Volume 79, Number 4 | July 1 - 7, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Villager file photo

The memorial of thousands of tiles at Greenwich Ave. and Seventh Ave. South is said by some to be New York City’s last remaining spontaneous 9/11 memorial.

Anxiety over 9/11 tiles is fanned by Transit plan

By Albert Amateau

New York City Transit last week presented three basic design suggestions for the emergency ventilation tower planned for the triangle at Seventh Ave. South and Greenwich Ave., where thousands of Sept. 11 memorial tiles have been hanging on a chain-link fence for the past eight years.

Neighbors at the June 22 presentation were glad the plans provided for space to display at least some of the tiles, but they were disappointed with the tower design options, which they characterized as “off the rack” and not worthy of the Greenwich Village Historic District.

Last year Transit chose a plan for a combined emergency ventilation plant for both the Seventh Ave. and the Eighth Ave. subway lines that includes a 38-foot-tall tower on the triangle property that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority owns. However, Community Board 2 had recommended the plant be built entirely below street level.

The above-ground option was deemed to be least expensive — $79.5 million compared to $93.7 million to $124 million for eight other site options — and to have the least impact on vehicle and pedestrian traffic, according to the project’s final environmental impact statement.

The tower option is also expected to have the shortest construction period among the alternatives, beginning in June 2010 and ending in June 2013. Nevertheless, the ventilation plant construction will overlap with the St. Vincent’s Hospital redevelopment construction, which is likely to begin late in 2011 and extend beyond 2015.

“We’ve been grappling with the ventilation plant issue for some time now,” Brad Hoylman, former C.B. 2 chairperson, said last week. “We asked for a distinctive design for the building, not least because it’s at the gateway to the Greenwich Village Historic District, and because it includes an important piece of recent history,” he said, referring to the tiles that began appearing on the property soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, World Trade Center attack.

“We’re urging Transit to consult with the Landmarks Preservation Commission about the design, even though they don’t have to,” Hoylman said.

The designs shown last week include 413 square feet of open space at the northern corner of the triangle. The three preliminary building options include a basic, 38-foot-tall structure of gray cast stone; another red-brick building that rises four stories and which features simulated windows; and third version with a “vertical garden” with walls covered with green plants.

In one of Transit’s options, the existing 9/11 tiles are inlaid in a wall on Seventh Ave. Another has the tiles behind a long glass window, and a third option has the tiles on three sides of the public space at the northern end of the triangle.

Judith Kunoff, Transit’s chief architect, said the triangular site at Seventh Ave. South and Greenwich Ave. at W. 11th St. was the original location of the diner in Edward Hopper’s 1942 painting “Nighthawks.” She showed drawings that evoked the long-gone diner as a one-story open triangular structure located either at the northern end of the property or tucked into a corner of a proposed building, where some of the tiles could be inlaid.

Lorrie Veasey, who owned “Our Name is Mud,” the former ceramic studio adjacent to the triangle and who helped start the spontaneous “Tiles for America” memorial eight years ago, said that she spoke with a Transit spokesperson last week about the display.

“He said they were very willing to incorporate part of the tiles into the project,” Veasey said. She added that the New York State Museum in Albany has some of the original 6,000 tiles that were hung on the fence just south of St. Vincent’s Hospital.

 “‘Tiles For America’ is the last spontaneous memorial of Sept. 11 left in the city,” Veasey said.  “The very purpose of allowing a spontaneous memorial to continue after the event it commemorates is to have a visual record moving away from the event itself. Every faded and yellowed tile, every crack and crumble, to me represents the natural progression of memory from the events of that day,” she said.

“I am aware that members of the Village community have taken it upon themselves to help maintain the memorial,” she added, “and I know that there are many people who feel a connection to the tiles. I still curate the memorial and I would not stand in opposition if a group of people collectively chose to move the tiles or do something else with them.”

Hoylman, however, said he was concerned about the condition of the tiles. 

 “We don’t want them stuck on a building as an afterthought, and we hope Transit will consult with the community on the best way to incorporate them,” he said.  

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