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Sept. 11, 2006 and Tribute in Lights




Building Freedom Tower

September 2006 Installment of the Monthly Journal 

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

By Dick Sheppard

Two Weeks Ending 9/22/06

Closer to Agreement?

Following the notable commemoration of five years since 9/11/01, on Monday 9/11/06, the crews on the Freedom Tower quadrant went right back to work on Tuesday, 9/12. By 9/13, things all around the site were “back to normal,” in that you could all of the temporary structures erected for the five-year commemoration were removed and the site returned to its true form as a construction site (although like no other).

Certainly any attempt to bring down Freedom Tower is going to require much more than even the largest envisioned airliner say, thirty years from now. The Freedom Tower work is primarily foundation enlargement, and deepening. You wonder if they went this deep into the rock for the original towers. They are down no into the rock at least 15 feet, and no steel has been set within. While there has been activity around the Memorial sections of the site, there was much more prior to the five-year commemoration. There seems to be a let-up at the Memorial footprints.

Perhaps the lag is due to the down-to-the-wire negotiations on the deal under which the entire towers-portion development is being built. A final, definitive plan was supposed to be signed by 9/11/06, but it’s been two weeks and there’s been a tentative agreement between the PA and Larry Silverstein. Several Federal Government tenants will be housed in the Freedom Tower, which is being built by Larry but will be owned by the Port Authority. Among the other three planned towers, Larry will own them and the PA will own the land. It gets confusing, but the upshot is the government and other interests are nervous about having so much space on the market. It’s all foot-dragging.

The PA agreed to leases space among the other three towers, but then the Chairman of the PA said he wouldn’t himself work, or force anyone to work anywhere around the new WTC site. The Times even interviewed people who said they wouldn’t work in the building, government workers. So it looks as if no one will rent space there, but that was exactly what was said about Larry’s 7 WTC, which is almost 70% rented now. 

The PA is obligated to prepare the east side where Larry will build the towers he will own. A timetable has been set, so there’s progress, but there’s some uncertainty. Nicole Gelinas, normally a voice of reason, argued in today’s (9/22) NY Post that maybe the Freedom Tower should be held in abeyance until the other site towers are built and rented. This is unlike Nicole, so it’s unnerving to read that even as a FINAL agreement is imminent, the flagship component of the site, Freedom Tower, should be re-thought yet again. I have an unsettling feeling apposite my optimistic outlook following the five-year commemoration. I hope I’m wrong. 

Two Weeks Ending 9/8/06

Preparations for the Fifth Anniversary

It's good to report that it has been an eventful two weeks at the WTC site, notwithstanding that there was once again a good amount of rain, which makes the bathtub portion of the site look forlorn and neglected. But it really isn't anymore, and I dare predict, won't ever be again. The WTC site is building to a full-blown construction site with all the implications, including: buildings! (Still years off…).

On the site itself, there are increasing numbers of workers. In the past, some commentators have noted that for the most part, the workers on the WTC site have been marking time, shuffling things around and not building anything, as the pols and other interests dickered and fro'd. But that is changing. I can see the numbers increasing directly, but also you can tell they're doing purposeful things down there, not just at the Freedom Tower footprint (where they are going gangbusters) but all across the site. Deep trenches are being dug, drilling rigs all around, especially where they've partially diverted the Church Street sidewalk at the southeast corner.

There's lots of work in the vicinity of the Vesey Stairs, all along the north border of the site, along Vesey Street. In coming months, PATH commuters will be exiting on Vesey Street to allow for construction of the soaring new PATH station. Right down on the PATH tracks as you look through the gauzy curtain and fence of the Freedom Tower site, you can see how deep into the Manhattan Schist bedrock they've cut, as noted earlier. But they go deeper and more precisely into the rock, still. And along the east border of the Freedom Tower footprint, right parallel to the western most PATH track, is yet another trench, with protruding rebar. Work is being done. More footings for all that will be arising around Freedom Tower.

