By DONNA URSCHEL
Overwhelmed by the loss of human life on September 11, few Americans realize that the terrorist attacks also destroyed an important segment of America's cultural and historical legacy. Panelists examined the destruction of numerous records, artworks and archives in a Sept. 24 discussion at the Library of Congress, "The Impact of September 11 on Cultural Heritage."
Panel members were Saul S. Wenegrat, former director of the art program for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, who commissioned and curated the public art at the World Trade Center; and Jane Long, director of the Heritage Emergency National Task Force.
Wenegrat and Long described how the public spaces and private offices of the World Trade Center were filled with works of art by hundreds of artists, including such luminaries as Alexander Calder, Louise Nevelson, Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, Roy Lichtenstein, Paul Klee, Auguste Rodin and Le Corbusier.
They explained how corporations, non-profit organizations and government entities in the World Trade Center and in nearby buildings contained irreplaceable records, including the archives of the Helen Keller International Foundation, the Port Authority and the Broadway Theatre Archives. Safety deposit boxes and vaults of World Trade Center banks housed family records and heirlooms, including photographs documenting the presidency of John F. Kennedy.
Long also addressed the steps that can be taken by collecting institutions to safeguard their records and archives in emergency situations.
Wenegrat, the first to speak, gave an overview of the high profile art in public spaces that was destroyed. He first explained that in 1969, as part of the planning of the World Trade Center, the Port Authority had adopted a "percent-for-art" program, allocating up to 1 percent of the construction costs to be spent for artworks in public spaces.
"But you just don't go out and buy art," Wenegrat said. The Port Authority formally commissioned the pieces after recommendations from an advisory board of art experts, mainly from museums in the New York/New Jersey area, and knowledgeable lay people. The first art appeared at the World Trade Center in the early 1970s and the last, a memorial for the 1993 bombing of the center, in 1995.
Among the artwork destroyed was the "WTC Plaza Sculpture," a large, black granite piece by Japanese artist Masayuki Nagare. Completed in 1972, it stood on the plaza, at the Church Street entrance, 14 feet high and 34 feet wide.
Also lost was one of the most photographed pieces on the site, a large, stainless steel sculpture called "Ideogram" by James Rosati of New York. It stood between the two Trade Center towers. Wenegrat said the 25-foot piece appeared in many fashion industry ads.
Wenegrat described three other high-profile artworks that were destroyed.
"The World Trade Center Tapestry" by Joan Miró, a 20-by-35-foot piece made of wool and hemp, adorned the lobby of 2 World Trade Center. Wenegrat said Miró initially turned down the Port Authority's commission, because he didn't know how to create tapestries. But several years later, at the urging of nuns in Spain who wanted a tapestry for their hospital, Miró learned the skill from a village tapestry maker.
After Miró finished the piece for the World Trade Center, he decided tapestries were too much work and would not make any more, according to Wenegrat. But Miró got a call from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, whose officials had seen the center's tapestry, and wanted one for the new East Wing. Wenegrat said Miró agreed to make one more tapestry.
Another dramatic piece was Louise Nevelson's 1978 "Sky Gate, New York." It was a black painted wood relief that graced the mezzanine of 1 World Trade Center, overlooking the plaza. Wenegrat said Nevelson was inspired to create the piece when she saw the skyline of New York on a flight from Washington D.C.
The last public artwork that went into the World Trade Center was a memorial fountain for the victims of the 1993 bombing there. Sculpted by Elyn Zimmerman, it was placed right over the area where the bomb went off. Around the fountain was a small park offering a peaceful place for contemplation.
Wenegrat said the centerpiece of the World Trade Center Plaza, the Fritz Koenig "Sphere for Plaza Fountain," a colossal globe-like structure, survived somewhat intact. Koenig, of Germany, designed the sphere to symbolize world peace through world trade, the theme of the World Trade Center. The sphere stood 25 feet high. It was made of bronze and attached to a black granite base out of which flowed sheets of water. The damaged sphere had been dented, ripped open and filled with fallen debris. The artwork was cleaned up and, on Wenegrat's recommendation, placed on exhibit in a nearby park.
