Structural scars can still be seen from the destruction of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
They are subtle. They are small. Once noticed, they cannot be forgotten. Soon, they will be gone.
Dents, dings, holes and gashes pockmark the silvery Liberty Street pedestrian bridge that leads over West Street to Brookfield Place in Battery Park City. They were most likely caused when the south tower collapsed, though there is no saying for sure what caused what during that maelstrom.
They resemble the divots in the limestone walls of the former J.P. Morgan & Co. headquarters at 23 Wall St., created when a bomb went off in 1920, killing 38 people and injuring hundreds.
While Morgan deliberately left the Wall Street facade unrepaired, the damaged aluminum panels at Liberty Street are about to be replaced. Brookfield Property Partners, the owner of Brookfield Place, is rebuilding the bridge as a link to Liberty Park, now under construction south of the trade center site.
The pockmarks will not be lost to history, however.
If they can be preserved, we would be honored to have them.
Jan Seidler Ramirez, the chief curator of the National September 11 Memorial Museum
Brookfield executives are talking with the National September 11 Memorial Museum and the New York Fire Department about salvaging at least some of the 5-by-5-foot panels.
“If they can be preserved, we would be honored to have them,” said Jan Seidler Ramirez, the chief curator of the museum and the senior vice president for collections. “It is so important to remind people that it wasn’t just seven buildings that were destroyed and contaminated.”
The panels are another kind of reminder. “Here we are, 14 1/2 years later, and we’re still slowly getting around to repairing the damage from that single morning,” Ramirez said.
The Fire Department might install panels from the Liberty Street bridge at the New York City Fire Museum or as memorials in firehouses or other quarters, said Francis X. Gribbon, the deputy commissioner for public information.
The official death toll from the World Trade Center attack stands at 2,753 people, including 343 members of the Fire Department. Brookfield said it was honored to “participate in preserving history by donating the panels as a tribute to those lost.”
When the panels are taken down this spring, however, the trade center site will lose one more strand connecting it to the events of 2001.
Michael Burke, who has tried for years to persuade officials to move the damaged “Sphere” sculpture back to the trade center from the Battery, said he wished the damaged panels could be kept where they are. When he learned they would be salvaged instead, he said: “A shame. But at least they’re being saved.”
Here we are, 14
Jan Seidler Ramirez
Most visitors to the trade center and Brookfield Place do not know about the signs of damage to the bridge.
Those who do have a feeling of attachment. “I always loved looking at those holes,” said Christopher Gray, an architectural historian whose Streetscapes column ran in The New York Times until 2014. He noted appreciatively that these historical artifacts had apparently been preserved only by “poetry or sloth.”
Actually, construction logistics spared them. Melissa Coley, a Brookfield vice president, said the bridge facade replacement had awaited the design and construction of an underground vehicle security center and of Liberty Park, directly over the street-level entrance to the security center.
The new cladding is intended to match the original panels as closely as possible, she said.
The donation plan was endorsed by the New York Landmarks Conservancy, a leading preservation group. “The damaged panels are a reminder of that terrible day and are part of history,” said Peg Breen, the president. “It would be appropriate to have them displayed and explained in the 9/11 Memorial Museum.”
Even after the Liberty Street bridge gets its new facade this summer, more haunting discoveries will almost surely follow.
Only two years ago, Ramirez said, an onboard defibrillator from American Airlines Flight 11, which was flown by Mohammed Atta into the north tower, emerged during roadwork in the area.
“Shivers went down our spines,” she said. “It’s omnipresent, in a way, even if it’s not always conspicuous. It takes very little to rip the Band-Aid off and have this bubble to the surface again.”