November 19, 2005

Century 21 the next casualty at Ground Zero?


We know the Deutsche Bank building is slowly coming down. But will the same fate befall New York's very own Century 21? The Port Authority has sent up a trial balloon regarding its plans for retail at the WTC site, and according to the rendering (above), Century 21 (which is located on Church Street between Cortlandt and Dey) has simply ceased to exist! All that is left in its place is a patch of brown – one might almost say scorched – earth. It's not clear what's happened to 1 Liberty Plaza, either.

Given that the new WTC shopping mall will – just like the old WTC shopping mall – be full of bland national chains, we have to hope that C21, at the very least, will manage to survive to inject just a little bit of New York into Lower Manhattan.

Posted by Felix at 11:34 PM GMT

I must say, Calatrava's soaring PATH terminal is rather exceptional in this rendering. I hope those spikes come with air rights.

Also of note is just how humane the lower floors of the Freedom Tower look (that matte black finish, if you squint, looks a little like MoMA!).

And apparently the PANYNJ has finally agreed with me, and eliminated all additional office tower development on the site.

Posted by: 99 on November 20, 2005 12:49 AM

no need to worry felix- i think c21's omission is less suggestive of a new urban gesture and more likely artistic license.
nyc doesn't have a lot of the vistas required for nasty suburban buildings, like the one presented. buildings such as this new mall proposal are typically admired across a veritable prarie of parking lot. to show this soccer mom of a structure in a nyc setting requires the removal of a few bits of the surrounding urban fabric that are just 'in the way'.
what you should be asking yourself while looking at this cartoon is:
-where are the minivans in the rendering?
-will it have an olive garden and a chili's?
-if it is such a new proposal... why does it show calatrava's unclipped transit hub and child's tower on bunker? wouldn't that date this image back to july?

Posted by: geoff on November 20, 2005 09:27 PM

My first glance suggested that the commercial development sits almost precisely on top of the old commercial development, and is built to similar scale. But when I looked again I realized that the sketch does not show the full length of the WTC property fronting on Church St., only about 2/3 of it, from a bit north of Dey St. south. The setback appears to be slightly less, the old one had a parking lane, I recall.

If anything, this represents less suburban-style mall space at street level than the old WTC had. The former location of Borders - probably the best business, technology and financial bookstore in Manhattan before the attack - is to be wasted on the "soaring" PATH station.

Posted by: Sterling on November 20, 2005 10:58 PM

Quite right. What Lower Manhattan really needs is more suburban-style mall space, and less in the way of transit hubs.

Posted by: Felix on November 21, 2005 04:51 AM

Transit hubs can be placed underground without ill effect. That doesn't work nearly so well for retail.

Posted by: Sterling on November 21, 2005 03:08 PM

Right, right. Underground transit hubs. Think Penn Station. No ill effect there.

Posted by: Felix on November 21, 2005 03:35 PM

Felix - It's not merely Century 21 they've omitted, I don't see the cement planters and topiaries needed to fight the war on terror.

Posted by: Gherimiah on November 21, 2005 05:42 PM

wasn't the last mall there primarily underground? wasn't it one of the best performing malls in all of america? (this is what i remember reading and am too lazy to look the stats up on).

i am not saying that there shouldn't be shopping on the site... it would just be nice if it wasn't the key feature and if it was somewhat contextual.

that's right- i said contextual- deal with it. nyc may be a city with a great deal of shopping- but it is not a city of shopping malls. shopping malls are places where you heft your track-pant draped ass into your car and drive to. you do this because you have to- because you don't live in a city- because you don't have a functional urban fabric. cities in general and nyc specifically are pedestrian places- everything is collected into neighborhoods already. neighborhoods that are perambulated through to shop in (does anyone want to weigh in on how it works in the antithesis of nyc- l.a.?).

look at soho- whatever one may think of soho (pro or con), it is a nyc style shopping mall. the aol/tw building is not.

the shopping mall is an internalized destination that denies the site it is in. to build a shopping mall at the wtc site is like saying 'we have no idea how to start a new urban area downtown- let's put up this mall and make the issue go away'.

16 acres of land opening up in the middle of a major city should be a stunning opportunity. it is such a disappointment that after 4 years all that has been decided upon is a mediocre tower, a transit hub and a shopping mall.

Posted by: geoff on November 21, 2005 06:19 PM

especially considering that it is now supposedly "sacred ground."

Posted by: anon on November 21, 2005 06:51 PM

The last mall was enclosed, but not really underground - there were street-level shops, including Border's and Krispy Kreme, and the mall was accessible from lobby-level of the towers. The last PATH station was far, far deeper than the mall.

The World Trade Center had a PATH station and stations for the New York Subway 1/9, N/R and A/C/E lines, all underground. Much of the mall traffic consisted of people switching between these four train lines, or to or from the Waterway ferry.

