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Winter Garden ruined on 9/11 to be rebuilt

By
FREDERICK M. WINSHIP

NEW YORK, Feb. 4 (UPI) -- Of the half dozen buildings destroyed or devastated by the Sept. 11 Twin Towers terrorist attack, the most distinguished architecturally was the Winter Garden of the World Financial Center and it is the first that is being rebuilt.

The Winter Garden was the city's largest glass-enclosed space, in the grand tradition of London's 19th century Crystal Palace, before the Twin Towers' collapse shattered the many-paned splendor of its barrel-vaulted atrium and its supporting steel structure by showering it with tons of debris.

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Structural engineers have found the damage is not irreparable although some supporting columns were destroyed, the spectacular marble staircase ripped apart, the fan-lighted fa├žade facing the Hudson River twisted, and 70 percent of the glass skin of the atrium destroyed. A $50 million rebuilding effort already has begun with next September as the target date for completion.

Several feet of glassy debris mixed with rainwater that covered the Winter Garden's tricolor marble floor have been removed, as has a grove of 40-foot Arizona Desert palm trees that were killed by crashing glass and noxious fumes from the Twin Towers debacle. The trees will be replaced, according to Ric Clark, president of domestic operations of the World Financial Center's owner, Brookfield Financial Properties.

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"We've lost one of the city's most beautiful public spaces, and we want to bring it back to its original state as soon as we can," Clark told UPI. "We are planning to build a new glass wall facing east over the Twin Towers site, so the Winter Garden is likely to be more important than it ever was in the past."

Clark said he expects the building will get many more visitors than it did in the past because of the panoramic view afforded by the new expanse of glass at the end of the structure that was most heavily damaged. He said it should be a major tourist destination for years to come as new construction goes up at the World Trade Center site.

The Winter Garden served as an escape route for thousands of workers when they fled the adjoining 1 World Trade Center building to reach the safety of the World Financial Center's Hudson River promenade. None of the 40,000 workers at the financial center or in the Winter Garden were killed or seriously injured although the death toll at the World Trade Center stands at 2,872.

The remains of the 145-foot high Winter Garden atrium skylight is now being covered by a wooden platform to keep out snow and rain. The atrium has been shored up by support towers, and planks provide flooring to replace the building's pedestrian bridge vestibule that was completely destroyed.

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Half of the spectacular 40-step grand staircase that served as seating for musical concerts is missing and has been sheathed in plywood. The main floor is filled with scissor lifts that transport workmen to the skylight area where 2,000 panes of glass are missing.

The 45,000 square foot building which contained a variety of shops was completed in 1988 and was the scene of many public events such as the annual New York International Orchids Show and charity parties including one honoring the late Diana, princess of Wales. A key scene in the movie version of Tom Wolfe's "Bonfire of the Vanities" was filmed there.

A stage on the Hudson River side of the garden had been a showcase for more than 2,000 performers who took part in a busy performing arts programming schedule. Clark said the World Financial Center is planning to restart cultural programming this summer with a series of outdoor performances, possibly in the enclosed courtyard adjacent to the Winter Garden that has just been cleaned of two feet of debris.

The World Financial Center, which includes four complimentary granite-and-reflective glass office towers, was designed by the distinguished architect Cesar Pelli with Adamson & Associates as coordinating architects. The Winter Garden is its centerpiece, enclosing atrium space of 130 by 230 feet, roughly the size of Grand Central Terminal's celebrated concourse.

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Unlike the boxy, boring 110-story twin towers designed in stainless steel by architect Minoru Yamasaki for the sterile, football field-like World Trade Center site, the graceful 33 to 51-story towers of Pelli's World Financial Center were capped in a variety of copper roofing styles -- mastaba, dome, pyramid, and stepped pyramid -- recalling ancient Egypt. They helped soften the visual effect of the World Trade Center that had been completed 11 years earlier.

Since Sept. 11, the World Financial Center has lost 75 percent of its occupants but empty offices are beginning to fill up again, according to Clark. American Express is expected to move back into its headquarters tower this spring, he said, and the Merrill Lynch brokerage firm is gradually filling up offices it had abandoned.

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