September 11th and the Preservation of Memory

Posted on: September 11th, 2008 by Matt Ringelstetter


Today marks the seventh anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, and while the National Trust for Historic Preservation works hard to preserve buildings, landscapes and neighborhoods, it is important to note that one of our fundamental goals is the preservation of memory through the use of these tangible remainders. Place and memory are concepts that oftentimes interact, with places acting as containers for the collective memories of a particular society or group. From these collective memories, a sense of identity can be derived. Without the buildings, objects, and places that preservationists are concerned with saving, we as a society run the risk of losing the physical pieces that help tie us to a collective identity--whether it be regional, national, or even global.

Two years ago—as we do every spring—the National Trust for Historic Preservation unveiled its list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. One of these places was the World Trade Center’s Vesey Street Staircase. Known as the “Survivors’ Stairway,” due to the hundreds of people who used it to evacuate the towers during the attacks, the staircase was the last remaining above-ground feature of the World Trade Center, it was also in danger of being lost forever. Construction and development of a memorial site around the area where the Towers once stood threatened the stairs with demolition. This drew the attention of preservationists and everyday citizens alike to the question of how to most appropriately save this important reminder of the attacks and of those who were directly affected by them. Unquestionable for its historic value, the preservation of this 175 ton piece of concrete and steel is more important for the symbolic nature of what it represents. These were the stairs that people who survived the chaos of that morning used to exit the building, they were also used as the entrance for rescue workers to enter the building in order to help those still inside. In addition, the Survivors Stairway is a tangible piece of the September 11th attacks that itself survived, and holds the memory of all those who did not.

Saving the stairway took the efforts of numerous organizations combined with public support via letters to important decision-makers. Groups such as the Lower Manhattan Emergency Preservation Fund, the Preservation League of New York State, the World Monuments Fund, the Municipal Art Society, and the New York Landmarks Conservancy all aided in the process and in March of this year, the stairway was moved out of the path of construction and to a temporary location. In July, the stairs were placed within the foundations of the Memorial where visitors will eventually be able to view them next to the functional staircase as they use them to descend into the museum and experience the site at bedrock level.

The memorial itself is estimated for completion in 2011, and is titled Reflecting Absence, a reference to its attempt to incite thinking on two buildings long-associated with the New York skyline which have been lost forever. In a September 16, 2001 New York Times article, Michael J. Lewis stated that:

"In their absence, the World Trade Center towers are more a monument than ever. The physical void they leave is itself a poignant memorial, an aching emptiness that is the architectural counterpart to human loss."

Besides rows of trees and two waterfall-fed pools representing the areas where the buildings once stood, the memorial will include the names of victims from both towers, the Pentagon and the four flights which crashed in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania on September 11th, 2001. The Pentagon opened its memorial this morning, and one planned for the Pennsylvania crash site is due to be finished in 2011.

The addition of a tangible, lasting piece of the buildings that did make it through the attacks is interesting when compared to the overall World Trade Center memorial itself, which focuses upon absence, emptiness and the recollection of things that are missing. The inclusion of the appropriately titled Survivors Stairway reminds us that some things did survive the catastrophe—both those who made it out, along with the memories of those who did not—and that we are still here as a nation and global community, whether it be one year after the attack or seven.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Notes from New Orleans: Effects of Gustav

Posted on: September 10th, 2008 by Walter Gallas


Karnofsky/Morris Music Store, South Rampart St.

Karnofsky/Morris Music Store, South Rampart St.

Friday afternoon, Michelle Kimball of the Preservation Resource Center and I drove through parts of Central City, Uptown, and Mid-City looking for buildings in dangerous condition or which had collapsed as a result of Gustav. In the Central Business District, on South Rampart Street I saw that the brick parapet of one of the remaining buildings associated with jazz history—the Karnofsky/Morris Music store—had fallen. I emailed the Historic District Landmarks Commission about it. According to the New Orleans Jazz Commission, "The Karnofsky Store was the location for both the business and residence of the Jewish family that served as an alternate household for a young Louis Armstrong. He worked on their coal and junk wagon and ate meal with them on a regular basis. Morris Music, the city's first jazz record store, was initially run at this location by their son, and Louis' boyhood friend, Morris Karnofsky." The building is owned by the Meraux Foundation. It is up the street from the Eagle Saloon, the building which PopAgee Johnson purchased from the Meraux’s to form the basis of a long-anticipated New Orleans Jazz Music Hall of Fame.

