Thursday, September 11, 2008

"The Towers of Memory, Before and After" (Reposted from today's New York Times)

I will have my "Jersey Shore Memories (Part II)" entry up in the next day or two.

In the meantime, on this 7-year anniversary of the 9/11/01 attacks, the following is from today's New York Times ...(direct link here)


September 11, 2008
The Towers of Memory, Before and After
(The New York Times)

What do you see first when looking at the old photo - graphs on the left? Almost certainly not the intended subjects. One of the pictures is meant to show the Woolworth Building. Another (below) is of the Brooklyn Bridge. The third is supposed to depict Division Street.

But what the eye goes to today, perhaps before anything else, are those twin silhouettes, once such a familiar background in the cityscape that no photographer could avoid them. What we see now is what is no longer there — the towers that are missing in the companion photos on the right.

The photographs on the left were made in the summer of 1978 for “The City Observed: New York,” a guide to Manhattan by Paul Goldberger, who was then the architecture critic of The New York Times. Random House published it the next year. The images beside them were made at the same sites in 2008.

In the contemporary view, the Woolworth Building still dominates the southern end of City Hall Park. The glass tower to the right of Woolworth is 7 World Trade Center, the first new tower built near ground zero. On the other side of Woolworth is Barclay Tower, one of a growing number of residential projects that attest to Lower Manhattan’s changing character. Dwarfed among these giants is the little steeple of the 18th-century St. Paul’s Chapel, whose survival on 9/11 seemed nearly miraculous. The monolith rising above St. Paul’s is the Millenium Hilton Hotel.

In its current state, the Brooklyn Bridge has an American flag and a dividing line to separate pedestrians and bicyclists on what remains one of the most popular and crowded promenades in the city. The silhouette of the financial district is almost the same with a few prominent exceptions, underscoring downtown’s perpetual runner-up role to mid-Manhattan.

Looking down Division Street today is a bit harder than it was 30 years ago because trees have been added on a pedestrian island that did not exist in 1978. The Daniel Patrick Moynihan United States Courthouse at 500 Pearl Street, part of the growing governmental presence in the Civic Center, obscures the view of the top of the Municipal Building. Apart from a new apartment building on the far left, the physical character of the neighborhood is largely unchanged.

Except, of course, for the two missing towers that always seemed to hover in the background.


I remember the first time I saw with my own eyes that the World Trade Center was gone:

I was riding an Amtrak train from D.C. into New York City in Dec. 2001 to visit my friend Brian, and crossing the vast and unlikely-located New Jersey Meadowlands, in the ghostly orange-lavender light from the near winter solstice Sun low on the horizon, beyond the rise of the Palisades, only the top portion of the Empire State Building was visible ...

But the twin rectangular behemoths that anchored the lower end of Manhattan were gone, and that I used to see for years from the upper end of the Jersey shore in Sea Bright on a clear day, were definitively and forever gone.


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