Also found were parts of an Alexander Calder piece called "WTC Stabile." Made out of painted red steel and standing 25 feet high, the piece arrived in 1971. It was also known as "The Cockeyed Propeller" and "Three Wings." The artwork moved around the plaza from time to time. On the day of the attacks, it was in front of 7 World Trade Center, one of the buildings on the perimeter of the World Trade Center plaza.
About 30 percent of the Calder piece was recovered, thanks to flyers describing it that were handed out to recovery workers at Ground Zero by Calder's grandson. Wenegrat said the artwork cannot be restored, but its pieces may come back to life in a different form.
Wenegrat said the value of these destroyed pieces, as well as those in other World Trade Center public places, is estimated at $15 million.
After Wenegrat's presentation, Long discussed a comprehensive study that examined the nation's cultural losses at the World Trade Center and in the surrounding area and at the Pentagon. The Heritage Emergency National Task Force, a partnership of 34 federal agencies and national associations founded with the Federal Emergency Management Agency in 1995, conducted the study. The report also evaluated how prepared the institutions had been to deal with any type of emergency.
To gather information from the surrounding area, the task force sent a survey to 120 museums, libraries, archives and exhibit spaces located south of 14th Street in lower Manhattan and at the Pentagon.
Heritage Preservation published the task force's findings in a 26-page report called "Cataclysm and Challenge." Long said copies of the report are available by contacting Heritage Preservation toll-free at (888) 388-6789.
The report lists the value of the art in private collections at the World Trade Center—also destroyed—at an estimated $100 million. Cantor Fitzgerald owned an extensive collection of Rodin drawings and sculptures. Citigroup, Silverstein Properties, Marriott Hotel, Fred Alger Management and Nomura Securities also owned important art collections.
On the 91st and 92nd floors of Tower One, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council provided workspace to artists. The studios contained more than 400 pieces of art, the work of 27 artists-in-residence sponsored by the council.
Long said that subterranean rooms beneath the center held important archaeological artifacts from an 18th-century African burial ground, discovered in 1991 during the construction of a federal courthouse. The rooms also held archives from a 19th-century working class neighborhood, along with photographic and computer records documenting the excavation of the Five Points neighborhood.
At least 21 libraries, the majority related to law or financial investment, were lost, as well as the U.S. Customs Service Regional Library in 6 World Trade Center and almost the complete archives of the Port Authority, responsible for building the area's bridges, tunnels, airports and public buildings, which were located in Tower One. Some 60 non-profit organizations and 22 federal government departments and agencies had offices in the World Trade Center.
According to "Cataclysm and Challenge," losses included priceless photographs and original letters of Helen Keller and first editions of Keller's books; a portion of the Broadway Theatre Archive's 35,000 photographs that captured great moments of the American stage; and approximately 40,000 negatives of photographs by Jacques Lowe documenting the presidency of John F. Kennedy. The negatives had been stored in a safe deposit vault.
The Pentagon sustained damage to its library, which contained more than 500,000 books and documents and a historical collection that dated to the early 1800s. The report said a private disaster recovery company was contracted to help stabilize the collections. The restoration efforts, which cost $500,000, were ultimately successful in saving about 99 percent of the book collection. The report said no historical materials housed in the library were harmed.
In addition to the library, 24 works in the art collections of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps at the Pentagon were destroyed, according to the report.
Long said the story of cultural and historical loss continues today. The extent of loss in private collections and some public collections may never be known, because of a lack of recordkeeping.
Institutions in lower Manhattan near the World Trade Center that had standard, proven emergency management plans were able to minimize damage from the toxic smoke and fumes enveloping the area, according to Long.
In light of the survey findings, Long said the task force is making five recommendations to collecting institutions: (1) integrate emergency management into all parts of planning, budget and operations; (2) address both protection of collections and continuity of operations; (3) train all staff in emergency procedures, not just those charged with specific responsibilities such as security or engineering; (4) maintain complete and updated collections inventories and place such records in off-site storage; and (5) "take a fireman out to lunch," or in other words, maintain a dialogue and friendly contact between emergency agencies and the institutions.
Donna Urschel is a freelance writer.