The House on 100 block of North Gayoso St.

The House on 100 block of North Gayoso St.

In Mid-City, a house in the 100 block of North Gayoso had folded up into a cock-eyed heap. Some neighbors think the house had been elevated after Katrina.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

SCAD Students Encourage Savannah to "Shop Local"

Posted on: September 8th, 2008 by Margaret Foster


Call it a senior project that lasted beyond graduation. A group of historic preservation students from Savannah College of Art and Design challenged their city to “shop local” on Labor Day weekend.


"In the spring we spent a quarter studying the benefits of shopping local, and we decided to stick around in the summer and take the knowledge and do something with it," says Chad Purkey, one of the six students who went door-to-door passing out postcards about the benefits of shopping at local stores.


For the class taught by Jeanne Lambin, former program officer at the National Trust’s Midwest Office, students devised a slogan ("It makes cents"), engaged the media, and launched a website with a survey and blog about Savannah's favorite shops. 


"We developed a lot of partnerships with different organizations in town who are really excited about the project," Chad says. "Local businesses help preserve local identity and character. We thought that was really important for Savannah because it’s this quirky place that has a lot of unique flavor. … We looked at the positives of local businesses; we never talked about the negatives of chain stores."


Visit the students' project at

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.


Memorial Stadium - Greensboro

Memorial Stadium - Greensboro

Greensboro's Memorial Stadium at a Crossroads: Serving the Greensboro baseball community from 1926 until 2004, Memorial Stadium is facing the question that many historic stadiums face--what to do? Ideas of adaptive reuse are being tossed around in a city known for reusing existing structures for other purposes. In 1984, the Wafco Mill Complex in College hill was converted into residential units and a civic center completed in 2006 was at one time the Southern Railway Depot. [Greensboro's Treasured Places]

New England's Football Mall: The NFL season kicked off this weekend and Patriot fans can now enjoy a trip to Bass Pro Shops, Circuit City and other retailers while tailgating this fall. Team owner Robert Kraft footed the bill for a $300 Million shopping mall addition to Gillette stadium in Foxboro, Mass. While it's become common for a professional sports stadium to offer stores to gameday visitors, the Patriots organization is hoping that Patriot Place will act as a draw well into the offseason. Hopefully the new mall will give Pats' fans something to be excited about this season--and relief from the oftentimes harsh realities of pro football. [NPR]

Getting Her Kicks on Route 96: Preservationist Rebecca Rowe discusses the benefits of straying from the beaten path and discovering heritage travel along the way. New York State's Route 96 curves southeast from Rochester through the Finger Lakes region, offering some scenic views and small town flavors. [Confessions of a Preservationist]

Lincoln Bicentennial Activities Are Heating Up: Get your tickets to visit the most significant historic site directly associated with Lincoln's presidency aside from the White House. Tour tickets for President Lincoln's Cottage are now available for January through June of 2009. Reserve your spot online now and celebrate Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday at his Presidential retreat. [President Lincoln's Cottage Blog]

Post Katrina Housing Shortage is Still a Problem: With New Orleans bracing itself for another hurricane over the past week, it's important to remember that the effects of Katrina in 2005 are still an ongoing issue. [Mother Jones]

Lower Eastside Tenanment Museum's New Website: The National Trust Historic Site has recently redesigned their website, offering exciting new means of interpreting the history of New York's immigrant experience. [National Trust Historic Sites Weblog]

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Gulf Coast Recovery Slideshow

Posted on: September 5th, 2008 by National Trust for Historic Preservation


Learn about Gulf Coast Recovery efforts on

Support our efforts in the Gulf Coast and New Orleans Regions

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.