In The News

Rebuilding, Yes, but Taking Pains to Preserve, Too

The New York Times, December 30, 2004

Late Edition - Final , Section B , Page 4 , Column 3

The flying fish are jumping again over Bowery Bay.

In time to greet the 65th anniversary of commercial flight between New York City and Europe, which began from the Marine Air Terminal at La Guardia Airport, the circular terminal building has been restored by the Port Authority to a state so crisp and vibrant, one can almost imagine the Pan American Airways Yankee Clipper gliding across the bay beyond on its big seaplane belly.

The $6.5 million rehabilitation included the painstaking restoration of a terra-cotta frieze of flying fish - an apt metaphor for the Boeing 314 flying boats in Pan Am's fleet - leaping through waves and sky. Each of the 2,200 tiles in the frieze was removed, numbered, inspected, cleaned, repaired or replaced and then set back into the parapet.

"The facades were literally peeling away from the structure of the building," said Richard Southwick, a partner in Beyer Blinder Belle, the restoration architects. "It was important to take the building down to the steel skeleton in many locations. For that, I give the Port Authority a lot of credit."

Preservation is scarcely the stock in trade of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. But in recent years it has shown itself capable of sensitivity to the historical value of its properties. With persuasion from inside and outside, the agency has made substantial investments in existing landmarks, sometimes kicking and screaming. It has also committed itself, in the case of the future World Trade Center transportation hub by Santiago Calatrava, to building structures of landmark caliber.

"We all have the responsibility to move things forward," said Kenneth J. Ringler Jr., the authority's new executive director. "But on the other hand, if we can protect these facilities, we ought to do it."

At ground zero, the authority faces the greatest test yet of its preservation mettle as decisions are made about extraordinary - if subtle - physical remnants that stand in the way of redevelopment plans.

For instance, just outside the PATH station concourse, an evocative vestige of the trade center shopping mall has been exposed. An irregular section of travertine floor, with courses of contrasting dark bands in angular patterns, seems to correspond roughly with an area once known as the crossroads, around which were the Warner Brothers, Casual Corner, Strawberry and Tourneau stores.

More prominent is the badly battered stairway that rises from the south side of Vesey Street and once led to Austin J. Tobin Plaza, which was higher than the surrounding sidewalks. In some quarters, this is called the "survivors' stairway," since it was used by many people to escape from the burning towers.

The World Trade Center Survivors' Network is among the groups calling for the preservation of the stairway, which its newsletter describes as a place "from which survivors, and everyone whose life was profoundly changed that day, could gain a vantage point from which to contemplate the footprint voids, paying respect to their lost friends, colleagues and loved ones."

The Port Authority has made no decision about the stairway, said a spokesman, Pasquale DiFulco, but is discussing the matter under a federal historic preservation review known as the Section 106 process. As to the travertine floor, he said that there had been no formal discussions but that some kind of salvaging would be considered.

The authority has already said it will permanently preserve a 66-foot-long section of the original concourse connecting the PATH station to the E train terminus. It is also salvaging representative or poignant elements from the garage below 6 World Trade Center, which is being demolished to make way for the Freedom Tower.

And the authority has spent $5 million to $7 million to house artifacts from the World Trade Center in Hangar 17 at Kennedy International Airport.

Perhaps the most emotionally charged tug-of-war is over the remnants of the box columns from the perimeters of the twin towers, which are important as objects and also as spatial boundaries, delineating the towers' one-acre footprints.

Anthony Gardner of the Coalition of 9/11 Families, who is among the more outspoken preservation advocates, said the Port Authority's response to the Section 106 review process had generally been encouraging and meaningful. ...

New York Times, December 30, 2004