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May 23, 2006


Keep Building, Larry !!

The Grand Opening of the New 7 WTC

By Dick Sheppard  

New York, NY, May 23, 2006 - The sun was shining on Larry Silverstein this day as he stepped to the podium to celebrate the grand opening of the first building to arise from the ashes of 9/11, 7 World Trade Center. After a stirring rendition of "America the Beautiful” by students from nearby grade schools, and “God Bless America” by Irish tenor Ronan Tynan, Silverstein stepped to the podium. He noted that the magnificent tower rising behind him is the first to be rebuilt, justifying today’s buoyant mood. He thanked the other notables present, including Freedom Tower architect David Childs, and the father-and-son Tishmans from Tishman Contruction; The elder Tishman oversaw the building of the original WTC, and his son the new 7 WTC. Tishman Construction is also the primary contractor for Freedom Tower. Silverstein extolled the resiliency of rebuilding, and described a timeline that will have the Freedom Tower built by 2010, and the entire World Trade Center site with four additional towers rebuilt by 2012. Given the complexity of the competing interests and their maddening propensity to take their time, delaying rebuilding, we applauded along with the rest of the boisterous audience Silverstein’s welcome optimism.

Silverstein and the other celebrants, along with artist Jeff Koons, concluded the formal ceremonies by unveiling Koons’ Balloon Flowers, his centerpiece Vesey Park plaza sculpture. A shiny steel, cranberry-colored confection of artwork that adds happy color to the plaza. The sculpture and the vest-pocket park were donated and paid for by the Silverstein family and Mr. Koons, a cheerful gift to Lower Manhattan residents and workers alike.

Watching the ongoing fun-filled ceremonies, self-described “events observer” and paperbacknovel.com field correspondent Dick Laresch was moved to comment. “Larry is my man,” he gestured at the real estate mogul standing a few feet away at the podium. 

7 WTC, open for business.

“Despite the intractable, grubbing glory-seeking of the politicians, most especially Governor Pataki and the other pest-come-lately, the shoe-lift wearing Mayor Bloomberg, Larry got this wonderful, iconic building up. He started the planning for this building just months after 9/11, in the face of atrocious political foot-dragging. Thanks to the pols, this entire process is taking way longer than it should have. But here we have this splendid, shining building.” Laresch turned thoughtful. “Man, I remember flying my kites in Liberty State Park across the river, seeing this building’s steel rising into the Lower Manhattan sky, permanently making it’s mark. What a feeling! Isn’t it spectacular – so bright and optimistic! It is a thumb in the eye to Islamofascist terrorists everywhere – we are going to keep building while we hunt you down, kill and burn you, and send you to Allah.”

Ronan Tynan surveys the crowd.

Laresch mentioned that until he sees Freedom Tower steel actually rising above street-grade level, he doesn’t trust that pols will stay out of the picture and let Larry keep building. “Oh, and another thing,” he gestured at a knot of nearby notables. “That Irish Tenor guy (Ronan Tynan), right after 9/11 he sang a beautiful song at a Yankee Stadium event. I sent an email to the Irish Tenors website, asking, ‘what was that wonderful song he sang so beautifully?’ They never responded. I found out later it’s called “Isle of Tears,” a sentimental song that brought tears to my eyes that day. It was September 15, 2001. I was sitting in my living room watching the event live from Yankee Stadium, saluting with a few beers. Bawling like an infant....”

Laresch prides himself on writing short, pointed emails that get responses, so he was miffed at Tynan for not responding. “The guy is a great singer; you know he has only one leg? And he doesn’t answer his emails.” Laresch frowned as he concluded, punctuating his evident distaste for the guy, “one leg or two, the guy can still answer his e-mers. I’m sure he doesn’t type with his toes.”

Laresch rolled on. “Look at these people enjoying the fun day Larry set up. Nice music, VIPs, the media, and overlooking it all, the building. People say to me, ‘Dick Laresch, why are you so enamored with this inanimate glass-and-steel structure?’ And I answer, ‘because it represents America’s spirit, and defiance. And for now, it is, unfortunately nearly five years after the attacks, the only symbol of that defiance.’” Nearby, a relaxed crowd was visiting the lobby of the new tower. All of the notables including Larry were accessible, and Laresch took advantage.

