79th Street Boat Basin

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File:79th St Basin Gutenberg jeh.JPG
Boat Basin as seen from Guttenberg, New Jersey across the Hudson River

The 79th Street Boat Basin is a marina located in the Hudson River on the Upper West Side of the New York City borough of Manhattan, on Riverside Park at the foot of West 79th Street. Maintained and operated by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, it is the only facility in the city that allows year-round residency in boats.[1]


The boat basin, first proposed in 1924, was constructed in 1937, during the tenure of Robert Moses as Parks Commissioner, to offer a place for boats to dock during the summer. It was built as part of a project to cover over the tracks of the New York Central Railroad's West Side Line which also included a grand architectural multi-level entry and exit from the Henry Hudson Parkway, all under the name of the "79th Street Grade Crossing Elimination Structure".[2] The multi-level structure was designed by Gilmore David Clarke. The Works Projects Administration provided $5.1 million for the project, which created the Freedom Tunnel, an underground parking garage, a restaurant, and the marina.[3] By the 1960s, though the restaurant was long gone, the majority of slips were occupied by year-round boaters.[4]

In 1979, the city sought to cancel a 1977 concession agreement with Nichols Yacht Yards to operate the marina, claiming that Nichols had underreported revenue..That political claim for a mere $6,000 proved to be false and was dimissed without collection by the NYC Comptrollers office.. Nichols made many attempts to make the marina a safe and financially viable operation, but was fought at every turn bu the parks department who fosterested an unsafe living condition with year around boats, many of which were derelict and did not have the ability to operate. Nichols in fact had to employ the US Marshals service in a number of instances to collect low dockage fees while the marina occupants rented their covered parking spaces (which were included with dockage fees) to nearby West Side residents for more money than they paid for dockage. The abused electricity as Nichols was not permitted to charge separately for electric and hence they ran air conditioners all summer long and heaters all winter without regards to the waste of energy. These situations created a marina slum which was allowed by the NYC City council as a member of the City Council Press office lived on board at the marina and wielded great political influence.. Nichols attempts to fix these and other issues was continuously thwarted by the City officials.The firm surrendered the operation of the facility ended in 1982, with Nichols having spent thousands in legal fees to battle the city, and counter a rent strike by boat owners.[5] i

In 1992, a five-year agreement was signed with boaters and the city, tying increases of nearly 25% in docking fees to improvements in facilities at the marina, such as new docks and electrical lines. By 1996, year-round residents had complained that the 18-month-long project, implemented at a cost of $1.4 million, had been done in shoddy fashion.[6]

The city stopped issuing new year-round permits in 1994, seeking to make space available for seasonal boaters among the basin's 116 slips. After complaints were received, the Parks Department agreed to an increase to 52 year-round spots, which start at a yearly fee of $5,000, based on the size of the boat.[1] By May 2009, the Department was to require that all boats be seaworthy. As of February 2008, there were 19 boats that were considered unseaworthy and that would need to made operational "in case of an emergency evacuation".[4]

Year-round residents have included Mad Magazine writer Dick DeBartolo who uses a boat as his office. Mario Puzo and Frank Sinatra have all used the basin to moor their boats.[4] In the 1960s, Roy Cohn docked his 95-foot (29 m) yacht here, and used it to entertain the city's political leaders.[7]

By summer 2012, several boaters noticed that the basin was in a state of disrepair and asked the city to fix it.[8][9]


The Boat Basin is also used as a launch site for kayaks, canoes and sailboats. The Hudson River sloop Clearwater often docks here, as part of its mission of informing the public about environmental and pollution issues in the Hudson River.[10] As of May 2008, seasonal docking fees are $108 per linear foot (or a minimum of $2,700) for the summer (May 1 to October 31) and $88 per linear foot (or a minimum of $2,200) during the winter (November 1 to April 30).[11] Total dock fee revenue was over $240,000 in 2007, with more revenue taken in from the higher fees paid for part-time boaters. As of February 2008, there was a waiting list of 450 boaters seeking part-time docking privileges during the summer.[4] Fees were raised again in December 2011.[12]

The granite and fieldstone open rotunda surrounded by a vaulted Guastavino tiled arcade overlooks the marina, and is the site of the open-air O’Neals’ West 79th Street Boat Basin Café.[10] A boat pump-out system connects directly to boats to allow for sewage disposal. Along with a fresh-water line system, the service is provided at no additional cost by the Parks Department. All other services, including electricity, telephone, television, and Internet access, must be paid for by boat owners, individually.[4]

Adjacent rotunda

File:W79 Boat Basin Cafe jeh.JPG
The Boat Basin Cafe inside the rotunda

The 79th Street Rotunda, planned and built by former New York City Parks Department Commissioner Robert Moses during the West Side Highway's conversion into a parkway, is a traffic circle that sits next to the boat basin. between the Hudson River and the Henry Hudson Parkway at the western edge of 79th Street. There are two ways to access the site by foot: one way is to walk along Riverside Park, and the other is to walk west on 79th Street. Drivers briefly drive atop the rotunda’s traffic circle as they exit the Henry Hudson Parkway or enter the Parkway from 79th Street. The rotunda's interior, open-air courtyard is able to block noise and views of the highway, while blocking noise and views of the highway for the park and boat marina below. Moses viewed the project with grand monumentality, while believing it would add to the grandeur and allure of New York City as viewed from across the Hudson River from New Jersey’s Hudson River Palisades. The Rotunda was a core part of the project.[13]

