Restoration Comity

Chin and Brewer Win $4.5 Million in City Funds to Rehabilitate Seaport Museum's Historic Lightship

The lightship Ambrose, which once stood sentinel at the mouth of New York's Harbor, and is now part of the South Street Seaport Museum's fleet of historic vessels, will soon undergo a $4.5-million restoration.The lightship Ambrose, which once stood sentinel at the mouth of New York's Harbor, and is now part of the South Street Seaport Museum's fleet of historic vessels, will soon undergo a $4.5-million restoration.

The South Street Seaport Museum has been awarded $4.5 million in capital funds by the City, after Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Council member Margaret Chin lobbied on behalf of what is widely regarded as Lower Manhattan’s leading cultural institution. The funds will be used to stabilize and restore the historic lightship Ambrose, one of five legacy vessels that the Museum maintain as part of its floating Street of Ships exhibit at Pier 15, on the East River waterfront. Part of the allocation will underwrite a new educational program on navigation and immigration throughout the City’s history.

This restoration of the Ambrose will dramatically change the vessel’s familiar, fire engine-red appearance, restoring her visual presentation to one that more faithfully represents the period in which she stood watch at the front door to New York Harbor, during the greatest era of immigration in American history, when her light would have been the first thing that newly arriving foreigners would see as they entered New York Harbor.

Capt. Jonathan Boulware, executive director of the Seaport Museum, called the Ambrose, “an iconic symbol of New York. For generations, sailors and immigrants saw the steadfast lightship on approach to New York, signaling that they’d arrived. For navigators, this ship was an aid that made the treacherous approach to New York Harbor safer, allowing for the trade that built the financial capital of the world. For millions of immigrants, Ambrose was the literal light of liberty. Passing Ambrose lightship meant that you’d arrived at America’s shores.”

Other elements of the project include restoring the vessel’s mechanical and shipboard communication systems; reengineering a functional steering system; and renewing her original schooner-rigged sail plan.

Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer said, “Ambrose is a vital part of our history as one of the world’s greatest port cities. Preserving it for generations of New Yorkers to learn its story and walk its decks is a priceless investment.”

City Council member Margaret Chin said, “Ambrose is an icon of our City’s enduring history as a haven for immigrants. This $4.5 million in City funding will help the South Street Seaport Museum continue its mission to educate visitors through interactive exhibits that incorporate our City’s most beloved historical artifacts.”

Lightship LV-87, also known as Ambrose, was built in 1907 as a floating lighthouse to guide ships safely from the Atlantic Ocean into the broad mouth of lower New York Bay between Coney Island and Sandy Hook — an area filled with perilous sand bars and shoals. The Ambrose stood watch outside the Narrows from her launching in 1908 until 1932. She was donated to the newly-formed South Street Seaport Museum by the U.S. Coast Guard in 1968.

The South Street Seaport Museum preserves and interprets the history of New York as a great port city. Designated by Congress as America’s National Maritime Museum, the Museum houses exhibition galleries and education spaces, working nineteenth century print shops, and an active fleet of historic vessels that all work to tell the story of “Where New York Begins.”

The restoration of the Ambrose will mark another milestone in the Museum’s recovery from the devastation of 2012’s Hurricane Sandy. Earlier steps in this process have included the $13-million restoration of the flagship in the Museum’s historic fleet, the 279-foot Wavertree, which spent more than a year in dry dock at a Staten Island shipyard undergoing repairs, before returning to Pier 15 last September.

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