HISTORY of the Battery Maritime Building

Designed by Richard Walker and Charles Morris, The Battery Maritime Building was completed in 1909 when ferries were still a vital means of transportation in New York City. It is the last surviving East River ferry building from an era when 17 ferry lines traveled between Manhattan and Brooklyn.  Commuters waited for the ferry to 39th Street in south Brooklyn, in a lobby lined with cast-iron columns and stained glass windows.

The building is an example of what has sometimes been called Beaux-Arts Structural Expressionism, suggesting the architecture of the Paris exposition in the 1890’s.  The four story cast and wrought iron structure has an exterior embellished with rosettes, rivets and glazed blue tiles. On the south side facing the river, three ferry slips (Slips 5, 6 and 7) sit under huge arches lined in pink stucco. The BMB possesses an intriguing composition of architectural metals including cast iron, rolled steel, and stamped zinc and copper.

The 55,000-square-foot former passenger waiting room on the second floor was once one of New York City's grand public spaces. Ornamented with elaborate plaster finishes, large cast iron columns and dramatic windows of leaded pattern glass, it was illuminated with a large stained glass laylight.

The BMB was originally paired with a twin, the Whitehall Street Ferry Terminal, or Staten Island Terminal, which burned down in 1991 and was replaced in 2005.  The BMB was designated a New York City Landmark in 1967.

The Brooklyn ferry service shut down in 1938 and the under utilized ferry terminal suffered severe deterioration due to a lack of maintenance and loss of significant architectural features during a 1957 alterations and addition. The building was then handed off to a series of New York City agencies, most recently the Department of Transportation.  The waiting room was subdivided into offices, and the stained-glass windows were boarded over with plywood. As late as the year 2000, it was used to store mothballed Department of Transportation files.

Redevelopment schemes for the BMB have come and gone. In the late 1980's, a group of developers, including William Zeckendorf Jr. and Richard Kahan, proposed to incorporate the terminal into the base of a 60-story office tower. The project fell apart in the last recession. Meanwhile, the wrought-iron terminal grew greener and grimier.

The area surrounding the Battery Maritime Building is now the focus of major redevelopment efforts by New York City. To the south, the Whitehall Ferry Terminal is being totally re-built, negotiations are underway to transform Governor's Island into a major cultural and commercial center, and plans to convert the East River waterfront from a commercial shipping center to a recreational area well underway.

From 2001 to 2006, the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) spent nearly $60 million to renovate the BMB’s exterior, also restoring and replicating the historic windows, doors and light fixtures. Its distinctive sheet metal facade was painted green to resemble copper verdigris.