At Freedom Tower, pneumatic drills tips which are shaping the rock, differ in size. There's a larger blunt tip which pulverizes large areas, and now, I've seen them using a very narrow-tip pneumatic bit. You get a sense of "surgery" how carefully they are making the rock cuts. Even as I watch from 30 stories up, I can hear the "thump, thmp, thump" of the drilling. So on Freedom Tower site, I predict footings soon and steel rising right after.

Just to note, diagonally across West Street from the Freedom Tower quadrant/corner, at the Goldman Sachs site, the rock cut they've made is massive. It's a sloping cut into the rock that looks like the side of a mountain; a natural formation. Schist is pretty rock, especially the lighter variety. To think this rock, both under the WTC and Goldman sites, has formed hundreds of millions of years ago, undisturbed. And then one day some drilling, blasting and pneumatic work, and it's exposed into the bright sunlight, gleaming. The Goldman site is encased in a metallic bathtub of interlocked metal strip piles, instead of a WTC-like slurry wall. Different footings for different sites and towers.

Off-site yesterday, Larry Silverstein's company released a working "final" design for the three towers besides Freedom Tower which will arise at the WTC site. These will run along Church Street -- Tower 2 (78 stories) the north-most, at the corner of Church and Vesey Streets, will be as tall as the Empire State Building. The very tippy-top of it's triangular antennae will nearly reach Freedom Tower's roofline. That's a big-boy tower. And it's a very forward-looking design, topped by four diamond-shaped rooflines which will slope steeply down toward the plaza far below. When prep work is being done for Tower 2, however, a decision will have to be made about the Vesey Stairs, which are on that footprint.

Towers 3 (71 stories), and 4 (61 stories), are correspondingly shorter (though both still taller than the tallest existing Lower Manhattan skyscrapers), in final deference to the since-discarded Libeskind Master Plan, which called for this shortening of building heights as they go north-to-south. Tower 3 echoes Tower 2's diamond roofline, with diamond cross-beam patterns rising up the sides. Tower 3 is rectangular, with four spires ascending each corner at the roofline. Tower 4 (61 stories), which even being the shortest overtops the building I report from, One Liberty Plaza, rises as a rectangle and then alters towards a roofline which too slopes in deference to its surroundings. This changing shape ties Tower 4 to Tower 3, which has an offset shape at the base.

As it turns out, even the shortest tower of the group, Tower 4, will overtop any other building in Lower Manhattan - at 695 feet it will outrank my Liberty Plaza by at least 100 feet. The digital depictions show both Freedom Tower and Tower 2 soaring over the rest of the skyline. I know some people may have loved to have seen two identical buildings to recall the lost Twin Towers, but these two massive towers are not that different in height, and they look awe-inspiring together, at least to this amateur critic.

If you stand at the intersection where Trinity Place turns into Church Street, right at Liberty Street, and look up, you get a sense of the scale of the "Big 3" towers that will march north. That first stretch of Church Street will be encased in buildings, a loss of light that can't be avoided. The light, instead, will be shifted to the west side of the site, where it will better bathe the Memorial itself. First impressions: positive; each building designed by a different architect, but together, NY Times reporter David Dunlap describes them as a Jazz Quartet. Anybody got anything against a jazz quartet? (Mr. Dunlap was not so kind to Larry Silverstein in his overall commentary; my response to him is (here)). It's been a frustrating wait, with some anxiety over some less than worthy designs, but if the final plan strongly resembles this design, it's been well worth the wait.

Steve Cuozzo in today's (9/8) NY Post slammed the naysayers who - for their own self-interested reasons - said Larry couldn't rent 7WTC. Larry's been doing just fine renting 7 WTC, and has hung a classy banner across the front of 7WTC praising his new tenants for their vision and patronage. Smart guy, that Larry. I responded with a letter to the Post, published if not there, somewhere else at this site.

