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BY JANEL BLADOW | A GREAT LOSS FOR THE SEAPORT AND ANOTHER CHIP AWAY AT HISTORY | Earlier this month we lost a wonderful neighbor who always had time to stop and talk about his love of all things nautical, wooden and historic. Salvatore Polisi, a master woodcarver and sculptor, was part of the Seaport family for more than 30 years. His passing marks the end of an era and puts a significant notch in the South Street Seaport’s historical family tree.
Sal first came to the area in 1980. After a 20-year career as superintendent at a manufacturing plant, the former U.S. Navy man was about to be laid off when the company moved out of state. Sal got his wife’s blessing to follow his passion and volunteered his woodcarving skills at the South Street Seaport Museum. The director offered him a workshop, actually two shipping containers, at the Maritime Craft Center on Pier 15.
He worked tirelessly restoring, carving and painting signs, maidenheads and other artifacts for the museum. Among his projects were restorations for the museum’s historic ships: the square-rigger Wavertree (1885), barque Peking (1911) schooner Lettie G. Howard (1893) and a reproduction of paddlewheel Andrew Fletcher.
He also took on private projects to meet expenses, including gold-leaf signs for John F. Kennedy’s Presidential yacht Honey Fitz, the New York City Fire and Police departments and the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Eagle.
Recently, he was working with Captain Jonathan Boulware, the museum’s interim president, on the installation of his figurehead “Penelope” on the bow of the full-rigged Wavertree, the largest iron sailing vessel still afloat. It’s expected to be restored this year.
Between chipping and sanding, he’d stop and talk with the many tourists and visitors who popped in to admire his work.
The greeting, and the hospitality that came with it, were a hallmark of Sal Polisi’s life, wrote Boulware in announcing his friend and colleague’s passing.
“He always had time for a warm hello, a story, or a cup of coffee with the countless waterfront friends he developed over the years, from fishmongers to local police to visiting tourists.
“It is Sal’s easy manner, his casual and genuine welcoming way, that I will miss most,” Boulware said. “His work will continue. Penelope will indeed be hung under Wavertree’s bowsprit upon her return from shipyard. She isn’t complete. Sal had hoped to complete her himself, but was prevented from doing so by the very thing that made him irreplaceably special: he stopped his work to engage visitors, to talk to staff and volunteers. He set down his mallet and chisel to plan a sign for a shop, a centerpiece for a wedding, or a headboard for [a] marriage bed. …
“We’ll hang that figurehead in memory of Sal Polisi, master woodcarver, Seaport Museum volunteer, friend, and gentleman.”
There were many mornings while walking the dog that I would stop and talk with Sal about what he was working on or admire a new carving of a seagull or a ship model. He would always put down his tools and stop to talk with a smile, extensive knowledge and a passion that was contagious.
In the fall of 2012 Sal and his shop were evicted when the city decided to clear the waterfront pathway for foot, skateboard and bicycle traffic. Seaport Report and neighbors pleaded to the powers-that-be to keep “Sal where the boats are, in an open space where he can meet and greet locals and tourists alike, where one of the few authentic and living history nods to our nautical past should remain proudly in the public view.”
Alas, he was moved to Water St. where he continued to carve, chisel, sand and paint and, most importantly, share his love of our rich neighborhood history and all things nautical.
A memory book is now in Bowne Printers, 211 Water St., for those who knew Sal. Stop in by Feb. 20th, any day of the week from 11 a.m.-7 p.m., to write a few words about him and his contributions to everyone who visited or worked at the Seaport. It will be given to his family at the end of February.
Happy sails to you Sal!
A Sample Deal… Linda and Claudio Marini, owners of the new, bright lively restaurant Da Claudio, 21 Ann St., invite everyone to come try their daily specials. The unique happy hour Aperitivo is as enticing as it is delicious and a great deal. Buy a daily special beverage and get a small plate to sample. Mondays try authentic Italian Cicchetti, assorted bruschettine – bread or mini focaccia rolls brushed with olive oil and layered with cheese and meats from the deli case. Choose a glass of wine from Birra Moretti ($5), Dolcetto D’Alba 2012 ($7) or Gavi Batasiolo ($7). Tuesday’s treat is the Le Sfogliatine or assorted puff pastries with Valpolicella Allegrini 2013 ($7) or Chardonnay Bianche 2011 ($7). On Wednesday check out Stuzzichini Assortiti or a little antipasto plate, and accompany it with a choice of Da Claudio Spritz ($5) or Amaro Montenegro Americano ($5). Aperitivo is Monday through Wednesday, 4-7 p.m. Salute! Or cin cin, as the Italians say!
City Council Support… I’m sure everyone in the neighborhood knows that City Councilmember Margaret Chin is against the nearly 500-foot high-rise residential tower proposed by the Howard Hughes Corporation for our waterfront. Her role in the approval process is key.
Earlier this month she stressed the importance of a statement Mayor de Blasio made in his State of the City address.
“We are not embarking on a mission to build towering skyscrapers where they don’t belong. We have a duty to protect and preserve the culture and character of our neighborhoods, and we will do so,” the mayor said.
Chin said in a statement: “While I am committed to helping to revitalize the Seaport, it’s true that we have a duty to protect the historic fabric of the Seaport from this kind of irresponsible development proposal….
“I’m extremely glad to hear that Mayor de Blasio very clearly recognizes the importance of protecting the character of neighborhoods from inappropriate tower development. I look forward to working with E.D.C. [Economic Development Corporation] and the Mayor’s Office to identify alternative sites for any such tower, so it could be appropriately sited next to other high-rise buildings, rather than in the heart of the historic Seaport.”
Hear, hear! Hope other politicos hear Councilmember Chin.