Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance • February 2011
KREVEY
NYC BIDS GOODBYE TO A WATERFRONT VISIONARY

John Krevey, 62, of Pier 66 Maritime

 

Do I dare

Disturb the universe?

From "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," by T.S. Eliot

 

His generosity was legend, his creativity knew no bounds. There seemed to be no problem he could not fix, no government agency that intimidated him. Famous for wearing the bottoms of his trousers rolled, well-known for asking the impossible of others and accomplishing the impossible himself, John Krevey, waterfront entrepreneur, died suddenly on February 4. He was 62.

 

An electrician by profession, Mr. Krevey came to the waterfront in the 80s when his business, R-2 Electric, needed to expand. He

found space at Pier 63 (23rd Street) before Chelsea Piers arrived. "There was nobody there but the rats. John loved it," said Eric Green, his partner at R-2 Electric.

 

In those days, Mr. Krevey had a wooden boat dubbed Useless. When Useless sank, Mr. Krevey swore he'd never buy another wooden boat. Searching through maritime publications, his attention was caught by a notice about the 1929 steel-hulled lightship Frying Pan. In a sorry state, it had been raised from the bottom of Chesapeake Bay and was for sale. Mr. Krevey bought it, and, as only he could do, gathered a motley crew of supporters and went south to shovel mud out of the hull and put in a new engine. It took more than a year, but the Frying Pan eventually made it to New York Harbor in 1989. And that was the beginning of Mr. Krevey's love affair with historic boats, and his efforts to open up the waterfront to the public.

 

Pier 66 MaritimeUnable to find a permanent berth for the Frying Pan, Mr. Krevey purchased an old railroad barge. He was "ever a seat-of-the-pants do-it-yourselfer," said Betsy Haggerty, executive director of the North River Historic Ships Society that Mr. Krevey helped found. The railroad barge became Pier 63 Maritime, now Pier 66 Maritime (above). Ringed with boats of all sorts -- including the fireboat John J. Harvey (another historic vessel that Mr. Krevey rescued with colleagues in 1999, below with the lightship Frying Pan at Pier 66 Maritime), as well as the sailboats, kayaks, outrigger canoes and a NY Water Taxi stop -- and bedecked with geraniums, a tiki-hut bar and grill, and a stage for performances, the old railroad barge became a lively waterfront destination. Frying Pan and John J. Harvey"Pier 63/66 Maritime was always a great concept of an eclectic mix of arts, sculpture, small boating, industrial art, performance arts, cultural groups, free public water access (always John's mantra), crafts, maritime history and more -- all bound together and supported by excellent food and spirits; okay, buckets of Corona," said John Doswell, executive director of the Working Harbor Committee.

 

Government agencies, from the Department of Buildings to the FDNY, were not supportive of Mr. Krevey's endeavors. "He always had documents and rules under his arm," remembered one supporter. "He was ready to argue with any attorney, any judge, to prove that he had a right to be there."

 

Mr. Krevey's battles about waterfront access and infrastructure with government agencies -- then not as enlightened as today's administration - were epic. "His enterprise had a tumultuous beginning because it was not consistent with what other people, particularly the government, thought the waterfront should be," said Roger Meyer, founder and former president of New York Outrigger. "He was called Teflon John because so many of the citations he received were bogus."

 

Today, New York City is catching up to John Krevey's vision of a waterfront open to all, with the Bloomberg Administration's Waterfront Vision and Enhancement Strategy (WAVES) underway to bring life to the City's shoreline.

 

At the time of his death, Mr. Krevey himself was seeking to replicate Pier 66 Maritime's successful formula at Anable Basin in Brooklyn and at the Paint Factory in Long Island City, Queens. Acquiring the Paint Factory property last summer, Mr. Krevey's first move, true to form, was to tear down the fence that blocked access to the water.  

 

Several tributes to John Krevey have been published in the past few days, by the BroadsheetDAILY, PortSide New York (which includes a lovely clip of Mr. Krevey accepting an award from the Working Harbor Committee in October of 2010) and in Downtown Express.  

 

John Krevey leaves his wife Angela, his children Kyra and Kyle, a wide circle of friends particularly from the worlds of the waterfront and the arts, and a multitude of people who, thanks to his tenacity, creativity and goodwill, have been able to make their way to the waterfront and bask in the river breezes.

 

Photo above by Robert Simko

Remembering John Krevey

John was my benefactor. He stuck with me. When I was out there for two years without seeing another person, I would think of John and keep going because he believed in me."

Reid Stowe, who lived rent-free at Pier 63/66 Maritime for years while preparing for his around-the-world solo sailboat voyage

 

It was 1997 and I'd been thrown out of the 79th Street Marina with my outrigger canoe for not fitting in. I was literally wandering the waterfront looking for a friendly face. I came across this big barge that was a beehive of activity. John said, 'Welcome to Pier 63, you found a home. The terms are: make your club survive. I will not charge you a penny.' That was the only deal we ever had. Fifteen years later New York Outrigger is thriving. If your thing was to bring life to the waterfront and you were a decent human being, he gave you space. A strong waterfront camaraderie grew up there that couldn't have happened anywhere else.

Roger Meyer, founder and former president of New York Outrigger  

 

Nothing fazed John Krevey. One day, the Harvey had to be moved, fast. Huntley Gill, one of the co-owners, climbed up to the pilot house, Chase Welles, another co-owner, was in charge of the lines, and John Krevey was in the engine room. Suddenly Mr. Gill realized he was getting no response from the engine room. Mr. Welles ran downstairs. "I opened the door and found thick smoke everywhere. No sign of John. I crouched below the smoke level. Finally I saw John ahead. I yelled as loud as I could, 'John!' He looked over, through the smoke, smiled, and gave me the A-OK sign. Problem? What problem?"

Chase Welles, co-owner of the John J. Harvey

 

In heaven, he'll be breaking all the rules. His accomplishments and vision on the waterfront are large, and his generosity toward literally hundreds is legend. No one can fill his shoes and our world will never be the same.

John Doswell, executive director of the Working Harbor Committee

 

John was a creative, persistent and generous soul who not only breathed life into our harbor through his work but also enabled the waterfront dreams and projects of so many others.

Roland Lewis, president/CEO of the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance 

 

He leaves us a great legacy -- and it's not just about saving a rusty ship. It's that spirit of sticking to your ideals, and creating a world where so many people are welcome.

Abe Robbins, Pier 66 Maritime (back to top)