They paved people’s homes to build a parking lot


By Julie Shapiro

The artist who lost her home and studio when bulldozers slammed into 213 Pearl St. nearly 18 months ago could only laugh when she heard that the site had been turned into a parking lot.

“I don’t know whether to laugh or cry,” said Colette, who goes by one name only. “I’d rather laugh.”

Colette and fellow tenant Jim Teschner were forced to leave 213 Pearl St. in the summer of 2007, when adjacent construction rendered the building unsafe. The Lam Group then bought the damaged building and demolished it later that year rather than repair it, reportedly to make way for a 660-room Sheraton Hotel.

But the hotel has been on hold since last year because C.E.O. John Lam could not get a loan for the over $200 million project. So, like many other out-of-luck developers, Lam recently converted the site into a parking lot, several blogs reported last week. Lam did not respond to a request for comment.

“What happened is tragic,” Colette said, “and it’s even stranger now that they haven’t done anything [with the site]…. It’s ridiculous, but I don’t want to dwell on it.”

Colette’s apartment at 213 Pearl St. was more than just the space she used to produce her art — the space itself was art. Colette created different environments in her atelier and molded matching personas for herself, marking stages of life and inspirations.

When Colette was evicted at a moment’s notice in 2007, she had to leave behind costumes, wigs, fabric, portraits and antique furniture. A last-ditch preservation effort later that year failed to save her home, an 1832 warehouse that was part of the city’s first foray into international trade. During the demolition, Colette staged performance art pieces in front of the building.

After leaving 213 Pearl, Colette moved briefly to Chelsea, then farther uptown, and now works out of a studio in DUMBO. On the wall of her studio, she wrote, “Home is where my art is.”

Teschner, the other tenant evicted from the building, is a painter who has since moved to France using the money he got from a settlement with The Lam Group.

“You can’t say, ‘Oh I’m really glad it happened because now I’m here,’” Teschner said in a phone interview. “What happened to me and my building was really awful. It was really, really painful. It still is painful.”

Like Colette, Teschner laughed when he heard his former home is now a parking lot. It’s funny, he said, because the corner adjacent to 213 Pearl St. already had a former life as a parking lot — but that one was for American International Group executives. Rockrose Development Corp., the developer that owns much of the block, tried for years to buy that A.I.G. lot, hoping to create a superblock including 213 Pearl St. as well. Prior to receiving $182 billion in federal funds, A.I.G. agreed to sell the lot, but The Lam Group bought it instead and also bought 213 Pearl, intending to develop the properties together.

“The fact that now it’s back to being a parking lot, it’s like it’s gone full circle,” Teschner said.

Alan Solomon, an amateur historian who tried to preserve Teschner’s building and the neighboring 215 Pearl St., said it makes little difference whether the site is a parking lot or a hotel because either way, the buildings are gone. He has some pieces of the old facade in storage, in case The Lam Group decides to rebuild using historic materials.

“Something will be developed there,” Solomon said. “I don’t think it will remain a parking lot.”

Teschner did not sound unhappy that plans for the Sheraton are on hold. He said he is just glad the economic crisis didn’t come sooner. If the credit markets had frozen a year earlier, The Lam Group may not have bought 213 Pearl, which would have left former owner Diane Karch with an uninhabitable building on her hands and the tenants without any hope of a financial settlement for losing their homes.

“I could have ended up with nothing,” Teschner said. “The financial settlement gave me options to create a new life for myself.”

Teschner, who would not name the amount of the settlement, said he is happy in France.

“Something good came out of something awful,” he said.