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After 15 Years, National Lighthouse Museum Finally Sets Opening Date

by Allison Meier on January 2, 2014

Rendering of the National Lighthouse Museum (via lighthousemuseum.org)

Rendering of the National Lighthouse Museum (via lighthousemuseum.org)

At many points over the past 15 years, it seemed that the creation of a National Lighthouse Museum on Staten Island was doomed. Yet, as of December 30, they’ve completed a fundraising goal that sets them on track to open on August 7, 2014.

As NY1 reported:

Back in June, the city’s Economic Development Corporation agreed to let the not-for-profit lease the space and open the museum in the former U.S. Coast Guard building if they could raise $350,000.

The deadline was later extended to December 30. The old brick Coast Guard building at 5 Bay Street is part of a complex that once housed operations of the US Lighthouse Service and is in the St. George neighborhood, right by the ferry terminal. The structure, known as Building #11, has been crumbling to ruin since the Coast Guard moved out in the 1960s, so the museum isn’t just positive for placing a cultural destination with a national profile right on the Staten Island shore; it’s also alleviating some of the blight.

One of the buildings at the former Coast Guard site (photograph by Phil Stearns/Flickr user)

One of the buildings at the former Coast Guard site in 2011 (photograph by Phil Stearns via Flickr)

“The National Lighthouse Museum trustees, advisors, and friends thank all their dedicated supporters for making this grassroots fundraising effort worldwide a tremendous success,” Linda Dianto, executive director of the National Lighthouse Museum, told Hyperallergic. ”We have only just begun to build a National Lighthouse Museum all lighthouse keepers would be proud of in the original location where all lighthouse operations nationwide centered in the mid-1800s.”

It’s been a long journey there. The nonprofit museum was awarded to Staten Island nearly two decades ago, when, in 1997, the borough submitted the top bid for the proposed museum. At the time, “six states were vying for the honor,” Henry Stephenson of New York Lights, a lighthouse society branch, told the New York Daily News. But this initial exuberance was tempered by 9/11, the economic downturn, and other factors that hurt opportunities for funding and public prominence. Just a few years ago, in 2009, it seemed like the definitive end, as the board disbanded due to “dwindling prospects.” However, supporters refused to give up on the little museum.

And now may actually be a more opportune time than the late ’90s, as the St. George neighborhood has some big prospects — literally. The world’s largest ferris wheel and a massive outlet shopping center are looming on the horizon. Hopefully this won’t cause the museum to get lost among the behemoths, but rather to get more traffic. The National Lighthouse Museum is planned to be more outward-facing than just maritime history on Staten Island anyway. As their site notes: “More than a dozen lighthouses, including one of the most famous in the world, are less than an hour’s boat ride from the museum pier.” (I’m willing to gander that the “most famous” one is the Statue of Liberty, which was, for a time, designated a navigational lighthouse and overseen by the Lighthouse Board.)

Blackwell Island Lighthouse (photograph by the author for Hyperallergic) (click to enlarge)

Blackwell Island Lighthouse (photograph by the author for Hyperallergic) (click to enlarge)

And it is a national museum, so while the green lady and her New York City friends — like the adorable Little Red Lighthouse and the legend-laden Blackwell Island Lighthouse — are worth preserving in their own right, the museum will focus on lighthouse history throughout the entire United States. The first phase of the project in Building #11 is an education center, but over the next five years they plan to expand to neighboring Building #10 and also have lightships, fog signals, and other outdoor exhibitions. They’re continuing to raise funds for securing this future online.

As for the seemingly arbitrary opening date of August 7? It’s National Lighthouse Day!

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