Written by Fiona Lawless
Just a few days ago, Save America's Treasures (SAT) announced a $200,000 federal challenge grant to conserve the now-iconic "Last Column"—the final steel structure removed from Ground Zero during the 9/11 rescue effort. At 36 feet tall, weighing 58 tons, and covered in spray-paint and tributes from rescue workers, construction teams and family members, it has become a major artifact reflecting the sacrifices of so many, and the strength and resilience found in unity during the aftermath. The column will be a major element of the new National September 11 Memorial and Museum. Since its removal from Ground Zero in 2002, the steel column and each of the 82 photographs, notes, memorial posters and Mass cards have been stored and protected in a climate-controlled facility at Hangar 17 at New York's JFK Airport. This past August, the "Last Column" became the first artifact returned to the museum site for installation within a special encasement where it will be assessed, conserved and monitored.
Save America's Treasures is a national public-private partnership dedicated to ensuring a brighter future for our past. It includes the National Trust for Historic Preservation as principal private partner, and the National Park Service, the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, the two National Endowments, and the Institute for Museum and Library Services. This grant to the "Last Column" is one of 42 nationally significant historic structures, artifacts and collections selected to receive a 2009 award through Save America's Treasures.
Administered by our federal partners, on December 11th Save America's Treasures announced $9.5 million in grants to address the preservation/conservation needs of some of our nation's most storied places. The "Last Column" joins the Old Naval Hospital on Washington's Capitol Hill, Newport's Stanford White Casino Theatre, Tufts University's "This I Believe" Collection, Raices Latin Music collection, Santa Fe's San Miguel Chapel and many others. In just 10 years, this national partnership has awarded over $350 million in federal matching grants and private contributions to address the enormous preservation backlog.
Having worked closely with the 9/11 Museum on this and other important projects, we at the National Trust's SAT program were especially pleased to learn of this recognition and support for the "Last Column." Back in 2002, Save America's Treasures partnered with the American Architectural Foundation (AAF) and ALCOA to fund the conservation of the Yamasaki World Trade Center architectural model—the last authentic 3-dimensional representation of the complex. Last year, the AAF announced its loan of the model to the Museum, where it will occupy a central place in the exhibition that tells the World Trade Center story. Save America's Treasures secured a pledge of the required funds from its partner organization Tourism Cares, for the model's encasement, presentation and interpretation.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation also joined with its preservation partners to save the stunning Vesey Street Staircase, down which hundreds of people escaped during the attacks. Known as the "Survivors' Staircase," it was threatened with demolition until the National Trust named it to its 2006 list of 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. As with the "Last Column" and the World Trade Center model, the Vesey Staircase will hold a special place in the new Museum.
Save America's Treasures at the National Trust is honored to partner with the National September 11 Memorial and Museum where artifacts, oral histories, documents and displays will pay tribute and convey the tragic 9/11 story of loss and recovery.
Fiona Lawless is the program manager for Save America's Treasures at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.