Marlon Drummond won’t forget the continual spray from fire hoses at ground zero for nearly a year afterward.
The 46-year-old works at Royal Bank of Canada in the 1 Liberty Plaza building, a 54-story skyscraper across the street from the World Trade Center. The implosion of the Twin Towers burst the windows of Liberty Plaza, leaving the interior walls impaled with huge panes of glass. Drummond was driving to work when he heard the news of the attacks on the radio, turned around and went back home. He and other Liberty Plaza employees couldn’t return to their jobs for nine months, while the soot-filled structure was gutted and renovated. The fires, still burning, greeted them.
“It sort of signifies not only how devastating [9/11 was], but how much it took from us,” Drummond said, while walking past the site in July. “And that was something you just can’t forget. Every day you’d come to work, and they were trying to put out the fire — for a whole year. That was incredible. And then the cleanup — it took three or four years to clean it up. It was incredible.”
The dousing and hauling of the rubble, Drummond said, “was a constant reminder.”
Today, the World Trade Center site continues to be the most visible sign of 9/11. Once the rebuilding project is complete, the 16-acre site will contain the shimmering 1 World Trade Center (formerly called the Freedom Tower), three slightly smaller skyscrapers, the WTC Transit Hub, and the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. The memorial will be unveiled Sunday, on the 10th anniversary, and features a plaza and two square pools of cascading water, labeled “Reflecting Absence,” which were created in the footprints of the original Twin Towers. An interactive museum will open next year, underground.
Any plan to memorialize those lost through 9/11 and create new structures on those grounds was bound to stir controversy. It did. Plans changed. Names changed. Designs changed. Developers changed. So did the pricetag, now at $11 billion. Grumbling hasn’t disappeared. Many in the city, though, are simply relieved to see something getting done.
“It’s nice. I’m glad it’s happening,” Steven Chelsen said. “It should’ve been done a while ago.”
Besides its cost, the new WTC features many distinctive elements. The centerpiece, 1 World Trade Center, will be 105 stories tall, five shy of the old Twin Towers, but promises to become the planet’s tallest building. A 300-foot spire will stretch it to a symbolic height of 1,776 feet. In the “Reflecting Absence” 9/11 Memorial, water will perpetually fall 30 feet from ground level into the basins. Bordering the pools will be gradually sloping walls, bearing the 2,983 names of 9/11 victims at New York, Washington and Shanksville, as well as the six people killed in a 1993 bombing at the World Trade Center. The museum will document the details, display well-known remnants of the devastation, and tell the stories behind the lives lost — bond traders, dishwashers and corporate executives. Some surviving infrastructure of the original World Trade Center was kept and built into the museum’s design. That’s why it's underground, Cliff Chanin, director of education for the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, explained in an instructional video created for teachers nationwide.
The site has won over Nobile Basile, a surveyor who has worked there.
Initially, Basile disliked the concept, particularly the below-ground design of the memorial pools and museum. He favored rebuilding the Twin Towers east of their original location, and placing the broken facade — a dominant piece of the debris — as a permanent fixture.
“But, you know what? Now that I see what’s actually there, I’m pretty impressed,” Basile said, while talking with friends at O’Hara’s Restaurant and Pub, a popular spot near the Trade Center site. “… The reflecting pools — they’re amazing. I didn’t think they would be, but they are. They’ve got all the names all the way around there.”
Those names form the nucleus of a network of sagas that connect the present-day lives of New York residents, workers and visitors with 9/11.