Brooklyn Bridge was Fulton Fish Market, the oldest fish market in the country and largest open-air fish market in the world. It occupied 15 blocks. They had two major New York City owned buildings and a lot of small shops in what are now the South Street Seaport Historic District.”
In 1961, David Rockefeller, the head of Chase Manhattan Bank, wanted to raze the market and build the World Trade Center there on the East River.
“His proposal generated a lot of debate,” Lindgren said. “The World Trade Center is a project of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.”
The East River was not a go for the Garden State.
“They wanted it accessible to New Jersey,” Lindgren said.
Rockefeller’s initial proposal generated interest among big banking and developers to level the market and erect high rises on the tract too close to Wall Street for its own good.
“The Fulton Fish Market is the oldest existing 19th century neighborhood in the city,” Lindgren said. “It was very historic. They didn’t demolish the buildings because they didn’t have the capital to build those large structures yet.”