Famous Aquarium To Be Enlarged

A nearly identical story ran in local media last month, because here in 2011 the New York Aquarium is once again about to undergo a major face lift. But a lot has happened between now and then. Here’s a bit of history of the New York Aquarium:

1808: A fort is built on a small island just off lower Manhattan. Known as the West Battery, it was intended to protect New York from British forces in the years leading up to the war of 1812, but it ultimately never saw any action.

1815: The fort is renamed Castle Clinton after Mayor DeWitt Clinton.

1821: The Army stops using it as a fort and leases it to NYC.

1824: NYC reopens the fort an entertainment venue called Castle Garden.

1853: The marsh separating the island from Manhattan is filled in.

1855-1890: Castle Garden is repurposed as an immigrant processing facility. The interior was gutted by a fire in 1870, but the brick walls remained standing.

1896: Castle Garden is turned over to the Parks Department, which repurposes it as an aquarium.

1911: This article is published about the aquarium’s expansion to accommodate more visitors.

Over the next thirty years, hundreds of thousands of visitors came through the aquarium at Castle Garden, and it became one of New York City’s most popular attractions. And then Robert Moses came along.

1941: Robert Moses had a plan to build a tunnel from Battery Park to Brooklyn, and Castle Garden was in the way. So he planned to have it torn down. The first step was getting rid of those fish.

Time magazine reported:

When New York’s Park Commissioner Robert Moses decided that the Aquarium must go, protests poured in. But sardonic Bob Moses is not easily swayed. Said he: “In the new plan for Battery Park the Aquarium is an ugly wart on the main axis leading straight to the Statue of Liberty… There is… more honest-to-God romance any early morning in the Fulton Fish Market… than in the Aquarium in a month of Sundays…”

The fish were moved out. Some went to other aquariums. Most fish, and the Sea Lions, went to the Bronx Zoo temporarily until a new aquarium could be built at Coney Island.

1946: Castle Garden is designated as a National Monument, and it doesn’t get torn down. Today it houses the ticket office for the ferry to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.

1957: The New York Aquarium opens in Coney Island.

2010: The aquarium plans a facelift and expansion for its current location. The overhaul is expected to be finished in 2015 and will add a shark exhibit, and access to the Coney Island boardwalk.

The Wildlife Conservation Society projects that after the overhaul, annual visitors will increase from 750,000 to a million.

FAMOUS AQUARIUM TO BE ENLARGED: Plans Ready for a Much Larger Structure Needed to Accommodate the Ever-Increasing Throngs of Visitors. (PDF)

From January 15, 1911

2 responses to “Famous Aquarium To Be Enlarged”

  1. In your timeline, you mentioned it was declared a National Monument by FDR in 1946, but FDR died in the spring of 1945. Was the declaration in 1945?


  2. That is an excellent question. My sources cited are:

    “[Robert Moses’] men had managed to demolish the second story before Franklin Roosevelt, a New Yorker himself, declared it a National Monument, which led to the building of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel instead. Thus enshrined, the Fort was restored to its original 1812 condition.”


    “Although Castle Garden was designated a national monument on August 12, 1946, the law did not take effect until July 18, 1950, when the legislature and the governor of New York (Thomas Dewey) formally ceded ownership of the property to the Federal Government.”

    But FDR died in 1945, as you say, so the math doesn’t add up.

    I’ll look into that. For now, I’ll edit the timeline. Thanks for catching that.


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