Volume 22, Number 29 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | November 27 - December 3, 2009
Preliminary design of one of the history boards that is expected to be on display on Pearl St.
Pearl St. block to get history boards
By Julie Shapiro
The seven-year saga of preservation and demolition on Pearl St. could finally be drawing to a close.
Most of the historic fabric is gone from the block between Maiden Ln. and John St., though preservationists did manage to save a few artifacts. Now, the preservationists hope to draw attention to what was lost by installing history boards at the corner of Pearl St. and Maiden Ln.
“It was the cradle of the city’s development,” local historian Alan Solomon said of the warehouses that lined Pearl St., connecting Wall St.’s financial center to the ships at South Street Seaport.
Solomon has been battling for years with Rockrose Development Corp. and The Lam Group to preserve the warehouses, but 213 and 215 Pearl St. are gone, and all that remains of 211 Pearl St. is its facade, which is now the entrance to a parking garage.
Rockrose agreed several years ago to pay for the history boards, and now that Solomon has designed them, he hopes to collect money from Rockrose soon. Roger Byrom, chairperson of Community Board 1’s Landmarks Committee, said it is important to get the $8,000 to $10,000 as soon as possible given the poor economy and Rockrose’s recent splintering into two separate companies.
Jon McMillan, who used to work for Rockrose but now works for the offshoot TF Cornerstone, told Downtown Express last week that the company would spend up to $10,000 on the history boards. They will likely be installed on the columns of Cornerstone’s 2 Gold St. building at Maiden Ln. and Pearl St.
“Saving the facade of 211 Pearl St. was a tremendous effort, and we’re glad to be calling some attention to it,” McMillan said of the boards.
The history boards, measuring about 2 feet by 2 feet, will each describe a different aspect of the block’s past. One will focus on Pearl St. as a trade district starting in the early 19th century and particularly after the Erie Canal opened in 1825. The building at 211 Pearl St. was built for William Colgate, founder of the Colgate-Palmolive toothpaste empire.
Another board will remind passersby that Pearl St. was once the shoreline of Manhattan, and it was named for the many oysters that were found in the harbor, whose shells were later used to pave the street.
A third board will commemorate the neighborhood’s role in the American Revolution. In January 1770, two months before the Boston Massacre, the Battle of Golden Hill near John and Gold Sts. marked the first bloodshed between colonists and British soldiers. The street brawl (which ended in a golden wheat field) escalated over several days, after British soldiers chopped down a wooden “liberty pole” that the Sons of Liberty used to express their displeasure with British rule. Several people on both sides were wounded, but there were no fatalities.
Solomon also wants to commemorate Hercules Mulligan, a Son of Liberty who lived at 218 Pearl St. Mulligan ran a tailor shop frequented by British soldiers, who often unwittingly passed on pieces of gossip that Mulligan in turn told the American army. Mulligan is said to have saved George Washington from a British ambush.
While Solomon is working on the history boards, he is also wrestling with what to do with a 10-foot-tall brick symbol he rescued from 211 Pearl St. before most of the building was demolished. Solomon got Rockrose to put $12,000 into removing the symbol in one piece, because he thought it dated to the building’s 1830s construction. The bricks themselves are of a type made mostly before 1840, and they are arranged in a triangular pattern that could represent Masonic, Christian or other ideals.
However, after Rockrose removed the symbol, Solomon had its mortar tested and was told the mortar was only 10 years old. After digging into the building’s past, he now thinks the symbol was taken apart within the past 10 years for utility work, but he maintains that the configuration of the bricks and the bricks themselves are much older. The symbol is now sitting in a Bronx warehouse, where Solomon hopes to do further testing. He eventually wants to return the bricks to one of the new Pearl St. buildings, but that appears unlikely.
“We thought it was all pretty silly,” McMillan said of the effort to preserve the symbol. “We agreed to pay for getting rid of it. We’re not interested in having it back.”
The symbol could possibly find a home in the South Street Seaport Museum instead, but for now it will likely stay in the Bronx.