7 World Trade Center, 51 stories high.

Approaching the designer of the Vesey Park plaza, Ken Smith, who was standing alongside Freedom Tower architect David Childs, Laresch greeted them exuberantly.  “Gentleman, thank you for this wonderful day!” Both notables politely acknowledged him.

Laresch continued, addressing architect and plaza designer together. “Mr. Smith, as I look at this plaza, I am wondering if you took some design cues from the Austin Tobin Plaza of the original World Trade Center site,” Laresch gestured to the still-vacant WTC site across Vesey Street.

Ken Smith, architect of Vesey Street Park, and Dick Laresch discuss park design and inspiration.

Smith and Childs looked briefly puzzled, and Laresch clarified. “The Tobin Plaza was circular, like this one, and had a centerpiece sculpture, like this one. It was surrounded by curving benches, as this plaza is. Mr. Smith, did you hope to evoke Tobin Plaza as you undertook your design?” Smith, a Manhattan resident, admitted visiting the Tobin Plaza but disavowed any conscious duplication with a chuckle. Architect Childs, noting Smith's circular glasses, chimed in “Look at his glasses - he likes circles!” Laresch wanted to make sure, “no desire to recollect Tobin Plaza?” No, Smith asserted.

David Childs, architect of 7 WTC and the Freedom Tower, and Dick Laresch take a moment out of their conversation to pose for a picture.

In fact, he noted to this reporter, Laresch thought both Smith and Childs were a little confused by the topic. “Maybe Smith thought I was trying to accuse him of copying, which I wasn’t. Had he intentionally mimicked Tobin Plaza, that would’ve been a good thing, and something worth noting. Okay, maybe he just likes circles. As far as I’m concerned, this is the new Tobin Plaza, until the final memorial is built over there,” Laresch concluded by gazing wistfully at the vacant construction site on which once stood the Mighty World Trade Center complex.

“Let’s go bother more people,” Laresch grinned as he wandered the plaza towards sculpture artist, Jeff Koons, “I was over here earlier this morning as they were preparing for this, and I had a peek under the tarp covering the sculpture.” Laresch, habitually gestures forcefully while speaking. “From the little bit you could see under the tarp, the bottom of the sculpture looked like the shiny finish on Christmas tree ornaments, and I though, uh-oh, this thing might be way out there.”


Larry Silverstein and artist Jeff Koons unveil the new sculpture adorning Vesey Street Park.

He was anxious during the unveiling, and his initial first impression was not good. “As they peeled away the tarp and revealed the bulbous nature of the work, and the bright red color I thought, ‘oh, no, it’s way to in-your-face for this site.’” But he thinks he judged to soon. While seeking the artist he was continually viewing the sculpture from different angles, and might have been changing his mind. 

“I don’t know,” he sounded unsure, “I could like it, that first bright impression may have been too much, it’s really a friendly work, I see how he’d call it ‘balloon flowers.” It’s whimsical, I think for now, I like it better.” He mentioned he’d have to see it from his office windows way across the WTC site, and from that vantage gain additional judgment. 

Laresch had some concluding Koons commentary. “Being a cultural lout – a culture clod if you may, I can’t critique Mr. Koons’ work,” Laresch commented, ruing his ignorance. “However, I know he took some heat for his sculpture of Michael Jackson and his strange friend, the Bubbles chimp” Laresch wanted to comment intelligently but you could sense he knew he was out-of-his depth aesthetically. “Some people thought it was schlocky. All I can definitively add is that anything to do with Michael Jackson is an A-1 invitation to catastrophe. Meaning Mr. Koons’ depiction of that freak and his monkey is probably worth zillions.”

“Hey, Jeff, Mr. Koons,” Laresch offered, approaching the artist, who is clad in a modest suit and carrying a child presumed to be his son. “Thank you for this wonderful day!” Motioning at the sculpture, he continued, “I don’t know yet, I can’t judge it yet, but it’s a fun piece.” Koons thanks Laresch, who then wanders off with his web pard LouV into the 7 WTC lobby as Koons genially greets the curious.

