Pearl Lawson, Construction Manager and Acupuncturist
|Pearl Lawson was the construction manager for Disneyland’
s Paradise Pier (now called Pixar
Pier) in Los Angeles.
“On my way going to downtown Chicago to look for an internship, I ran across a construction firm,” Lawson said. “I dropped my resume off. They gave me an
internship for the summer before I made it downtown. That company was called Novak Construction, the first construction company I worked with.”
Lawson returned to LA and while studying for her architecture master’s, she continued to work in construction management, first for PCL Construction Services and
worked on the Staples Center and then with Hensel Phelps Construction Company where she worked on constructing Disneyland’s California Adventures and
Paradise (now Pixar) Pier.
Lawson was in the thick of it as the construction manager for the project.
“The construction manager is the one who assures that the work gets done,” Lawson said. “The architect is the one who officially approves it because it was their
vision from the beginning. The owner doesn’t want to pay a penny more. The contractor runs out of time. It’s consistently coordination, coordination and coordination
and keeping an eye on the budget and the schedule. Of course the coordination and the schedule go hand-in-hand. ‘You’re next. You’re done. You step out of the
way and let the next person come through. And of course there are the unforeseen circumstances that do occur, either weather or if you are doing renovation into a
space, there is something behind a wall or deliveries get delayed. Sometimes your big items like steel don’t get delivered on time. That holds everything up. It’s all
about communication. Construction projects are live, so you have to keep up the communication. They are going 24-hours and because of that, you have to be able
to be in communication with all of the different parties. Things happen overnight. Things happen when you arrive in the morning. Contractors need to be able to have
that safe environment to work in and open space so that they can put their installation in.”
Lawson got a lot of satisfaction out of that job.
“Working on the project, it was difficult,” Lawson recalled. “There were times when I just needed to take a break. I would stand out on the porch area of our trailer.
Other families would come up and get out of their cars. One day, I did see one little girl get out of her car and she was so excited knowing that she was going to
Disneyland. I laughed because I realized that was me when I was a little kid. I realized that I was on the other side of the fence. ‘I’m actually building Disneyland.’
That just gave me a totally different perspective. It gave me a whole sense of pride of being able to have the opportunity to work on this project. I just went back
inside and started doing my work. It was inspirational.”
Lawson obtained her degree from UCLA and headed to New York City to make her mark in the construction business. She ended up working for the New Jersey
Construction Authority whose mission was to build and renovate schools in New Jersey in response to a lawsuit.
“We had five different school districts there,” Lawson said. “We had to figure out and prioritize which school districts received funds for new schools, immediate,
emergency renovations and then additions according to the population of kids in that area who needed seats. I was assistant regional manager. It was a very
political environment. In addition, wherever the governor went to speak in the Hudson region, he needed a cheat sheet to know the different schools that we were
building in that area, even if he didn’t show up in that area to talk about schools. It could have been something else going on, but he needed our cheat sheets
constantly. We were continuously sending them to him. In addition, there were funds that needed to be disbursed properly. There were different politicians who were
advocating for their school to be next or their school district or area to be next. As we did that, we had to give them tours of the possibilities of the program that we
were actually running at that time. We were part politician and part technician.”
Lawson was working in New Jersey and there was always suspicion of corruption in the air — and sometimes it was true.
“When I was working in New Jersey, I had more hands-on with that because the architect would come in for an interview with myself, another employee and the
superintendent,” Lawson said. “There were seven proposals that were selected for an interview. With that interview, some people were on point and some people
weren’t. There would be 3-20 people who would show up for an interview from that company. Afterwards, when we would come together to figure out who would be
the best architect firm for it, the superintendent often times would have excess feedback of ‘the district or the city likes this architect firm’ just because they may
have done additional work in the area. But we may see that a new firm has a better opportunity. We wanted to give them the opportunity because they had more
direct understanding of what was needed. Sometimes politics got involved. But we tried to stick with what we thought was the best firm. We hoped that corruption
didn’t become a part of it. But at the end of the day, the state, in general, got challenged with the different contractors who were involved in New Jersey as well as
the architects because we got investigated by the attorney general. Everyone got investigated by the attorney general. But it is New Jersey. And the way that
investigated it was there were certain areas that were urban areas. They were being fully funded for their schools. The suburban areas that had a higher tax bracket
were not fully funded. They were given a portion of it. Someone did a comparison of what the schools looked like, the ones in the suburban districts that even cost a
lot less. The schools looked better. There was the understanding that if you are in an urban area, the costs may be more. You have to deal with urban sites. You
have to deal with DOT traffic control. You have to deal with time restrictions and a lot more outside entities that absorb more of the costs. If you are in a suburban
area, you don’t have to worry about all of those hard costs as you would in an urban area.”’’
Lawson then went on to work on New York City schools in the Bronx for six years.
“We were mainly doing renovations,” Lawson said. “They were getting some new schools. I think there were two new schools built in the Bronx. But I was doing
more of the renovations of the schools. The population was so high and dense in New York City, they had like five-story buildings and there was a school on each
floor, like elementary, middle school and high school. It got really serious out there. I was project managing those. It has all been rewarding knowing that I’m
providing a great facility for kids to sit and learn, which is always important. If your environment feels good, you’re more relaxed and you can receive information
that is being taught to you for your future.”
They were $30-$100 million projects.
By Jonathan Gramling
Pearl Lawson heard the creative calling when she was a little girl, growing up in Long Beach,
“I used to draw when I was in second grade,” Lawson recalled. “I had to draw a chicken and I had to
draw a shoe first, the ‘sh’ word and then the ‘ch’ word. I thought they were the best chicken and shoe
that I had ever seen drawn in my life. So I tried to show everyone I knew, which was my family of
course. I said that when I got older, I was going to be an artist. In high school, I had an art class. And
one of my homework assignments was to draw a perspective of the house. I stayed up until 2 a.m.
drawing this perspective of the outside of the house. From that, I had an epiphany that this was it. I
wanted to go into architecture.”
Lawson attended San Diego State and studied environmental design because the college had no
architecture program. She was then admitted to UCLA for their master’s architecture program. During
the summer, Lawson went to Chicago to study the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright. She ended up
taking on a new career as a construction manager.