213 Pearl Street; Still Coming Down?


Historians fight to save city building
The Associated Press

November 5, 2007

NEW YORK (AP) — Historians are trying to save a Manhattan building that is “a rare surviving relic” of New York’s 19th-century world trade center that is to be demolished to make way for a new hotel.

The Greek Revival warehouse is in a lower Manhattan neighborhood that was part of “the process that made New York into America’s great city,” says historian Paul E. Johnson.

Alan Solomon, an amateur historian helping spearhead the effort to preserve the old red-brick warehouse on Pearl Street, said on Saturday that he believes its demolition to make way for a new Sheraton hotel could start as early as this week.

A demolition application for the site was filed with the city Department of Buildings on Oct. 16 by a wrecking company, but the city hasn’t issued a permit yet, said department spokeswoman Robin Brooks.

The old warehouse was recently purchased from a Long Island family by a Manhattan developer, The Lam Group. The developer didn’t immediately return a call Saturday.

The warehouse was erected in 1831 — one of the earliest examples of the Greek Revival style of a cluster of buildings that made up the original world trade center in lower Manhattan, long before the 110-story twin towers that opened in 1970. The Pearl Street wholesalers specialized in dry goods they shipped to storekeepers all over the country.

New York “became like a funnel through which the wealth of the Western world would now have to pass,” according to a television documentary by Ric Burns called “The Town and The City.” Narrow lanes like Pearl Street “were transformed into the first district in the world devoted exclusively to commerce.”

On either side of the warehouse on 213 Pearl Street were two similar 19th-century buildings on a block now mostly owned by Rockrose Development, which has built a luxury high-rise there and is erecting a second tower.

All that remains of the building at 211 Pearl is its facade, and 215 already has been demolished, leaving 213 as “a rare surviving relic of the process that made New York into America’s great city,” said Johnson.

Most of 211 Pearl St. was demolished to make way for a parking garage. But the facade was saved, along with three triangular shapes in the brick that remain a mystery. Some scholars have guessed they might be symbols linked to William Colgate, the deeply Christian soap entrepreneur for whom the warehouse was built.

Solomon said the demolition and redevelopment of the old trade district is being partly financed by tax-exempt Liberty Bonds, issued by the federal government to rebuild the neighborhood around the modern-day World Trade Center after terrorists destroyed the twin towers on Sept. 11, 2001.

Solomon, who works as a vintage-lumber dealer, is part of a group of New Yorkers appealing to the developer to preserve the facade, along with downtown community leaders.

A Web site called www.historicpearlstreet.org celebrates the street that once formed the 17th century border of New Amsterdam — New York’s original Dutch name — where oyster shells washed in from the ocean.

Copyright © 2007, The Associated Press

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