Monument Renovation Moves Forward
On the eve of the anniversary of the loss of the RMS Titanic, which sank on April 14, 1912, the South Street Seaport Museum is one significant step closer to restoring the Lower Manhattan landmark that commemorates the ship’s loss.
The Titanic Memorial Lighthouse, unveiled in Lower Manhattan one year after the largest ship then afloat went to the bottom of the Atlantic, will be refurbished under the guidance of architect Michael Devonshire, who is the director of conservation at Jan Hird Pokorny Associates, a firm that specializes in preservation. Mr. Devonshire also serves on the City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission and the State’s Board for Historic Preservation.
The restoration project is slated to re-illuminate the lighthouse and reactivate its long-dormant “time ball”—a large metal globe that once descended a pole precisely at the stroke of noon each day (triggered by a telegraphic signal from the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C.), enabling sailors aboard ships offshore to calibrate their marine chronometers, needed for celestial navigation and determining longitude at sea. (This device was the origin of the now-renowned Times Square ball drop on New Year’s Eve.) The project will also entail evaluation of the tower structure and its concrete base. The full restoration of the lighthouse to its original state is expected to be complete by the summer of 2024.
The Titanic Memorial Lighthouse has been hiding in plain sight at the corner of Pearl and Fulton Streets for nearly five decades. Originally perched atop the Seamen’s Church Institute (a philanthropic organization that was founded to provide social services to mariners in the era when Manhattan’s waterfront was a thriving anchorage, and continues to do so to this day), it was initially located at the corner of South Street and Coenties Slip, on the site of what is now Vietnam Veterans Plaza. Designed by the architectural firm and Warren and Wetmore (who created Grand Central Terminal), the Titanic Memorial Lighthouse was a working lighthouse with three 2500-candle power mercury lamps. Its emerald beams could be seen six miles away in The Narrows, guiding ships into port through the narrow strait that separates Brooklyn from Staten Island. It was the only U.S. lighthouse to use green lamps, and the only Coast Guard light on the island of Manhattan.
The South Street Seaport Museum saved the Titanic Memorial Lighthouse by arranging to accept the structure in 1968 as a donation from the company demolishing the Seamen’s Church Institute building. The lighthouse was initially moved to Pier 16 and then, in 1976, after a partial restoration, it was moved to its current location.