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The City Concealed
The City Concealed, an online video series exploring the unseen corners of New York. Visit the places you don’t know exist, locations you can’t get into, or maybe don’t even want to. Each installment unearths New York’s rich history in the city’s hidden remains and overlooked spaces.

Up in the Fulton Ferry Hotel

[vimeo id="3205629" width="640" height="360"]

Students of New York’s literary history ought to be familiar with our latest location, the Fulton Ferry Hotel, at 92 and 93 South Street on Schermerhorn Row. Joseph Mitchell, author and chronicler of the five boroughs’ extraordinary ordinary citizens, immortalized the building in his 1952 New Yorker story, “The Cave,” later titled, “Up in the Old Hotel.”

If you haven’t read the story I won’t spoil it for you. All you need to know is that Joseph Mitchell, a habitué and student of the Fulton Fish Market, was eating at Sloppy Louie’s restaurant on the ground floor of the old hotel, when Louis Marino, the owner, mentioned the abandoned floors of the building. The ever-curious Mitchell offered to venture upstairs with Marino to see what was there.

Fast forward to the 1980s, thirty years after Mitchell’s and Marino’s visit. The South Street Seaport Museum by then occupied Schermerhorn Row. One day, the museum bookstore manager, Jack Putnam, discovered a doorway that lead to the forgotten floors of the old Fulton Ferry Hotel. There, Mr. Putnam found the spaces in much the same condition they were in when Mitchell and Marino explored them all those years ago.

Now Jack Putnam is the South Street Seaport Museum’s historian. Occasionally he leads tours of the upper floors of the old hotel, but visitors are rare. The artifacts that remain – century-old wallpaper, delicate plaster, and rickety wooden planks – are too fragile to allow frequent foot traffic.

A few weeks ago, on a bitter January day, Mr. Putnam invited us on a tour of the old hotel, which the South Street Seaport Museum allowed us to film.

As a fan of Joseph Mitchell’s work, the visit was made especially moving when Mr. Putnam recounted how he invited the aging writer back to the old hotel for a final visit, shortly before Mitchell passed away.

View a gallery of odds and ends Joseph Mitchell collected from the Fulton Fish Market

–Daniel Ross, Producer

This episode wouldn’t have been possible without much help from Jack Putnam, Christine Modica, the South Street Seaport Museum, Nora Sanborn, Shane Kelly, the David Rumsey Map Collection, and the Library of Congress. Hat tip to Saul Austerlitz of The New York Times, whose lovely July 2008 piece about the old hotel introduced me to Jack Putnam. And of course, thank you, Joseph Mitchell, for preserving in your writing a New York that has become, as Rem Koolhaas once wrote, “a city replaced by another city.”

  • comments (8)
  • Beth Childs

    Jack Putnam should be declared a National Treasure, along with the South Street Seaport Museum!

  • Bob Callahan

    Thank you for reminding me of Joseph Mitchell and his book “The Bottom of the Harbor.” It’s a delightful little book with stories about the Old Schermerhorn Hotel, what’s on the bottom of the Hudson River, the old graves of Statin Island and the Rivermen – Edgewater’s shad fishermen. Mitchell also wrote a book about McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon. Re-reading Joseph Mitchell makes me want to get in the car and visit these charming old spots. A visit to another way of life during these challenging economic times might be just what the doctor ordered.

    Bob Callahan
    Stamford, Connecticut

  • Bob Callahan

    Sorry. That should have been Staten Island. My fingers aren’t as accurate as they used to be.

    Bob Callahan

  • Jean Smith

    I subscribe to Channel 13 and receive the booklet every month.I watch the shows I like best.(pm on Sundays Nova and every performance from Avery Fisher Hall. They are truly the best.I have visited the Museum a long while ago.

  • Richard Dorfman

    Great piece Jack. I read The Bottom of The Harbor recently. tHis was a nice reminder.

  • Donald Nadalin

    I enjoyed the story but would have liked a little more context: Where exactly is the building? (One can infer it’s adjacent to the South Street Seaport.) How large is it, and what is happening around it? Are there plans for its future? Do we know anything more about why the hotel closed, etc.

    This series is great, but this episode felt quite incomplete.



  • Laura McGill

    I enjoy learning about New York history. Old buildings, haunts etc. What is the status of the hotel now?