scuttling a great building

William Lescaze's Fiterman Hall today

There were no tears shed, and no tears should have been shed, for the collapse of 7 World Trade on September 11, 2001. No one was killed or injured when it fell. We are left with the memory of a pretentious and ugly building which could only have been produced by the excesses of the 80's - that is, until the even less imaginative excesses of the aughts.

We will miss the elegant, light urban grace of Fiterman Hall however.

My office was in 7 World Trade, but I felt more at home in Fiterman Hall. I loved my brief lunch-time visits to the ground floor art gallery set up by the Borough of Manhattan community College shortly after it was given the building by its owner, Miles and Shirley Fiterman, in 1993. The work of emerging artists, and the passing student bodies, allowed me to ignore the surrounding neighborhood of empty suits, if only for a moment.

Fiterman Hall, originally built in the 50's to house the same kind of suits, specifically those in charge of some of the operations of the Guaranty Trust Company, was designed by William Lescaze, the Swiss-born, adopted American, International Style architect responsible for the groundbreaking PSFS Building in Philadelphia.

Late in the afternoon of September 11 the 47-story 7 World Trade building mysteriously succumbed to the fire raging out of control within its structure and collapsed, some of its weight landing on the side of 15-story Fiterman Hall. For two and a half years the emphasis has been upon restoring the half-century-old architectural landmark. Now it appears that the entire building will be scuttled, to be replaced by something new, although I'm not sure that decision has any element of inevitability. There's always more money to be made in building than restoring, or at least that is the case in the world we have set up in this country.

I confess to another, very tiny connection to the building and its architect. Several years ago I found a modernist chrome-plated brass light fixture for the ceiling of the one of the rooms in our apartment. It was very expensive, but I loved it and everythig that it represented. The beautiful, minimalist disc was designed by Lescaze for a daringly-modernist house, since destroyed, which he had created in Tuxedo Park outside of the city. Now it was going to grace a somewhat less bold art deco apartment built the same year in Chelsea.

In spite of its simplicity and its [misleading?] appearance of having been machine crafted, it is in fact unique. There could be no replacement.

There can also be no proper replacement for Lescaze's jewel on Barclay Street.

[image from Fred R. Conrad/NYTimes]

UPDATE See an image of the Lescaze fixture in Thursday's post.

Thanks for keeping me posted on the continuing 7WTC story -- as you know, it means something to me too.

Also, my friend Eileen Weitzman, the artist, enjoyed your pictures of Mexico just before she left on a trip to Mexico and Guatemala. Good show! (She'll be back just in time for the March 20 antiwar demo in NYC.)