Lost From Skyline, but Not From the Landscape
By DAVID W. DUNLAP
Published: September 9, 2004
THEY are lost, of course. But they have not disappeared. Three years after it seemed that the name and image of the twin towers would be mournfully expunged from the cityscape, the World Trade Center survives. Not on the skyline, but on street signs and shopping bags and book covers, in Fire Department insignia and the logo of the Alliance for Downtown New York, in a subway station and a parking garage, at the gateway to SoHo and in the lobby of an apartment building that was especially hard hit on Sept. 11, 2001
It is as if the twin towers - a bold parallel that instantly conveys the idea of "New York City" - were reclaiming their inextricable place in civic iconography.
"It's a painful chapter in our history, but nevertheless it's a chapter," said Richard S. LeFrak, the president and chairman of the Lefrak Organization, the landlord of 395 South End Avenue at Gateway Plaza in Battery Park City. At the tenants' request, the organization left in place a 1997 mural by Vladimir Poutchkov that cheerfully depicts the twin towers from a bird's-eye vantage, rising through the clouds.
John A. Catsimatidis, the chairman, president and chief executive of the Red Apple Group, decided more forcefully to keep the twin towers on Gristede's shopping bags after the attack, in which one of his second cousins, John Katsimatides, perished.
"We need something to remind us," Mr. Catsimatidis said, "because if we forget, then we've made ourselves vulnerable again." So a legend has been added to the bags: "Always on Our Minds. Forever in Our Hearts. Never Forget What They Did."
Occasionally, Mr. Catsimatidis said, he will hear from an angry customer who objects to seeing the World Trade Center on a grocery sack. "After I tell them the reason I'm doing it," he said, "they're 100 percent in favor."
Readers have called Vintage Books to ask if there are plans to change the cover of Jay McInerney's book "Bright Lights, Big City," which for 20 years has featured a photo illustration by Marc Tauss showing a young man approaching the Odeon restaurant downtown. Filling the night sky are the brilliantly illuminated trade center towers.
"The author would never consider changing it," said Russell Perreault, the publicity director at Vintage. "It stood for something at the time. And it still does."
No thought was given at Donna Karan International to changing the DKNY mural that has overlooked Broadway and Houston Street since 1989. Hand-painted from a Peter Arnell photograph taken out of a seaplane window, it shows a panorama of Manhattan Island as seen through four cutout letters. The World Trade Center, framed by a soft cloud bank, is unmistakable in the upper crook of the N.
"The critical thing is that you don't change history," said Mr. Arnell, the founder and chief executive of the Arnell Group, the advertising agency responsible for the DKNY campaign. "You don't see it differently. You understand it differently."
But he acknowledged the strong impulse after the attack to erase twin tower imagery. "There was a rush to remove the pain," he said. "Those symbols were so painful."
One institution that did change its graphic presentation was the Bowery Mission, whose logo before 9/11 depicted the twin towers dominating a silhouetted city. The new logo depicts the welcoming red doors of the mission chapel.
"We didn't want to walk away from the New York skyline," the president, Edward H. Morgan, said. "We consider ourselves generic New York. Yet of course, the fall of the towers was such a huge event that generic New York had changed."
The Alliance for Downtown New York, which runs the Lower Manhattan business improvement district, thought about changing its logo, by Chermayeff & Geismar, in which the towers form the double L in the word Alliance. But it decided to wait. "We didn't want to show an emptiness on that skyline," the alliance president, Carl Weisbrod, said.
The alliance also had to figure out what to do about street signs - designed by Pentagram and installed around the trade center site two months before the attack - illustrated with photos of the twin towers. Complicating the question is that visitors, perhaps more than ever, rely on these signs for direction in the absence of the towers themselves, which served as a kind of pole star.
"How do you picture absence?" asked Michael Bierut, a partner in Pentagram. At first, as an exercise, he tried to substitute the famous photograph of three firefighters raising the flag. But that felt exploitative, he said. After a few months, Mr. Bierut said, "It seemed that the more obvious thing to do was to use the picture we had used."
The Lefrak Organization was ready to remove the mural from 395 South End Avenue, which was vacated for months after the attack. "We thought it would be especially right," Mr. LeFrak said. "The building that happens to have the artwork is the one that got the most damage."
But tenants thought otherwise. "It would seem like giving up if you'd taken it down," said Tammy Meltzer, who has lived in the building since 1996 and worked as a senior manager in the catering department at Windows on the World.
"It's part of our history, part of our neighborhood, part of our community," Ms. Meltzer said, "an integral part of what was and what will be again. Remembering where you've come from and remembering the past is never inappropriate."
Except for one original detail that simply had to be painted out, Mr. LeFrak said.
Two airplanes. On the horizon.