New York has lost

The 47-story 7 World Trade Center greatly reduced

Is Larry Silverstein a greedy man interested in power and fame? Or is he just trying to do his sad little thing again?

Monday’s front page NYTimes article tells us that Larry Silverstein now has control over what happens at the site of the World Trade Center. Later in its text we are told that Silverstein annoys a lot of important people because he has a tin ear for political discourse. But his affliction is much more serious. He has a tin soul. He certainly has a tin aesthetic.

I read a lot about what’s happening in New York, but I have an additional connection with Mr. Silverstein. I worked in an office high in 7 World Trade Center for about a dozen years. That building, which collapsed the afternoon of September 11, was Silverstein’s personal flagship before he acquired the lease to the Twin Towers 6 weeks earlier.

7 World Trade, which was across the street from the two Trade Center towers themselves, fell most likely as a consequence of the combustion of fuel stored for emergency generators designed as a backup for his friend Mayor Giuliani’s suspiciously ill-conceived high-tech 23rd-floor [sic] emergency command bunker. But no one talks about the fact that Silverstein, in his anxiety to attract Solomon Brothers as his prime tenant, had the entire 43rd floor removed after the building was completed in order that a trading floor could be constructed as part of their occupancy, with unknown consequences for the integrity of the building when put under severe stress. But what do I know?

What I do think I know is that Silverstein should be perhaps a building superintendent or possibly the owner of a chain of dry cleaning establishments. He should not be the arbiter of taste or design for what is arguably the most important site and the most important building project of our time.

Like his family’s nemesis, Donald Trump, Silverstein is not a self-made man. He started not at the bottom, but somewhere near the upper middle, and managed to advance only to the upper reaches of the upper middle, at least until just before the disaster which destroyed all of his showy real estate.

7 World Trade was a machine, an ugly monstrosity. The building had not even opened when its lobby was chosen as stand-in for the fictional inhuman Wall Street high-rise office building in Oliver Stones’ film “Wall Street.” If you know anything about the film, you know this was a very appropriate location choice.

Everything about the environment of 7 World Trade was repellant, but somewhere along the line a curator must have persuaded Silverstein to decorate his repellant lobbies with painting and sculpture from significant, even great, contemporary American artists. Then Larry destroyed this worthy impulse by installing a number of kitschy, junky, iron-man, submissive-woman and Amerindian-racist sculptures in the same areas. I can confirm it was Silverstein’s doing, and that it was work by a friend of his, someone he was said to admire. I made inquiries at the time they appeared in the lobbies, I was so amazed that they were there – that they could even exist in public in New York City at the end of the 20th century. These uglies were finally removed several years before September 11. The Held, Lichtenstein, Nevelson and others were destroyed along with the building.

Silverstein has been tolerated in or advanced to the importance he occupies in the redevelopment of the World Trade Center site only because for various reasons he appears to be in a position to get things started in time to satisfy the agenda of those who need something started right now. Bloomberg, Pataki, the national Republican Party and any number of commercial and political interests in New York and elsewhere are concerned not with the social, moral or aesthetic values of whatever takes shape west of lower Church Street, but with the political and financial opportunities early construction will offer them.

Silverstein is paying $120 million in rent to the Port Authority each year, but he receives no income from the 16-acre site. Silverstein wants to build – now. That’s all he’s concerned about. There is not one word in the Times article that suggests he has any other interest.

His motive is not patriotism or altruism, and I don’t think the man is looking for power, fame or even more fortune. He and his financial backers have an investment, and they want it to pay off. That's his job. It's business - as usual. All right, Silverstein is 72, and I’m sure he’d be in a hurry for that reason alone, even if he didn’t believe lots of huge, new, dreary office buildings would suitably crown a quite ordinary career. There is no time or room for beauty, vision, or greatness of any kind in this kind of deal.

If Larry Silverstein retains control of "ground zero," New York and the entire world is a loser.

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Published on July 22, 2003 12:41 AM.

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