Volume 74, Number 20 | September 15 - 21 , 2004

Villager photo by David Barkin

Gina Tlamsa played flute in front of the “Forever Tall” mural on E. Sixth St. before a vigil last Saturday night to save the public artwork.

Another twin towers fall as Cooper covers a mural

By Lincoln Anderson

On the third anniversary of 9/11, a group of 30 East Villagers respectfully gathered for a candlelight vigil in front of a memorial of a mural of the twin towers at the corner of Sixth St. and Third Ave. As much as a remembrance of the World Trade Center attack, the event was also a call for preservation of the mural, “Forever Tall,” a public artwork created in the weeks after the tragedy.

The mural was painted with a starlit Manhattan skyline with the W.T.C. towers filled with yellow and orange flowers. It was created by CITYarts in collaboration with artists Hope Gangloff and Jason Search, the Manhattan School for Career Development, the Dwight School and The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. The mural was only intended to stay up for a year, but neighbors immediately took to it, saying it lifted their spirits after the attack. After all, the Trade Center had been visible from that corner.

However, Cooper Union, the building’s owner, had recently made it clear that the mural would come down to be replaced by revenue-generating advertising. Several weeks ago, a corner of the mural had been painted over with a sign saying “Wall for Rent” with a phone number. Still, on the anniversary of the terrorist attack, neighbors and fans of the East Village mural were holding out hope it could be saved.

“When they put this up and filled the towers with flowers, it just lifted everybody up,” said Nancy Eder, a block resident. “I like the fact that I get to walk by this two or three times a day.”

“It was planned before 9/11, as a tribute to the skyline,” said Andrew Berman, director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. After the Trade Center disaster, Berman said, the mural “was a rebirth for our community. Hopefully, as word gets out, people will realize there is an undeniable need to keep this as a tribute. Let’s hope Cooper Union is listening tonight.”

At the same time, residents decried the school’s development plans in the area, including a new academic building, a new apartment tower under construction by Related Companies on Astor Pl. and a planned third building by a private developer that will eventually rise on the current site of the school’s Engineering Building.

“This is the ugly face of greed and gentrification that’s showing here,” said Susi Schropp. “There’s no value for what the community stands for.”

However, whether or not Cooper Union was listening, two days later on Monday, the entire mural was painted over.

“It’s heartbreaking,” said Anna Sawaryn, head of the Coalition to Save the East Village. “That they would just take something that means so much to this community and just destroy it like that. This is something that’s on the agenda of the community board — so I guess they don’t care about the community board. It’s just so shocking — they’re an art school.”

Claire McCarthy, Cooper Union’s spokesperson, said support to save the mural had not been overwhelming, that it was never intended as permanent and that the school needs the revenue.

“We got some e-mails, between 15 and 20, and I understand some people were handing out flyers — but they were unsigned,” she said. “We had decided it was time to move on. The mural was only supposed to be up for a year and it was up for almost three. We were happy to have it there and to contribute the space.”

McCarthy said the agent who rents the building had painted the “Wall for Rent” sign on the mural without Cooper Union’s permission.

“If the agent had not painted on it, we might have left it up until we got a renter [for the wall],” she said. “We couldn’t leave it ruined. It was just unfortunate. It just looked awful. We were dismayed that this was defaced — and we felt we couldn’t leave it up that way.”

Repairing the mural, she said, would have just been “misleading,” since in the end it would have been painted over anyway.

McCarthy noted there will be an official 9/11 memorial at ground zero.

Advertising on the wall is an option the tenant of the building, Dolphins restaurant, has in its lease, she added. Dolphins will get a portion of the revenue.

Estimates of the revenue are $5,000 to $10,000 a month, according to McCarthy. However, George Campbell Jr., president of Cooper Union, in a recent interview on New York 1 news, said the wall would annually bring in $300,000, money the free-tuition school sorely needs.

McCarthy said Campbell would never have cited such a high figure, though admitted she had not seen the New York 1 segment. In addition to keeping its commitment to provide free $27,000 tuitions to all its students, Cooper Union needs to raise funds for a new $100 million academic building on the site of its current Hewitt Building, on Third Ave. between Sixth and Seventh Sts., across from the street from the site of the former mural, she noted.

At Saturday’s vigil, Lisa Ramaci, a former member of Community Board 3, bemoaned the loss of 9/11 memorial murals in the East Village, in general, specifically mentioning two by famed graffiti artist Chico on either side of Avenue A just south of 14th St.

“I just can’t believe that in a city this size there can’t be remembrance,” she said. “I used to go to the Chico mural every year and put flowers and candles there. There was a woman from Stuyvesant Town who lost her son and she would put a photo of him and flowers there.”

One of Chico’s murals is all but obscured by a flower stand. The other has been totally covered by a billboard for small advertising posters.

“The last time I looked, it was ads for Crobar and iPods,” Ramaci said. “I don’t want to have to go to Staten Island to visit a 9/1l mural.”

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