The Riverside Park runs through the boat basin and rotunda. The 79th Street Rotunda was built to allow easy access and exit to and from the Henry Hudson Highway. Additionally, it provided for safe transit of electrically powered trains into Manhattan by covering the electrified West Side Line railway tracks in a tunnel now called the Freedom Tunnel. It also provides an internal, sheltered parking garage for boat basin users. The internal courtyard and seasonal café were built after the initial design and conception. [14]

The structure is constructed primarily out of concrete. Above ground, the concrete is clad in cut stone to give the structure a smoothened-out look. Below ground in the parking garage, however, the concrete is more roughened. The initial McKim, Mead and White plan had called for rough-cut, dark stone to be applied to the exterior of the building; however, Clinton Loyd, the principal architect and engineer, modified their plan and used lighter, finer cut stone. Loyd believed it would give the building a cleaner and more refined look. The structure of the Rotunda was designed to hold large loads.

Filming location

The Boat Basin has been a popular filming location. The Parks Department's web page for the basin even lists details for obtaining film permits among things to do at the marina.[11] The 1986 film "9 1/2 Weeks," starring Kim Basinger and Mickey Rourke, includes scenes shot at the marina and inside a houseboat moored there.[15] The 1998 film You've Got Mail has Tom Hanks and his relatives living on yachts in the basin.[16]


Seen from the Hudson River Greenway 
Damaged by Hurricane Sandy 
Inside the Boat Basin Cafe in the 79th Street Rotunda, showing Guastavino tile ceiling 


  1. 1.0 1.1 Hajela, Deepti via the Associated Press. "New York City marina living is shipshape", The Washington Times, July 10, 2008. Accessed August 1, 2008.
  2. "WEST SIDE TRAFFIC TO RUN ON 4 LEVELS; Grade Elimination Structure at 79th St. Announced as Part of Park Plan. MOTORISTS TO BE AIDED Express Highway Will Pass Over Central Tracks With Pedestrian Arcade Below.", The New York Times, June 15, 1934. Accessed August 2, 2008.
  3. Henry Hudson Parkway.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Ramirez, Anthony. "For Perhaps $490 a Month, a Home on the Hudson River", The New York Times, February 19, 2008. Accessed August 1, 2008.
  5. Tierney, John. "Manhattan Boat People: Lo Rnt, Riv Vu", The New York Times, October 5, 1991. Accessed August 1, 2008. "Robert S. Bernstein, the president of Nichols Yacht Yards, which operated the boat basin from 1977 to 1982, said that his firm spent $250,000 in legal fees battling the city and tenants on the rent strike. 'It's the crummiest marina I have ever seen in my entire life," he said, blaming its deterioration on the city's refusal to raise rents to pay for improvements.'"
  6. Allon, Janet. "NEIGHBORHOOD REPORT: WEST SIDE;Residents Say Marina Isn't Shipshape", The New York Times, January 28, 1996. Accessed August 1, 2008.
  7. Montgomery, Paul L. "Roy Cohn finds politics brings new prominence", The New York Times, February 19, 1981. Accessed August 1, 2008. "In the early 1960s, in his industrialist phase, when he had his 95-foot yacht Defiance berthed at the 79th Street Boat Basin, Mr. Cohn used to invite Carmine G. De Sapio and other Tammany Hall leaders out for cruises to talk over the perennial topics—who was in, who was out, who wanted what from whom."
  8. http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20120619/upper-west-side/79th-street-boat-basin-docks-cry-out-for-repairs
  9. http://www.nypress.com/boat-basin-adrift-79th-street-dock-residents-worry-over-increased-fees/
  10. 10.0 10.1 History of the Park, Riverside Park Fund. Accessed August 1, 2008.
  11. 11.0 11.1 West 79th Street Boat Basin, New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. Accessed August 1, 2008.
  12. http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20111206/upper-west-side/proposed-boat-basin-fee-hike-makes-waves-on-upper-west-side
  13. Caro, Robert A. The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York. New York: Vintage, 1975. Print.
  14. Simpson, Jeffrey, and Mary Ellen W. Hern. Art of the Olmsted Landscape: His Works in New York City. New York, NY: New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, 1981. Print.
  15. http://www.onthesetofnewyork.com/9andahalfweeks.html
  16. Maslin, Janet. "Film Review: You've Got Mail (1998)", The New York Times, December 18, 1998. Accessed August 1, 2008. "Dabney Coleman and John Randolph play the much-married fathers, and at one point three generations of lonely male Foxes find themselves luxuriously ensconced on family boats at the 79th Street Boat Basin."

External links

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