Here was the chance for Laresch to meet his new hero, the man of the hour, real estate magnate Larry Silverstein. “Hey Larry - Larry!” he called to Silverstein, who was finishing up a session with reporters in the lobby. Approaching, he asked Larry to pose for a picture, which Larry, smiling, did. As LouV took the picture, “You see that, the guy has a common touch. Why wouldn’t you want this gentleman rebuilding this site? He took a lot of abuse from the slimy pols, but as they bicker and grandstand, he builds.” As Larry was departing, Laresch offered an encouraging shout to the man overseeing the WTC construction, “You keep building, Larry! Keep building! Higher higher higher baby!”

Dick Laresch (left) and Larry Silverstein pause for a picture. 

Laresch continued offering opinions as he and his web pard LouV snuck along on a press junket to the 7 WTC upper floors. LouV had a vintage Minolta SR-1 camera slung around his neck for a faux-press effect, and Laresch was toting a disposable camera (not a faux-press effect) and a pad and pen in his shirt pocket. Noting some of the better-accessorized photographers, Lou commented, “They’re looking at me with this camera wondering what’s up!” Your paperbacknovel.com team in action.

A Silverstein functionary was assigned to escort some media types to see the tower interiors. Crowded in the elevator were several photographers, and Felicia Taylor, a friendly field reporter for NBC’s local NYC news, who also does weekend anchoring.

The first stop was the 25th floor, and on arrival onto the vacant still-unfinished floor-plates, Laresch gestured expansively. “This is where that grimy grubbing pol Sheldon Silver (head of the NY State Assembly) held his kangaroo court the other day (the previous Wednesday, 5/16), grilling Larry and mugging for publicity. You shoulda seen the broads in his entourage. They did not look like they were hired for any skills beyond looking quite fetching in their natty business attire. Frankly, these dames looked uncomfortable so suited, and likely would’ve been just fine in some slinky bedroom git-up, Fuckin’ pols a bunch of goom-ologists,” Laresch chuckled appreciatively, if sneeringly, at the debased nature of politics. 











The press corps and photographers are given free run of the 25th floor.

Approaching the floor-to-ceiling windows, offering sunny views to all compass points, Laresch chatted with a few of the accompanying press. The Silverstein functionary escort was probably not a publicity person and was not offering info, so Laresch felt free to offer his thoughts to any and all. He was explaining the special concrete fireproofing material on the exposed beams. The World Trade Center towers fell primarily because the fireproofing material was blasted from the steel floor support beams by the impact of the planes. The steel floor support beams spanned from the elevator core to the outer walls, supporting the floor plates. Lacking the fireproofing material these beams melted and sagged, finally being pulled from their core/wall attachments. As these beams disconnected, the floors they supported collapsed. The cascading floors pulled down the Towers. Notably, there was no way the Towers would’ve “toppled over,” causing significantly more damage to the surrounding streets, an image even more profound to envision than the collapsing floors. Even had the planes hit a very low floor the Towers would not have fallen over. Once the Towers swayed out of their vertical posture more than their design limit, they were going to descend straight downwards onto their own footprint. Laresch included all of this commentary to the group, and also pointed out the updates in the 7 WTC design, including the sturdy thick-walled elevator core which also contain the escape staircases.

He also pointed out the additional vertical structural beams on the south side of the floor plates, which break up the core-to-outer wall uncluttered floor plan. These are surely an effort to avoid a floor cascading scenario in that part of the building. After visiting the offices of the architects who are designing the site’s additional buildings besides Freedom Tower, and some nifty models and plans of the site, the Silverstein functionary guided the group to the elevators to the top occupiable 51st floor.

Accompanying the group on the tour was a quiet fellow minding his own business, who Laresch would later discover was NY Post op-ed and National Review Online contributor Deroy Murdock.

Dick Laresch (right) explains building construction details to the press tour guide. Moments later, NBC news reporter Felicia Taylor asked Dick, "Who are you?!"

Laresch and LouV would catch up with Deroy later on down on Church Street, amidst the tourists mournfully viewing the site. Laresch approached Deroy, “Deroy, what’s up? Darn, I wish I realized it was you when we were upstairs, man, I love your commentary! I love the Post!”