And in preparation for this Monday's 5th Anniversary events, the streets surrounding WTC are humming with tourists, TV trucks, and miscellaneous goings-on. The "Tribute NYC" space at 120 Liberty Street opened this past Wednesday (9/6) with attending dignitaries and publicity. The space will be a holding museum until the final Memorial is built across Liberty Street. I will wait until the September tourism crowds thin before venturing over; the exhibition, which includes personal items and remembrances from that day five years back, needs time. I don't know the details, but there's been some news that they may offer limited, small-group visits into the WTC site itself. That would be a great thing.

The "Tribute in Light", the two ghostly, piercing rays of light that are now an integral memorial to the vanished Twin Towers, has returned. They were tested on Wednesday evening, a clear night that allowed the beam to ascend into space itself. If the Towers themselves were a beacon for miles and miles - scores of miles around - surely these dazzling white beams doubled that visibility or beyond. You think of travelers way off, and as they turn towards New York, exclaim "look, they've lit the beams. That's where the Towers were…."

Spotlights forming footprint for south tower, on top of parking garage at entrance to Battery tunnel. Lights have just been put on during test at dusk (6:30pm). News and camera crew assemble next to lights. 

And looking east at them from New Jersey Wednesday evening, alongside rose a lovely pre-harvest yellow-white moon, offering its own luminous deference to the brilliant Tribute In Light. I recall now with sadness and fondness a 1999 autumn evening, when I had a chance to watch a genuine harvest Moon arise behind the awesome evening skyline, when the Towers were present. I was among my very closest friends in good times, and another close friend from England, and we were in Bowers Street Park in the Jersey City Heights, just soaking in the buildings, the majesty of the Moon-rise.

Dick Sheppard with vintage Minolta SR-1s camera, circa 1968; the camera that put Minolta on the map and the official camera of paperbacknovel.com. 

The actual spotlights were hard to find! I wandered West Street looking for them, a WTC guide said they were at "West & Morris." Morris is a block long street between 21 West Street and the large parking garage that straddles the entrance-way to the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. It runs east from West Street smack dab into a fence that prevents you from falling into the B-B Tunnel causeway. I went there, and it was only the presence of two GE tractor trailers - generators, that gave away the location of the actual spotlights: they were on the roof of the parking garage. There were heavy duty cables snaking from the generator trucks up the side of the garage to the 7-story roofline.

I did some recon, taking the garage elevator to the roof level and on stepping off, and was told I shouldn't be there. I politely said I was just being curious, looked around, and left. They had it set up for some kind of mini-event, tables and such, looked like some catering. Later, pbn.com's LouV and I went back over there, took the elevator to the 6th level, got off, and took the fire stairs to the top level, where we were able to see the two mini-tower footprint arrays of spotlights, and snap some pics. We may go back to get night shots on 9/11, if we can, or right thereafter if we can't do it that day.

Spotlights forming footprint of North tower.

And though my man Larry S. has released the latest (and hopefully FINAL) building designs, the entire project is operating under the tentative April 2006 agreements. Larry and the PA are bickering, over what seems like small sums in the big scheme, but business being business, and government being government, this is typical. But at this point five years out, this latest design seems like a great "start."

Finally, a note about the tower crane slowly making its way to the top of the demised pataki-bloomberg, formerly the Deutsche Bank building, coming down eventually. The cab is now very close to the roofline, the boom overtops it. And lo, they have unfurled a colorful and beautiful American flag on the pataki-bloomberg building, facing the WTC site, likely in connection with whatever commemoration is planned for this Monday, 9/11/06. The ironworkers scramble around that crane, unattached, with little regard for their altitude or station, it's both awesome and fearsome to the observer, in this case maybe 150 feet away and equivalently 300+ feet up. Those are the guys that are doing it, reshaping Lower Manhattan's mighty, and mighty inspirational, skyline.


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