More on the Survivor's Stairs Conversation
LMDC Says ‘Survivor Stairs’ Should Go
By Carl Glassman
POSTED FEB. 2, 2007
The “survivor” staircase may not survive.
The 170-ton ruin near Vesey Street—all that is left of the World Trade Center above ground, and for many the path to safety on Sept. 11—would be mostly torn down as part of a plan recommended by the Lower Manhattan Development Corp.
In recognition of the ruin’s significance, six to nine intact treads would be placed among the stairs leading to Larry Silverstein’s Tower 2, to be built where the remnant now stands. Some treads may also be included in the World Trade Center Memorial Museum.
The LMDC plan, presented in a closed meeting last month as part of a federally required review, pleases those who see the remnant, where it stands, as a costly impediment to the rebuilding of the site. But it infuriates preservationists who say the stairs’ historic value lies in its authenticity as a part of the trade center standing in its original place.
“In the scheme of things this is not going to delay the building [of Tower 2] and it will remain as a significant remembrance and symbol for generations to come, because it’s real,” said Peg Breen, president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy.
The January meeting was the last in a series of discussions about the stairs that brought together a wide array of groups with wildly disparate views.
Those “consulting parties,” from government agencies and groups representing preservationists, victims’ families, survivors and the Downtown community, were gathered as part of a federally mandated review, called the Section 106 consultation process. The review requires the LMDC and Port Authority to seek ways to mitigate, when possible, harm to historically significant structures on the site. The group has until Feb. 12 to comment on the proposals.
In a resolution passed last July, Community Board 1 said the historic value of the stairs was not site specific. The board also expressed concern about the expense and delays that could come with preserving them in place.
Michael Connolly, one of the CB1 representatives to the consultation process, called the LMDC’s preferred solution “thoughtful and responsive to the desire to memorialize the staircase.”
Bill Love, a CB1 member representing a Battery Park City residents group, Save West Street Coalition, called the LMDC plan “generous.”
“It is crazy to believe, as some of the preservationists do, that this huge hunk of undistinguished rubble is going to remain in its current location and Tower 2 must be redesigned to accommodate it in the lobby.”
Preservationists, however, insist that the remnant can and should stay where it is, or at least be moved while Tower 2 is built, then returned to the site intact and incorporated within the building.
“If there was the will to do it, LMDC or the Port Authority could have said to Lord Foster [the architect], design the building around the stair in the lobby,” said Frank Sanchis, a vice president of the Municipal Art Society.
“The thing came through with integrity and it has all this meaning and significance attached to it,” Sanchis added, “so why would you want to take it apart?”
Richard Zimbler, vice president of the World Trade Center Survivors Network, faults the LMDC for failing to consider the significance and symbolism of the staircase. He expressed disappointment that the agency wants to “cannibalize” the object by displaying only pieces of it. But unlike the preservationists, Zimbler had a warmer response to a set of proposals presented by the WTC Memorial Museum.
One suggestion was to either place some of the treads in the museum stairs leading down from the visitors center to the memorial hall or to imbed them in a slope between the stairs and the escalator.
“It’s within the memorial quadrant, and being that it’s in a museum setting it will have the proper signage. And we have faith that the museum would handle it respectfully,” Zimbler said.
Another museum proposal would place the bottom stair—a symbol of transition from flight to safety—in the glade of trees of the memorial plaza. Next to it would be a tree that had continued to stand amid destruction on the trade center plaza (it is now planted in the Bronx). Together, they would stand for survival.
“It would be a very beautiful way of honoring the experience of 25,000 people who escaped the buildings,” said Alice Greenwald, the museum’s director, who presented the suggestions to the stakeholder group last month.
Greenwald said the museum had found it “unfeasible” to include the entire staircase in the plaza and considered a plan to make it part of the exhibit at bedrock. memorial hall or to imbed them in a slope between the stairs and the escalator.
But its 60-foot height, she said, could overwhelm the objects around it.
“There was a curatorial issue of whether it was appropriate,” she said. “We really struggled with it and decided it would be a disservice to the artifacts out there.” Nevertheless, she said, the exhibit area could accommodate a portion of the stairs.
One impediment to leaving the stairs in place, according to the LMDC, is the expense of moving and storing them during the construction of Tower 2. The agency estimated it would cost $2.5 million to move the structure and far less, $300,000, to dismantle them. But preservationists dispute the figure. Robert Silman, an engineer with experience moving much larger objects (the 4,000-ton Empire Theater in Times Square, for example) said he received a bid of $300,000 for the entire job.
“I would love to meet with the Port Authority to find out why they came up with such a high number,” said Silman, who was hired as a consultant by the New York Landmarks Conservancy. “It’s completely feasible technically and they should not make that an excuse.” Port Authority representatives were not present at the January meeting.
The staircase was not damaged by the attacks of Sept. 11, but instead was nearly torn down as part of the recovery operation at the site. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority stopped the demolition because the structure was needed as an access point for rebuilding
the subway station for the 1/9 lines.
Only 12 steps, most on the upper part of the staircase, still have their smooth granite facing and it is those that would be preserved and included on the site if plans offered by the LMDC and Memorial Museum Foundation are adopted.
No date has been set for the decision, which rests with Eliot Spitzer.