Deroy was pretty fired up himself, he’s written a lot about the WTC rebuild in high-profile publications. He’s nationally-syndicated, nirvana for the opinionaire. Deroy and Laresch cheerfully exchanged vulgar unpleasantries about pols in general, and Pataki in specific. Deroy has always been and remains an advocate of rebuilding the mighty Twin Towers as they were, except placing the towers in a different quadrant of the site, closer to Church Street. But with the existing (and underway) Freedom Tower design as a single building, it’s too late now to “rebuild as was,” but Deroy’s sentiment was and is one shared by many.

LouV, the covert behind-the-scenes paperbacknovel.com editor/phtog, also advocates two towers. While viewing 7 WTC’s 25th floor architect’s model of the Freedom Tower, he commented. “I’m not thrilled with this look of Freedom Tower, but if there were two of them, I’d be okay.” He may not express his points as forcefully as Laresch, but this is strong stuff from LouV. His desire to see dual buildings was prevalent especially in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, underscoring the appeal of the original WTC “Twin Towers.” People had their own unique ways of considering the two tall buildings.

One of Laresch’s buddies once commented years back on the Twin Towers, noting the comparatively sleek, unadorned design of each individual tower. “Look, if there were only one World Trade Center tower, it would look like the box for the Empire State Building! There had to be TWO!” The original World Trade Center towers were a statement – not just one huge building – TWO huge buildings! The architects who designed the dual Petronas Towers in Indonesia thought this is pretty nifty idea themselves. Laresch himself metaphorically described the two buildings as gigantic “people magnets.” Each dawn, they would pull into Lower Manhattan the million-and-a-half commuters who work south of Canal Street. At dusk, the towers reversed their polarity and scattered these commuters away off into the surrounding miles.

And to be at the base of these two soaring towers – for example to occupy the vast Tobin Plaza, was to stand in awe of these duolithic inspirations to man’s ingenuity and technical genius. “When I worked nights in this neighborhood, I once snuck a single blue bulb from the plaza Christmas Tree as some kind of wacky souvenir,” Laresch wryly confessed. “I wish I had it now.”

Dick Laresch tries out the work environment on the 25th floor. From this room, architects developing the entire WTC site overlook their construction canvas.

But as for design and rebuilding: erecting 7 WTC cost $700 million, a 52-story building.   Freedom Tower at nearly 1,500 feet is estimated at $1.5 billion. Two “Freedom Towers” buildings, while probably not doubling the price of the single tower would likely exceed $2.5 billion. The other four towers which will complete the site will add billions more.

During the recent aforementioned Silverstein hearings, there were rumblings about insurance payments continuity because of the complex and sometimes acrimonious ownership, leasing, and construction negotiations. The recently concluded “final” framework agreement reached in April 2006 allowed Freedom Tower construction to begin. Will the insurance companies who are contributing billions to the overall rebuild give their blessing to this plan? So far, yes, but to discuss the issue might be to create an issue. Moreover, construction financing is always precarious – especially given the leasing realities that surround a site that was attacked first in 1993 and again in 2001. 7 WTC, a gorgeous building in a superb location, has yet to see space-seeking hordes trampling through Vesey Park. It is as safe as any building can be made safe but the Universe offers no guarantees.

Model of Freedom Tower, housed on 25th floor of 7 WTC. 

Of the design issues, Dick Laresch sums up, “I’m all for iconography, but I appreciate that there are cost constraints even on such a symbolic project as rebuilding the WTC site. Would I like to see dual buildings? Yep, put up 3 or 4 as tall! But I’m ever skeptical the pols will prevent any tall buildings on account of being fearful, pandering and grubbing. I’ll be satisfied to have Freedom Tower, which will still soar way up there, and re-establish Lower Manhattan’s skyline as among the world’s best. If these slimeball pols wait any longer, the whole project stalls and maybe no tower will rise. That’s why it’s critical that 7 WTC is up, and now on to Freedom Tower! Keep building, Larry!”

The views from the 51st floor of 7 WTC goes beyond doubling those from the 25th floor. There are no nearby buildings of equal height and views from all points on the floor extend to the horizon. (This sunny circumstance will change from the south Vista when  Freedom Tower overtops 7.) 

