Remember Towers As They Were
You have to be a native to understand.
(Jan 31, Church Street, NYC) Every native New Yorker knows there can be no memorial, tribute, statue, sculpture - no man made marker - that can adequately stand symbolically as a remembrance of the sacrifice and courage - the epitome of the New York City spirit and character - displayed as the world stood witness on September 11. 2001.
The World Trade Center, the Twin Towers, the mighty giant “11” anchored at the southern tip of Manhattan were the most iconic of the soaring, glittering jewels in the majestic New York City skyline.
In 1973 upon the ribbon cutting they may not have been viewed as the most creative or aesthetic of structures by the blathering, know-nothing ‘architectural critics’ however, to us New Yorkers, they possessed a captivating boldness in there stoic, clean-lined beauty. There sheer height alone sprained the neck and strained the eye. They stretched towards the clouds as twin exclamation points confirming for us, and proclaiming to the world, who we are. They were, for us, fitting symbols of the place we called home.
Earlier this week the site upon which the Twin Towers once proudly stood, once again occupied local headlines as the Port Authority and Larry Silverstein, the controlling entities of the property, let it slip that they were prepared to construct two low slung structures in the footprints of the Towers to serve as “temporary” memorials until the “real” memorial can be built. The motivation behind this incarnation of reclamation here turns out to be crass greed and callous consumerism. These “Stump Towers” as they’ve been dubbed, would house retail stores from the ritzy to the cheesy; providing ground level market space from which hawk-nosed merchants could peddle insulting World Trade Center, FDNY and NYPD memorabilia. What a disgrace.
It is understood that economics drive all decisions, large and small, when it comes to building, developing, financing and construction in NYC. Let’s face it, the Twin Towers contained 220 acres of rentable office space atop ultra-prime real estate. Certainly there are those with a vested interest in remaking that site as a revenue stream once again. Perhaps this sorry, sickening, pitiful alternative would not be seen as acceptable to those sharks had there not been so much acrimony, lack of courage and crass self interest involved from the very start. The smoke had barely cleared, hundreds of bodies, thousands of remains had yet to be recovered, and Silverstein and his crew were already arguing with the Port Authority. To their shame, once the shinning example of how a pseudo-governmental public-private partnership could function, The Port Authority, proved to be as craven and callous as the moneymen themselves. Austin Tobin must still be turning in his grave.
THE SEVEN (almost eight) YEAR DITCH
The Towers, under construction, circa 1970
New Yorkers of a certain age grew up as the Towers grew. Our lives seemed to develop in paralell, in the virtual shadow, of the massive structures that would come to symbolize our hometown to the world. Our fathers and grandfathers rode with us (second graders) on the subway as we went downtown to peer into the 200 foot deep ‘bathtub’ to watch as the foundations were laid and poured. As seventh graders we took that same ride with our friends to watch as the Towers were topped out; the structural steel absorbing sunlight as if retaining its power. By the time we were sophomores in High School, we sat on stoops and warehouse docks in The Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens drinking our first quarts of beer, when the lights came on and the buildings finally were officially open. Some of us participated in Senior proms and weddings in some of the many huge conference rooms turned celebratory halls for such occasions. At some point we each took the jet powered elevator ride to the 110 story observation decks and marveled at the vista, able to actually see the curvature of the earth at the end of a 45 mile line of sight. In our 40’s we witnessed the unthinkable as those steel, concrete and glass anchors disappeared in a flash into a roiling cloud of smoke and dust that seemed to angrily block the sunlight as it rushed up the narrow streets in all directions. At that time we couldn’t image the scale and scope of what we were witnessing nor the valor and strength that had been living, breathing souls immediately prior. That knowledge as the names of the dead became known would forever haunt us. It forever will.
NYPD on the job for a grim task.
A segment of the WTC Wall commemorating
the 343 fallen members of FDNY on 9-11-01
The loss of life that day was gut wrenching. Incredibly courageous, poised, and determined civilians calmly embarked on a downward exodus in narrow, hot, smoke filled stairwells. Untold acts of heroism, humanity and grit followed them out. Hundreds of dedicated firemen, cops , EMTs and others ran up those same stairs passing the flow of survivors on the right. Everyone knew where they were going and why; none knew what would transpire in the moments ahead. Every person that died or survived knew it was their fate; each of them prayed, some with gratitude and those at the end for salvation. St. Peter must have had his hands full that afternoon as hundreds of soot covered firemen and dozens of breathless cops appeared at the Pearly Gates. There certainly was one raucous party that night the likes of which Heaven had never seen before.
One thing is certain, not a civilian, cop, or firemen would want the site of their destined survival or death, to one day be ground from which tokens of their unimaginable fortitude would be hawked. None would want a gaudy memorial either. A simple, yet powerful, respectful cairn would do.
None would want those of us alive today to bear the sights, sounds, smells and emotions of that day as the final memories of them nor of the place that claimed them or set them free to live on borrowed time. No. Not hardly.
The sun still rises out in the Atlantic, over Brooklyn and then is released to spread it’s light, heat, and energy over the rest of our vast country to the west. As it makes its climb it is momentarily over the open pit, the sixteen acre hole is suddenly shadowless, every inch exposed by the raw yellow light. Some see the past in that pit, others the future. We all see our humanity and appreciate the brevity of life, the fragile balance between fate, happenstance and circumstance. We keep our feelings and thoughts private; we hold them close to the bone because to give them life via the spoken word would somehow diminish them.
Ultimately some structure, probably several smaller, less distinctive, buildings will rise from this place. They will be built recalling the engineering of the Twin Towers and, as if anyone could have ever envisioned the events of 9-11-01, they will be built “better”. Perhaps more metric tons of cement and miles more of structural steel will define these new constructs. No building nor materials can or will ever replace in any way, shape or form the spirit that built them, took them from blueprints to reality.
No people will ever occupy the space in these buildings yet built with the same degree of courage and strength as those who did on that clear, cloudless, ordinary - to a point - day in the early Autumn of 2001.
The “E” Train still runs today. The WTC Station is both its origin and terminus.
Now as it ever was, world without end...