9/11 will always bring memories of the thousands of lives lost in the attack, but it also reminded us of how important buildings are to this City. The Twin Towers were not official landmarks, but they were a visible anchor as we moved about New York and welcomed us on our return from trips. They truly marked the land.
The New York Landmarks Conservancy formed a special emergency fund with partner groups immediately after 9/11 to help restore landmark buildings damaged that day. We became consulting parties to recovery and rebuilding efforts at Ground Zero. And we documented historic buildings in Lower Manhattan, as the City looked to redevelop in the area around Ground Zero.
With the help of consultants Ken Lustbader and Mary Dierickx, the “Lower Manhattan Emergency Preservation Fund” awarded almost $80,000 for seven restoration projects. We helped three residential buildings at 55 Liberty,120 Greenwich Street and a Murray Street cast iron building; Century 21 Department Store; St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, the South Street Seaport Museum and the Verizon Building.
The Art Deco Verizon Building has a landmarked lobby, as well as being an exterior landmark. Tower Seven crashed into the east side of the building, while beams from the North Tower pierced the southern façade. The lobby murals were virtually obscured by soot. An emergency grant of $9,500 paid for conservators to examine the murals and determine how to clean them.
The ships at the South Street Seaport Museum were enveloped in the cloud of debris that drifted eastward when the towers collapsed. Our $10,000 grant supplemented the Museum’s insurance so that the ships could be properly cleaned.
The Towers fell with the force of a small earthquake, damaging the extensive terra cotta decoration on 55 Liberty Street. Our $16,800 grant paid for conservators to assess the damage and help inform the coop’s insurance claim.
When the City began looking at Greenwich Street South and Fulton Street for possible redevelopment, we did reports on all the landmark quality buildings on both streets. We pressed for landmarking the four remaining Federal buildings on lower Greenwich, especially the last remaining Federal mansion from the rows of mansions that once lined the street. When the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation considered tearing down historic buildings on Fulton Street for a proposed food court, we showed them examples where other cities reused their historic buildings for similar projects.
We also fought to save the Survivors Staircase, where hundreds of people fled to safety during the attack. We originally hoped to have the Staircase remain in place. But we accepted a State-offered compromise where the stairs and treads were moved to the memorial museum to be opened. We paid noted preservation engineer Robert Silman to design how to move the steps, a complex process of cutting them out of concrete; bracing them on a specially designed steel “cradle” and lifting them from the northeast section of Ground Zero to the museum site.
The Municipal Arts Society, World Monuments Fund, Preservation League of New York State and National Trust for Historic Preservation were our partners in these efforts.
The Conservancy’s efforts to save the City’s architectural heritage continues. Buildings matter.