Paying respects tonight at the base of the Tribute in Light, 11 years on

September 11, 2012

(Rolando Pujol)

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Essay: A forgotten lesson of 9/11 that we should embrace every day

The World Trade Center in 1993 (Courtesy: Isabel Santi)

The following essay was originally published in the Sept. 8, 2011 edition of amNewYork as part of the newspaper’s coverage of the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

By Rolando Pujol

New Yorkers have been thinking for days about where they were on a single day in particular: Sept. 11, 2001. Of course, it doesn’t take the prompting of a milestone anniversary to go back to that terrible place — the trading of 9/11 stories has become a distinct part of the American experience.

When those horrific 102 minutes were over and we had lost almost 3,000 lives at the World Trade Center, it was impossible to think there would again be a calm moment of reflection like this one, almost 10 years later — for it seemed we were barreling into a terrifying “new normal,” as the phrase of the day went. Certainly more terror was at hand — New York would be the new Tel Aviv, it was easy, if rash, to surmise.

Today, we can reflect on 9/11 in a city that has not been attacked again, in a region that has flourished in ways we could not have imagined at 10:28 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, when the second tower collapsed. Today, the skyline is being transformed by the successors to the Twin Towers, and we are paying tribute to the 2,753 lives we lost in a stirring memorial it seemed would never get built. People are actually choosing to live in the shadow of the new World Trade Center, and downtown, it seems, is the place to live … you’d think Peter Stuyvesant and his Dutch brethren were back in City Hall.

It has taken a lot for us as a city to get here. For those first years after 9/11, it was impossible not to think about a new attack. We could seemingly cut the undercurrent of dread with a knife. We looked around as we hurried through Grand Central Terminal, or sized up the majesty of the Empire State Building, and we felt in our gut how vulnerable these seemingly indestructible edifices were, and by extension, how vulnerable we were.

That is, perhaps, the most salient thing that 9/11 left us with: It made us see the fragility and the beauty in everything (and everyone) around us, including ourselves.

Of course, we have regressed, but this unique perspective 9/11 gave us is one we should strive to embrace every day, without the prodding of a catastrophe. It is worthy of keeping in mind as we honor the dead on Sunday. What better tribute is there, after all, than to be our best selves, appreciating the people around us? And how wonderful it is to live as appreciative urbanists as well, treasuring our beautiful city and its one-of-a-kind landmarks, streets, parks and vistas. Cherish them, because we err to take them for granted.

We’ve made that mistake before.

Forever The Towers: A sticker in TriBeCa recalls the days after 9/11 in a stricken neighborhood

This sticker, simply put, is worthy of inclusion in the National September 11 Memorial and Museum. It dates to 2002, and survives on the door of a TriBeCa store that is a block or so away from the World Trade Center.

When this sticker was affixed a decade ago, the neighborhood was still shell-shocked — it captures a moment after 9/11 that is hard to describe. The grief and shock over the attack’s barbarity and human toll mingled with a deep desire to erase the scar on the skyline.

Stickers of this sort were visible on car bumpers all around the New York area in the months after 9/11, along with the American flags affixed to cars. 

Today, the sticker sits in the shadow of the new 1 World Trade Center, surrounded by a thriving, vibrant neighborhood that only the rosiest of optimists could have imagined in 2002.

That, of course, also presents an argument to keep the sticker just where it is.

To remember.

Text and photos: Rolando Pujol 

Radio Row was wiped out for the Twin Towers, but you can still pick up the frequency on Canal Street

Long before the original World Trade Center complex was built, Cortland Street was the epicenter of several downtown streets that were home to electronics stores.

Dubbed “Radio Row,” that area vanished with the construction of the Twin Towers. Most of the stores migrated several blocks north to Canal Street. As that thoroughfare developed, most of the stores either moved away or vanished.

One store stands against the onslaught of development, its front stoop filled with bins of cables, switches, printed circuits, electrical tape, soldering irons and other ephemera of an earlier, “do-it-yourself” era.

Argo Electronics, on the north side of Canal Street, just off Sixth Avenue, is a microcosm of what Canal Street looked like just years ago.

Text and photo: Jefferson Siegel

Jefferson Siegel is a New York-based photojournalist and a contributor to The Retrologist.

A touching juxtaposition: AT&T’s 9/11 memorial, and the new tower replacing the lost twins in the sky

The mammoth AT&T switching center, at 33 Thomas Street in TriBeCa, has a bold memorial to 9/11 at the plaza level, with the “ones” representing the silhouette of the lost Twin Towers.

As I walked by this week, it was impossible not to notice that, towering above this memorial sign, is the building that has replaced the Twin Towers in the skyline, One World Trade Center.

The juxtaposition is subtle, easy to miss if you’re shuffling to the office or lunch, but nonetheless touching if you stop and contemplate what’s going on here.

Text and photo: Rolando Pujol

Across WTC, ghost signage reminds us that Century 21 department store was once a distinguished 20th century bank

On the side of the Century 21 clothing store building on the corner of Church & Dey Streets, directly across from the WTC site, you can make out the letters spelling out “East River Savings Bank Safe Deposit Vaults”

The building dates to the early 1930’s. There was also a branch in the lower level of the World Trade Center complex.                                                                                               
Text and photo: Jefferson Siegel


Editor’s note: This post is a guest contribution from New York-based photographer Jefferson Siegel, a longtime newspaper colleague of mine who has a sharp eye for uncovering traces of New York’s past. His contributions will appear on The Retrologist from time to time.

Tower power: The majesty of 1 World Trade Center

Readers of The Retrologist know I have a great affinity for 1 World Trade Center. I’ve been casually chronicling its rise since 2009, as you can see in this post that went up on the day the tower became New York’s tallest, a day of immense symbolism, and for many, considerable emotion.

The glass tower, which tapers gracefully as it rises, offer many visual surprises, and the other day, emerging from 3 World Financial Center, I looked up and was greeted with this view. 

I felt humbled and very proud of this testament to New York’s resilience. This is perhaps my favorite vista of the tower. There’s just a majesty to it that leaves you very impressed.

Text and photo: Rolando Pujol

Lower Manhattan noir

1 World Trade Center early Saturday, shrouded in fog. The vintage clock belongs to the Smoke Shop, at 20 Vesey Street. Here’s another view of the terrific timepiece in a blog post I wrote a few years ago.

Demise of video store endangers a depiction of the Twin Towers

Last September, I published a photo essay exploring the ephemeral endurance of the Twin Towers’ image around New York City. More than a decade later, the Twin Towers survive in logos, but there were will be one fewer soon.

This Turtle Bay video store has gone out of business, but its demise endangers this depiction of the pre-9/11 skyline. What was once a simple way to communicate “New York” is something so much more meaningful today. 

Here’s how I described these relics in my amNewYork piece

The Twin Towers, toward the end of their short life on the skyline, had arguably become the definitive symbol of New York City. The towers were destroyed in the city’s worst 102 minutes, but their iconographic legacy has proven remarkably resilient 10 years later.

Indeed, these images of the Twin Towers — a neon window silhouette here, a graphic on a delivery truck there — can be considered collectively as a quiet yet powerful citywide memorial.

 Text and photo: Rolando Pujol