Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Battle for Ground Zero, Part 162

The WTC Tribute Center is opening and will provide an interim memorial at Ground Zero.
Occupying a storefront at 120 Liberty Street, opposite the World Trade Center site, the Tribute Center has four ground-floor galleries taking a visitor from the construction of the twin towers through 9/11 and its aftermath to a room where the dead are commemorated in hundreds of photographs on a 10-by-30-foot wall, with personal mementos nearby.

“While we build a grand memorial and memorial museum at the World Trade Center site,” Gov. George E. Pataki said yesterday, “the Tribute Center will be an interim destination for the millions of visitors who come here to learn and share experiences with the Sept. 11 community.”

This will be a long interim. The memorial is not to open until 2009.

Meanwhile, as many as 2,000 visitors are expected at the Tribute Center every day, said Jennifer Adams, the chief executive of the September 11th Families’ Association, which developed the center. BKSK Architects designed it. It cost about $3.4 million to build and was financed by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

When it opens to the public, visitors will be asked to make a $10 contribution, or $40 for a family, though they can walk in for free. The center will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and from noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday and Tuesday.

Visitors will enter a gallery about the construction of the trade center and its vibrant everyday life, centered on an eight-foot-tall model.

They will turn a corner into the second gallery to find what may be the most unnerving artifact: a mangled section of an airliner’s fuselage with one whole passenger window recognizably intact. This riveted, rounded portal almost invites a viewer to imagine what an awful panorama it must have framed for someone that morning.

“We don’t want to know which plane this came from,” said Lee Ielpi, the vice president of the families’ association, explaining that in its anonymity, the wreckage stands for a more universal loss.

In the third gallery, within sight of a monumentally deformed steel beam, is one of Mr. Ielpi’s donations to the exhibition: the battered helmet and turnout coat, torn down the right side, that were worn by his son Jonathan. The helmet carries badge number 12642, which was Mr. Ielpi’s when he was a New York City firefighter and was passed on to Jonathan, who was killed on 9/11, then to Jonathan’s brother, Brendan, who is now a firefighter.
One has to wonder why this wasn't built sooner, given the modest cost and goals - to serve as the interim facility through 2009.

Those who have previewed the museum have spoken of its power and emotional impact. It will not open to the general public until September 18. Until then, victims’ relatives, survivors of the attack, neighbors, and rescue and recovery workers will be able to view the exhibits.

As I reported earlier today, WTC workers appear to be facing a medical crisis as nearly 70% of workers have suffered some form of respiratory ailment as a result of their service at Ground Zero.

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