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Investor's Business Daily


The Vanished Skyline

September 12, 2011

By Nicole Gelinas

Tuesday, New York Mayor Bloomberg said there is no longer a “Ground Zero” in Lower Manhattan. The mayor is right. In this spirit of accuracy, New York’s political and business leaders should stop saying that the city is “repairing” or “restoring” its skyline, language that obscures what al-Qaeda terrorists took — permanently — from New York.

WTC developer Larry Silverstein has done a heroic job of building something. The new buildings will serve their purpose of providing downtown with Class-A office space.

As works of 21st-century architecture, the buildings would serve any skyline well enough, whether Dubai’s or New York’s.

But they do not restore what was lost.

Looking out from Seven World Trade Center onto the site, you can see the completed memorial — water cascading into two square pools where the old towers were.

As a memorial in general, the 9/11 monument is massive. But if the idea, too, was to depict the towers by saving the footprints, the function is to be poignantly inadequate. The towers weren’t underground squares. They were high in the air, as were the people who died.

For a reminder of the skyline that New York had stolen from it in two hours, look not out the window of Seven World Trade, but on the walls. Up on the 48th floor, Silverstein has invited select artists to use this unrented floor as a private studio.

Painter Todd Stone is up there, recording the progress below him — and now above him, as One World Trade Center rises, almost within touching distance.

Before 9/11, Stone had a view of the original World Trade Center towers from his Thomas Street workspace in TriBeCa. His depiction of that view is on display here, too.

Stone remembers that on 9/10/01, he was “photographing the melancholy, rainy rooftops,” with the towers in the background. From those photos, and from the photos he took throughout the day on 9/11/01, he has water-colored what he calls an “elegy to the lives lost that day.”

The first in the series is the pale towers against a paler sky. They are in the background, as they always were to so many New Yorkers, elegant geometry defining the open space around them, abstract against the brickwork and fire-escape lattices that make up the foreground.

The next 14 watercolors in the set are tough to take. The sky is blue on the morning of 9/11, but Stone has colored in the jagged, diagonal plane-shaped hole near the top of the original One World Trade Center, as well as the first wisps of white smoke that look like clouds.

Birds are flying away from the smoke. In the pictures that follow, Stone defines what he saw the rest of that day out the window, with his understated approach demonstrating how the shock to New York can never be overstated.

Some of the most searing artistic remembrances of pre-9/11 New York, though, are those that the artists never meant as elegies at all.

Uptown, the Museum of the City of New York has an exhibit — this one open to the public — of photographs by Camilo Jose Vergara. Vergara, a Chilean immigrant, started taking pictures of the towers when they were under construction, back in 1970.

The towers’ appearance on the skyline, as they take their place in the air behind St. Paul’s Chapel or above the Woolworth Building, is startling, just as the new One World Trade Center’s sudden materiality is surprising observers today. Seeing the historic construction, too, is a reminder that the towers weren’t here very long, only 31 years, from 1970 to 2001.

For New Yorkers who either weren’t born in 1970, or who were young then — a category that included most of the people who would die at the World Trade Center — three decades was long enough to imply permanence.

Vergara’s best photo is the one he took from Jersey City in 1977. Cracked pavement, junky cars, and weedy grass define the lower half of the print. Above, the sky is pink and blue.

The Twin Towers, miles away, are a slightly darker shade of blurry pale, disappearing as you back away.

Original Source:



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