Volume 20, Number 36 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | August 25 - September 1, 2010
Downtown Express photo by Aline Reynolds
Victoria Chernyak (left) and Leonie Schwede (right), from Germany, snap photos of each other and enjoy the views from the W.F.C.’s Winter Garden staircase. They say W.F.C. is a well-known tourist destination in Germany.
Letters confirm rumors surrounding Winter Garden staircase
BY Aline Reynolds
The grand marble staircase at the World Financial Center, which was destroyed on 9/11 and subsequently rebuilt, will likely be taken down again – this time, by the building’s owner.
Brookfield Properties will likely be demolishing the steps and a 15-foot-high wall that supports them, after nine months of staff meetings and studies about the renovation project. Rumors surfaced months ago about the staircase’s pending demolition. Now, recent letters between Brookfield and the Department of City Planning have substantiated the rumors and community residents that see the staircase as a symbol of the 9/11 attacks are not happy.
“It stands as a monument to the things that we’ve lost. The neighborhood has been very upset about it,” said Linda Belfer, chair of Community Board 1’s Battery Park City Committee.
Retaining the staircase and wall “would require people to maneuver around the wall as they enter the W.F.C. and the Winter Garden from the new [Fulton Street] transit center, creating choke points and [a] major inconvenience for pedestrians, severely impeding the flow of traffic,” John Zuccotti, U.S. chairman of Brookfield, wrote in a letter to the D.C.P.
Brookfield plans to fill the vacant space with a 35-foot corridor that leads to escalators from a tunnel underneath West Street that connects W.F.C. to the new transit center. The company defends its plan in the letter by saying that the wall holding up the staircase is a physical barrier for pedestrians entering the W.F.C. via the tunnel.
Brookfield says the “retention scenario” also obstructs the view of the Winter Garden and the World Trade Center complex. The staircase wall “would not only create an obstacle between the escalators from the underground tunnel and the Winter Garden, but would also waste a once-in-a-century opportunity to open the interior of lower Manhattan to the waterfront,” according to the letter.
When the staircase is removed, “A pedestrian will be able to proceed from the new transportation center across the Memorial, through our new glass pavilion, through the Winter Garden, across the upper Plaza, down and across the lower plaza to the water,” the letter says.
Spokesperson Melissa Coley said in a phone interview that the demolition plans haven’t yet been finalized. Coley wouldn’t comment on when a final decision will be made.
City Planning Director Amanda Burden maintains that the staircase and wall should be preserved. “[The stairs] create a transitional area between the tree canopies, high glass ceiling, and the ground floor,” she says in a letter to Zuccotti that contests Brookfield’s plans. The stairs encourage public use of the building’s upper floors, provide “attractive and generous circulation” between the building’s first two floors, and highlight the building’s interior dome.
Contrary to what Brookfield suggests, Burgen argues in her letter, “The stairs give visitors an elevated and elongated view of the water, while also drawing people to the second floor, where a unique, raised view of the Memorial awaits them.” The staircase she added, also provides office workers space for informal meetings and phone conversations.
B.P.C. committee upset
The Lower Manhattan community is equally angered at the thought of the staircase being dismantled. “[This] staircase needs to remain,” said Belfer, who has been fighting for its preservation since the rumors surfaced.
C.B. 1 passed a resolution in late July requesting that the staircase be preserved.
“This restored grand staircase became a symbol of recovery and renewal and a much beloved community amenity where performances can be viewed, friends and families can meet, lunches can be enjoyed with views out to the Hudson,” the resolution stated. “C.B. 1 urges both City Planning and Brookfield Properties to carefully explore all options that will permit retention of the grand staircase and to engage the community board before any decision is made.”
Belfer said she has invited Brookfield to its Battery Park City committee meetings without success. Coley said it held a task force meeting, not open to the public, on Tuesday to get community feedback on the revamping of the Winter Garden’s retail space, and that someone from Brookfield would attend the September 28 C.B. 1 full-board meeting to discuss the plans.
Belfer said she would be at this week’s task force meeting to bring up the Winter Garden staircase. She has received several calls from concerned community members about the proposal to take it down.
“I think it’d be a terrible thing to do,” echoed B.P.C. Committee Member Bill Love, a B.P.C. resident for 17 years who frequents W.F.C. He’ll often sit down on the steps and read a newspaper or have a coffee on evenings or weekends.
“I’m hoping they’ll come out and let us have our say before they make any final moves.”
“We’d really miss [the staircase] if it were gone,” said Bhavani Surapaneni, who works in the W.F.C. and often has lunch with colleagues or friends on the steps. Surapaneni said it’s also a popular tourist spot.
“We came for the view,” said Marvilva Strruiken, an 18-year-old tourist from Surinam visiting New York with her family for the first time. “We don’t have that in our country, it’s kind of unique. It’s beautiful, it’s not something you see everywhere. Why take it down?”