On this bright clear day, though, the vistas are nothing short of divinely inspiring. Far, far below, the equipment roving the Freedom Tower footprint resembled tiny robotic insects. Laresch picks up his impromptu tour, and chats with NBC’s Felicia Taylor who must have been wondering who this expansive fellow was and said hello. “I’m happy because I have a chance to visit a place where nobody can go yet. Are these views unbelievable? Man I love Larry!”

Felicia took notes as Laresch mentioned how Larry was hoping to get the highest rents in NYC for the building. Laresch explained the floor-plan and fireproofing coatings in response to her questions. When Laresch and LouV took the elevators downstairs to catch some of the ongoing music, Felicia stayed behind. Later, her report aired from what looked like the 52nd floor, and she mentioned the construction details Laresch had pointed out, and included the part about high rents. On seeing it later Laresch chuckled, “fun stuff! I’m an NBC news stringer!”

Back down in the bright sunshine of Vesey Park, Laresch and LouV learned that Lou Reed, a  Greenwich Village dinosauric musical icon from about 900 years ago had concluded his set of a few songs.

Artist Jeff Koons chats with musician Lou Reed. 

As Laresch and LouV  congregated by the 7 WTC entrance, they spotted Reed and artist Jeff Koons chatting nearby. 

Laresch encouraged LouV to have his picture taken with these fellows; as usual the enigmatic LouV declined but we snapped these two artistes as they conversed. We later learned that Reed had played two songs and made some political remarks. Par for the course for the guy, but probably out of place for today’s forward-looking festivities.

LouV and Laresch caught Suzanne Vega doing a few numbers, one vocals only, she has a nice voice but she’s no longer the draw she once probably was. Laresch noted he’s neither a Reed nor Vega fan. “I need to get back to work, LouV,” Laresch remarked as Vega concluded her song. “But I want to see what the deal is with these Brazilian Girls. They might be worth seeing if not hearing.” A nearby attractive young lady turned around and explained it wasn’t an all-girl group, but they would be worth hearing.

Brazilian Girls was fronted by a stylish, attractive dame (who may or may not be Brazilian) in a funky retro raincoat and appropriately cool sunglasses. Besides the female lead, the rest of the band was male, consisting of keyboards, drums, and bass. Nice catchy sound overall. At one point some kicking winds blew over the drum set but it was no biggie. Not being familiar with their music, Laresch judged them pretty good, better than he thought, even if they were not an all-female “Spice Girls”-type combo with gyrating strumpets.

Laresch critiqued the female singer. “I’m not one to make these kinds of judgments, but she sounds like Deborah Harry. But she’s better-looking. She looks a little kooky up there the way she’s tottering around. I looooove tottering broads.” Being nearby the stage, Laresch blew kisses at her when he thought she was looking his way as she sang. No visible response. Brazilian Girls played two songs and left a positive impression. At one point Ms. Stylish Raincoat also made a mild, easily ignorable political remark, you can’t get these les artiste to just shut-up and perform. Is what it is.

The cynical Laresch admits increasing optimism. “This is a good start, only a start, a good start.” Pointing at the Freedom Tower quadrant, he went on, “I want to see tower steel rising above the street over there.” Gesturing emphatically towards the still charred skeletal Fiterman Hall remains across Vesey Park from 7 WTC, Laresch remarked. “That has to come down, that’s another Pataki eyesore, that’s a mess. As an education building (City University of New York owned the building), you got those dodo Education Department bureaucrats involved, they’re looking for tons of money plus a new building. The entire education establishment are the always-dissatisfied worst grubbers. But it all goes back to Pataki, he’s their boss and that disgrace should be down.” He added that it’s a slap in Larry’s face that he must show prospective tenants 7 WTC space with Fiterman Hall as a potential neighbor.

Finally, with LouV’s vintage camera and Laresch’s disposable filled with pictures of their coverage, each went their separate ways back to their downtown offices. Both look ahead over the oncoming months and years to watching as their new steel and glass neighbors rise, even greater and more inspiring symbols than Larry’s encouraging first building 7 World Trade Center, New York, New York 10007.


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