Remnants of Fish Stalls to Vanish with Fulton Market Building Remake

Rendering of the Fulton Market Building, with storefronts on the South Street side, where there are now remnants of the fish stalls. Rendering by SHOP Architects/Photographed by The Tribeca Trib

Apr. 24, 2014

South Street Seaport developer Howard Hughes Corp. has revealed its plans to transform the exterior of the now-vacant Fulton Market Building, a two-story, square-block-wide structure in the Seaport that is slated to become a multiplex theater and retail complex.

The proposal, which calls for adding storefronts with new signage as well as ground-floor lighting on the building's four sides, needs approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission. As a first step, the design was presented on Tuesday by Hughes Corp. and SHoP Architects to Community Board 1's Landmarks Committee. The members mostly favored the plan for its potential to bring new life to the area, especially along Beekman, Front and South streets.

Some of the members, however, took exception to what would be an end to the last remnants of the building's old fish market stalls. A rendering of the South Street side showed shiny boutiques where, for decades, merchants peddled their clams and cod, black grouper and blue fish through the early morning hours.

“Once that’s gone, all those scenes of fishmongers traveling back and forth and our understanding that that ever happened here will be totally gone,” said committee member Jason Friedman.

“I kind of like the grit that was there,” said the board’s chair, Catherine McVay Hughes.

The row of now-gated stalls look much as they did when they were built in 1950, but behind them lies nothing but the building’s gutted interior.

SHoP’s plans for the South Street side of the market involve extending the recessed first floor—now containing the stall fronts set back behind columns—and extending it outward to line up with the facade above it. 

Christopher Sharples, a principal of SHoP Architects who presented the plans, said the idea is to create a “pedestrian friendly walk” along South Street.

“We're trying to take away a little bit of that opacity, that blank wall, and open it up to people," he said.

Chris Curry, Hughes Corp.’s senior executive vice president, said that the stalls would fail to attract passersby or bring shoppers to and from the mall that the developer is rebuilding across the street on Pier 17. Besides, he added, “They’ve been empty for years.”

“Right now, those rolling gates are in kind of a dingy, icky place, and if you can move the storefronts up to the street wall, you actually will have more activity on the street,” explained Elise Quasebarth, a preservation consultant hired by Hughes Corp.

The existing stalls are all that survived the demolition and rebuilding of the Fulton Market Building in 1983. They became vacant when the Fulton Fish Market relocated to the Bronx in 2005. A food, farmer and craft market, called the Fulton Stall Market, opened outside the gates in 2009 and closed this past August.

Committee member Jeff Ehrlich said that while the stalls can’t remain, there should be some way to show that they were there, something “that is different than what you’ve got here, which is just the store windows.”

The committee voted 10-1 to support the overall proposal, along with the recommendation that the commission “ask the architects to make some more forceful indication of the prior usage there as fish stalls.”

The plan will be presented to the Landmarks Commission on April 29.