Lost in History, Vol. 36

by |
08/15/2007 12:00 AM |

We like to think of ourselves as forward-thinking New Yorkers, who appreciate the intrinsic historical value of our city, but understand when and where it comes time to move on. We think that we are modern and without superstition. But in certain specific cases, it’s hard to argue against a more nefarious and otherworldly presence intermingling with our own. And in case of 130 Liberty Street, still known as the Deutsche Bank Building, forever damaged on September 11th and, just this Saturday, the site of a fire that claimed the lives of two firefighters, well, we think it’s fucking cursed.

Never one of the prettiest buildings in lower Manhattan, the 41-story Deutsche Bank Building was built in 1974 as the Bankers Trust Plaza, amid the frenzy of construction surrounding the construction of the Twin Towers (built 1971-73, with the additional five buildings and WTC Plaza finished by 1975). The Bankers Trust Plaza was done in the gridlike, stolid and unceremonious International Style of architecture, the legacy of Modernists like Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe. As the name implies, International Style high-rises can be located anywhere in the world — and wherever one is located, it will look exactly the goddamn same. That is, butt-ugly and depressing. Which brings us back to the Deutsche Bank building.

On September 11th, 2001, plummeting debris from the South Tower sheared a 15-story gash in the north face of the Deutsche Bank, destroying 158,000 square feet of office space. Furthermore, the gash acted as a type of vacuum, sucking in asbestos and dangerous chemical compounds, such as dioxin, lead and chromium, from the incinerated Twin Towers. The building was rendered completely uninhabitable, and was in the midst of a years-long, top-down dismantling process,  as an implosion would shatter the already fragile infrastructure of lower Manhattan. The arrangement was plagued with frustrations from the start: from an initial 3-year gap between the events of 9/11 and the final agreement between Deutsche Bank, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation and two separate demolition companies; to the discoveries, in 2005, of bone fragments in the rooftop gravel (eventually over 760 fragments of 9/11 victims were found scattered throughout the building). The Deutsche Bank loomed like a cursed widow, wearing a black veil of demolition, standing silent over her sixteen-acre hole in the ground. The danger and cursedness continued: in May of last year, a 22-foot metal pipe fell from the 35th floor and crashed through the roof of Ten House, the FDNY station on Liberty Street across from the World Trade Center Site; luckily, no one was hurt. And then the fire on Saturday.

Information on the fire’s causes is as of yet inconclusive, though the specific tragedies of the fire are becoming clear. As firefighters were stuck in the maze of decontaminant plastic sheeting and airlocks, it was practically impossible to get water up a building with no working pipes or faucets; additionally, firefighters on the ground were attempting to use a dead standpipe to bring water up to the 17th floor, wasting time and energy when no water could make it to the fire. When this failed, they hoisted the hoses up via ropes and pulleys. Two firefighters perished: Joseph Graffagnino, of Brooklyn, and Robert Beddia, of Staten Island — both from Engine 24 and Ladder 8 on Sixth Avenue at Houston Street, a firehouse that lost eleven men on 9/11. It turns out that the widow with her black veil was a Black Widow spider, bringing down two more NYC heroes. Let’s hope those are the last victims of the never-ending black-clad nightmare in Lower Manhattan.