The following was the cover story of the June issue and is quoted by permission from
The Tribeca Trib, June 2000
Sunken Spirit: Death of the Town Hall
by Ronald Drenger
For nine years, the Town Hall floated off Tribeca's Pier 25, a vestige of Lower Manhattan's eccentric, independent spirit. Last month it was taken to its watery demise.
It took three years to build the boat out of scrap. And for nine years, bobbing off Tribeca's Pier 25, it was an object of curiosity, snickers and affection. But in a matter of minutes last month, the Town Hall was reduced to a field of debris floating in the Hudson River.
On May 8, the purple and yellow paddlewheel craft and the three boats that were tied to it - a smaller covered raft called Child of Amazon, a motorboat and a mastless sailboat - were towed away by the Hudson River Park Trust. Balazs, a Hungarian artist who was living on the Town Hall, said that when he came to Pier 25 to get some water, about 15 men, whom he believed to be park police, walked onto the pier to prevent him from returning by dinghy to his home At the same time, a boat arrived and its crew cut the houseboats' lines and towed the vessels away.
The pilfered crafts were taken to Pier 40, where a salvage crew hired by the Trust lifted the Child of Amazon onto a barge by crane, then tried to do the same with Town Hall. Two long slings were slipped beneath the boat's hull and, as Balazs and about 10 others watched, the vessel was raised a few feet out of the water.
To a chorus of gasps from the onlookers, the boat suddenly cracked in the middle, leaving both ends hanging precariously from the slings as debris fell into the water. Moments later, the Town Hall collapsed and crashed into the river. It wasn't clear whether a sling broke or whether the fragile vessel broke apart from the strain.
"There are no words for this, seeing your house go under water in front of your eyes," Balazs said as he watched the boat disintegrate.
Before the boat was lifted, the Trust returned his dog, Suba, who had been on board. But Balasz was not allowed to retrieve his possessions which he said included his passport and green card, a few thousand dollars in cash, artwork and all his clothing. Later, he said he discovered that his kitten, Lucky, had been aboard as well and had probably drowned.
The Child of Amazon and remnants of the Town Hall were brought to Port Newark, N.J., and the Trust hired boats to clean debris from the river. Balazs (he uses only his first name), who had cared for the Town Hall since 1998, slept on Pier 25 in the days after the boat was taken, before moving to a friend's apartment. The Trust returned a few belongings and Balazs visited the New Jersey facility, but he said he got back little worth keeping.
The Town Hall was built from driftwood and recycled debris in Provincetown, Mass., by David Pearlman (aka Poppa Neutrino), his wife, Betsy Terrell their children and some friends. They brought the boat to New York in 1991 and lived on the water for most of the 1990s, calling themselves the Floating Neutrinos. Pearlman and Terrell left Tribeca two years ago, before making a historic journey across the Atlantic in another homemade raft, the Son of Town Hall.
The Town Hall still belonged to the family, while Balazs owned the Child of Amazon and the other two boats.
The Trust told Balazs last fall that they wanted the boats moved, but he said he had not received any notice that the agency was coming to take away his home. Pearlman, who is now in Minnesota with Terrell building another raft, said he had "not received on letter or one phone call " from the Trust.
"Who are these bureaucrats who can decide without due process that they can just take these boats?" he said.
Noreen Doyle, a Trust spokeswoman, said the boats "were trespassing on public park land." She said that according to the Hudson River Park Act, passed by New York State in 1998, the Trust has jurisdiction over the entire park, which is being developed from the Battery to 59th Street and includes the water from the shore to the pier heads.
The Trust has long argued that residential boats do not belong in the park, and last September Community Board 1 passed a resolution not to oppose removal of the vessels.
"They've known for a long time that this was coming," Doyle said. "We had no obligation to provide written notice." She added that the Trust "took every possible precaution to make sure the boat wouldn't be damaged."
Balazs and Pearlman said they were consulting lawyers about possible legal action, and Balazs is circulating a petition to protest the Trust's action.
Adam Brown, president of the Working Waterfront Association, said his group was investigating the removal. "The Trust has no jurisdiction over vessels in federal waters. Federal navigation rights supersede the state law," he said.
According to Lt. Chip Lopez of the Coast Guard's Waterways Management Division, the boats "were not in violation of any Coast Guard-enforced regulations." He said the Coast Guard, in conjunction with the Army Corps of Engineers, only removes vessels that are navigational hazards or pollution threats. But he could not say whether the Trust had a legal right to tow the boats. "There are a lot of concurrent jurisdictions on the water," he said. "It depends on how the laws are written and enforced."
For some, those rickety boats were unsightly, but for others, they were works of art that represented a last vestige of independent spirit in Lower Manhattan.
"I loved looking at it. Tourists loved looking at it," said Karen Tenza, a West Village resident who witnessed the Town Hall's demise at Pier 40. "They've taken away something unique."
On Sunday, May 28, Balazs and about 15 friends gathered on Pier 25 to pay their last respects to the dearly departed vessels. A few people brought flowers, which Balazs laid on the pier's edge alongside photos of the Town Hall and his cat. The water, someone said, looked strangely empty.
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