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 Building Freedom Tower -- The Journal 

Paperbacknovel contributor Dick Sheppard, who works in an office directly overlooking the World Trade Center site, hopes to track progress of the ascent of Freedom Tower, which at 1776 feet will be [more]

For previous journals, see bottom of this page.

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Building Freedom Tower

August 2007 Installment of the Monthly Journal 

[Read the sidebar, Building Freedom Tower -- The Journal for introduction]

By Dick Sheppard

Period ending 8/31/07 


With the approach of the sixth anniversary of 9/11/01, disaster and attendant gloom have befallen the dizzying WTC rebuilding, and the various Lower Manhattan construction zones. A deadly fire broke out on Saturday 8/18, on about the 17th story of the already partially demolished Deutsche Bank building, killing two firefighters. Subsequently on Friday 9/24, a partial scaffold collapse and debris shower injured two firefighters and two construction workers. The Deutsche Bank demo is snake bit with bad karma beyond belief. Those two lost fireman join their lost 9/11/01 comrades as victims of the 9/11/01 attack.

The finger-pointing is underway, the subcontractor is taking most of the blame, and evidently a section of 20-inch standpipe was removed in the basement. There wasn’t enough water to fight/contain the upper stories blaze. The subcontractor also has Mob ties, it’s been supposed; the mob has likely made tens of millions from the WTC rebuild. So what? -- you’d say if there’s something to show for it? I have been watching the Deutsche demo directly as the floors disappear, they had some water on the demo site, as they were using hoses to wet the dust and debris up there. Perhaps just not enough to fight a fire blazing through the windows and generating enough smoke to recall the images from six years ago, when two smoking towers collapsed.

Just as a good pace of activity for bringing down Deutsche was underway, work now halts, with no statement for restarting. I’ve seen just today a few forlorn workers up on the exposed top floors, wandering around for a few minutes before leaving. Daniel Henninger in the Wall Street Journal mourned the Deutsche fire, how long it’s taking to get this building down; saying in effect, “the perfect is the enemy of the good.” The Deutsche demo is subject to every conceivable environmental review imaginable, in effect, the building is being surgically removed. Now that people are realizing the building should have been down years ago, it’s delayed yet again, and who knows when that it will end?

Steve Cuozzo in the NY Post explains how any delay will affect work in the part of the WTC rebuild alongside Liberty Street, just north of Deutsche. Certain aspects of the WTC rebuild closest to Deutsche share underground infrastructure. So last Saturday’s disaster is having a domino effect where Towers 3 & 4 will arise at Liberty and Church, and north of Liberty along Church. Delay on Deutsche means delay for parts of WTC too.

View atop idle Deutsche Bank demo, post-fire

At Freedom Tower

As usual, not much to report directly at the Freedom Tower footprint. One of the two Freedom Tower cranes is being used to build-out the Vesey Street PATH access, which has progressed from steel skeleton to covered structure. From above, the Vesey Street PATH access looks close to being finished, but from ground level, it looks like a few more months before commuters will stream forth. That’s on the east side of Freedom Tower. On the south side of Freedom Tower, one of the F.T. cranes is helping to build-out the under-structure of that portion of Fulton Street which will run parallel to the south side of Freedom Tower. There’s some massive concrete slabs/flooring being poured, so far two or three levels worth of concrete slabs on top of reinforced concrete posts. I imagine somewhere under the finished Fulton there will be some eventual public access. At street level, Fulton Street will separate the Freedom Tower from the Memorial.

Fulton build-up from above

Fulton Transit Hub

The lot on which the 80-foot glass gallery of the Fulton Transit Hub will arise is now empty but for scoopable debris. All of the buildings on the east side of Broadway from Fulton, south to the 11 John Street “Corbin Building,’ are gone, demolished. The tallest structure, 198-200 Broadway, was gone by the middle of last week (9/20). Now it’s just debris removal and likely a re-fencing off of the area to begin foundation work in earnest. There’s some scaffolding going up alongside the old A.T.T. building on the west side of Broadway across from the Fulton Hub site. For anyone who loves walking in Manhattan and admiring buildings, scaffolding is the bane for these activities.

East side of Broadway, looking south along empty Fulton Hub site

New Fulton Water Main

Just at the corner of Fulton and Broadway, stretching east all the way to Gold Street and beyond, the south side of Fulton Street, the traffic way, is exposed and the 150-year-old water main is being replaced. (See before and after photos). I passed by there in the later evening a few nights ago, and they actually lay the large sections of the new pipe at night, they can’t do it any other time there’s too much pedestrian and vehicular traffic. The project is supposed to take two years, but that includes doing a rework of the Fulton Street streetscape and some park improvements. It sure looks like they are laying the water pipe from Fulton toward the east fairly quickly.

Before: Old water main

After: New water main in place, east of Broadway Fulton intersection

Looking east down Fulton Street, new water mains

Cortlandt Street N/R Station

As this project directly cuts off the Church Street PATH access from the rest of Lower Manhattan, it is the most visible and annoying project at present. The Cortlandt Street station, which is under Church Street, was supposed to be reopened by now, but the only thing open is the street above, cut open like a punched-up boxer’s eye. This is a critical connecting node between the PATH trains and then under Dey Street to the Fulton Transit Hub, but most of the work seemed like it was taking place below ground. Now, the work is street level and causing pedestrian and vehicular routing that at some points is hazardous. The entire Corltandt Street station rebuild and Dey Street pedestrian passageway, it’s difficult to say just what stage they’re at or when it will be done. (Use work on Cortlandt Street pic)


Work on Cortlandt Street station on Church

Cortlandt Street and Broadway

The sidewalk was recovered and reopened for pedestrians two weeks ago, and the new 4-5 line access is open. Downtown 4-5 riders can now exit towards the front of the train and pop out onto Broadway and Cortlandt at the base of One Liberty Plaza. Eventually, there will be an access for the J-M_Z trains too. Despite this progress, it seems like there’s too much reopening of re-asphalted streets, and senior construction guys standing around with schematics looking worried. For several days, a Verizon truck seemingly on permanent station camped near an area where an access chamber was built under the street, just about in the intersection of Broadway and Cortlandt.

New Broadway & Cortlandt station entrance

Six-Year Aftermath

So it goes, the ebb, flow, and ebb of recovery from 9/11/01. Fiterman Hall, sitting in squalor a block north of the WTC, is a miniature Deutsche Bank building. Clad in similar scaffolding and fabric, practically untouched in six years, since 9/11, who knows when that edifice will come down. At the Fulton Hub, it took just over 5 weeks to bring down the 198-200 Broadway building, a bit taller and narrower than Fiterman.

From Cedar Street post-fire

At Deutsche, two firemen dead in a building which still stands in horror, windows smashed and fabric torn and scaffold askew, like a ghetto house that’s been stoned a thousand times. Officials pointing fingers and community activists screaming bloody defiance of any plan put forth, it seems. In a word, a “mess.” A few fire brass have been reassigned for lax inspection. Yes, it’s being cleaned up, being re-built, with some pedestrian improvements. Yet as the Wall Street Journal’s Henninger points out, and he too works in the shadow of the Deutsche Building and daily passes the WTC site, you recall the sense on the day of and aftermath of 9/11/01 that we weren’t just losing two iconic towers, but that recapturing their soaring inspirational presence might prove daunting, too. We can hope without perhaps too much hope that our pursuit of the perfect in defiance of the good, our hubristic pursuit of “just so,” can be balanced with a sense of “ENOUGH,” and we can see the skyline soar again.