New York Architecture Images-Seaport and Civic Center

Schermerhorn Row Landmark


Peter Schemerhorn


2-18 Fulton St. 


2-18 Fulton St. (2-12: 1811, 14-18: 1812); 189-195 Front St. (1812); 159-171 John St.; 91-92 South St.












Situated on landfill extending 600 feet beyond the original shoreline, these six counting houses were built as a speculative venture by the merchant and ship owner Peter Schermerhorn. Designed to serve the modest sailing ship trade and small business economy of early 19th century New York, these buildings are among the best surviving examples of the counting house type. Built as a group like residential row houses, counting houses represent an early phase in the development of commercial architecture in New York when buildings had not yet acquired architectural individuality based on their function. Combining Federal Style and Greek Revival elements, these structures evolved from 18th century English counting halls, which had derived from 17th century market halls. The structures' simple Flemish bond brick walls and plain white stone lintels and sills contrast with their more elaborate doorways. Dormer windows were added later and project from steeply pitched roofs. Chimneys and party walls were built high to prevent the spread of fire across rooftops. Purchased in 1974 by New York State, Schermerhorn Row received landmark designation in 1977, effectively halting the northward expansion of the financial district.

Schermerhorn Row, the block-long landmark 1812 building that extends along Fulton Street from Front to South streets, has recently undergone an extensive interior renovation in preparation for the opening of the museum's core permanent exhibit, World Port New York. This project also includes the 1850 A. A. Low Building which fronts on John St., once Burling Slip.

As part of the renovation, , the two structures have been linked internally to house a 30,000-square-foot exhibit space comprising some 24 separate galleries. Sixteen of the new galleries will house World Port New York, while the remaining space will be devoted to changing exhibits.

The project, which was handled by Turner Construction, has been a complex process involving the extensive renovation of historic structures that are already partially occupied by museum offices and by retail and residential tenants. The events of September, 2001 significantly delayed the project (Turner's computer-generated progress report includes the notation, "Re-mobilize after Sept. 11 disaster").

Nevertheless, work was resumed in 2002, and the galleries will open in the fall of 2003, hosting a temporary exhibit called “Africans in the New World.” World Port New York will open in the fall of 2004. The renovation also included the consolidation of the Museum store into 14 Fulton Street, and extensive conservation efforts ensuring that significant historic details were not lost.

In the early 19th century, the counting houses on Manhattan's East River served as warehouse and distribution facilities for the array of imported goods that began to pour into a rapidly growing New York. These structures on Schermerhorn Row are among the few such buildings left from this significant era in New York's development.

Although neglected for decades, the buildings became the focus of efforts to revitalize the historic Seaport District. The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation retained the Pokorny firm to provide a master plan and design documents for the restoration and adaptive reuse of this block. The work included the stabilization of the buildings, carefully researched reconstruction of missing historic elements and installation of extensive mechanical systems. Our restoration design recaptures the dignified unity of the block but also retains significant 19th-century alterations that reflect developments in the Seaport's history.

The restored counting houses provide new commercial space and exhibit areas. The South Street Seaport District is now one of New York's premier attractions. Schermerhorn Row has become the historic architectural centerpiece of this redevelopment. The project received the prestigious Bard Award for excellence in design from the Municipal Arts Society.


Counting Houses
34-38 Water Street

Saved from destruction by the landmark conservancy (1970s) this block contains genuine examples of counting houses -- the commercial buildings of early 19th century New York. Precursors of the New York office building, counting houses were an adaptation of residential row houses to commercial purposes. Built along the water's edge, these buildings served New York's active port. The simple four story structures functioned as stores, storerooms and accounting offices for early 19th century merchants.

In the above photograph, the house with the green circular sign (at center) is notable for being the best surviving counting house of this row. Only the addition of an early 20th century fire escape alters its original appearance. Notice how the windows line up in this row of buildings even if changes to individual units have been made. It is clear this was once a row of counting houses that looked exactly like the center unit.