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20 Years

Scenes from that bright blue September morning remain vivid in our memories. 20 years later, we still mourn the thousands of lives lost…the families changed forever…the toll the rescue effort is still taking on first responders. But we learned there are heroes among us.

Aside from the hole in our hearts, we had a hole in our skyline. The Twin Towers were not official landmarks. But they were a visible anchor as we roamed the City and returned from trips. There was enormous public interest in how to rebuild. We saw that buildings matter.

Survivors’ Staircase – National September 11 Memorial & Museum

The Conservancy quickly determined to help. We became a consulting party to restoration and rebuilding efforts at Ground Zero. We formed an emergency fund with colleagues and gave grants to historic buildings damaged from the Towers’ collapse. We documented historic buildings in Lower Manhattan as the City looked to redevelop the area around Ground Zero.

We fought to save the Survivors Staircase where hundreds of people fled to safety during the attack. It was the last above-ground piece of the World Trade Center. We hoped to keep the Staircase in place, but officials did not. We accepted a compromise where the steps would be exhibited in the 9/11 Museum, if we could get them there. We turned to preservation engineer Robert Silman. He determined how to cut out the stairs and treads from surrounding concrete and designed a steel “cradle” to hold them. Port Authority crews finally lifted the stairs with a giant crane and placed them at the Museum site. They are a prominent feature in the Museum today.

Our grants included St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, where parts of an airplane engine landed on the roof, and the South Street Seaport Museum, whose ships were engulfed in the enormous clouds of dust from the Towers’ collapse.

We convinced the MTA and the City to save the Corbin Building, an early skyscraper at the corner of Broadway and John Street. It was incorporated into plans for the new Fulton Transit Center and beautifully restored.

I was fortunate to be one of a number of New Yorkers sent abroad by the U.S. State Department to discuss the City’s recovery on the first and second anniversaries of 9/11. There was enormous support for New York during my trips to St. Petersburg, Russia and Vancouver, Canada.

New Yorkers met the challenge of 9/11. We are facing serious challenges today. There are still heroes among us. We remain determined to help. Buildings still matter.

Happy Rosh Hashanah to everyone celebrating the Jewish New Year. May it be a good and sweet year.

With best wishes from all of us for your health and safety,

Peg Breen
President, The New York Landmarks Conservancy

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