In the 1950s and 1960s, prior to the construction of the World Trade Center, that neighborhood was the electronics district for the city. People would go there to buy televisions, stereos and recording gear. The Singer Building was there, another lost skyscraper. Courtland and Dey Streets went all the way to the docks. The ferry has been in operation in that neighborhood for more than 300 years.

I believe there is an older Hudson Tubes (PATH) station, very large, still in existence somewhere underground to the east of the WTC site. There was some talk of renovating it after 9/11, but it never happened. Probably would have been too cost effective to make sense versus the hundreds of millions that could be made available to build a "soaring" alternative.

So the area has a strong history as a retail district and as a transit hub. The retail has always been dependent on the transit, and the transit has mostly kept out of the way, underground or in the river.

Posted by: Sterling on November 21, 2005 07:09 PM

The last mall was a nasty part of a nasty development. The original WTC will go down in nobody's book as a masterpiece of urban planning, and its retail component could certainly be improved upon.

Part of the problem is/was structural, and has been plaguing the designers of the memorial and the freedom tower as well -- the site is quite heavily slanted, which means that an elevation which is street level at Church Street rapidly becomes the second or third floor by the time you reach West Street. And there's sloping in the north-south axis as well.

But even taking that into account, the original WTC shopping facilities were not really on the street. Border's and Krispy Kreme were not really "on" Church Street -- they were more "off" Church Street, built in to the WTC development proper, which was set back from the street. And Border's had an underground entrance, too. The vast majority of shops, from The Limited to Sbarro's, were in windowless underground spaces. No daylight penetrated the vast majority of shops in the WTC.

By contrast, under the new plan, there will be daylight not only in this suburban-style shopping arcade, but also in the enormous amount of retail which will get put into the PATH station. Obviously, the more integrated the retail and the transit are, the better. And, in general, daylight is a good thing, in either context.

Posted by: Felix on November 21, 2005 08:07 PM

Artist's renderings are notoriously bobbins. Our favourite one at the moment is the one plastered on the side of the panels presently blocking the entrance of the Brooklyn Library. It shows a series of steps almost identical to those that have graced the front of the library the last several decades, with the addition of..... some tables with umbrellas. So as, presumably, to make it more continental.

Posted by: Gari N Corp on November 21, 2005 09:27 PM

The last mall was the highest performing retail space in the country, on a per square foot basis. The stores generating that revenue were not the KK kiosk or the Borders. By no stretch of the imagination was the previous mall above ground. Just before the attacks, they were on the verge of completing a major expansion, to provide a second level of shops, all of which would have been subterrenean.

Note, Sterling, the costs of the PATH station, in terms of transit services, are negligible (that is, they have already been paid). The 'soaring' effects are all gloss. The station is fully functional, in terms of capacity. The $2BN does nothing to increase interconnections with other regional transit, nor increases capacity of the PATH lines. It is entirely superfluous spending.

Posted by: 99 on November 21, 2005 11:19 PM

About half the mall actually survived the attack, relatively unscathed. But the whole "bathtub" needed to be emptied out, so it went.

Posted by: Sterling on November 21, 2005 11:22 PM

The old WTC mall was a horrible place. Are you really waxing nostalgic for it, Sterling, wishing that somehow it could have been saved?

Posted by: Felix on November 21, 2005 11:45 PM

I changed trains there twice a day, Felix, and that morning. Yes, I have nostalgia for it.

Posted by: Sterling on November 22, 2005 03:10 AM

Well, I walked through it twice a day. Although eventually I started walking around it, just because I hated walking through it so much. I would even walk through that godforsaken plaza in order to avoid walking through the mall.

I didn't take the PATH from there very often -- all I really remember is a Very Long Escalator. But bizarrely the thing I remember best is the stairs leading down into the shopping mall from Liberty Street. They were next to some horrible chain music store, as I recall. Liberty Street was very nasty on that block, but as soon as you left the street and entered the mall, walking down the stairs in order to get to the main shopping level, you always had this urge to turn around and walk back out to Real New York.

Posted by: Felix on November 22, 2005 04:45 PM

That block of Liberty St., with the ancient electronic and music stores, is what I'm told much of the WTC site looked like before it was demolished for the initial excavation. My father had to go down there for work periodically in the 1960s, and described to me when I was a kid the enormity of the hole that was dug for the fondation of the WTC. He was, of course, assuming that I would never see the hole firsthand.

He tells a funny story about one appointment-only specialty shop that sold phone gear. The guy who ran it was a paranoiac - not entirely different than Harry Caul, I imagine - and his shop was not at street level, but up a flight or two of stairs. When you knocked on the door of his shop, he would emerge from a DIFFERENT door, down the hallway, presumably after examining you through some sort of camera or optics system. The first time this happened, my father chalked it up to the guy being in a different room when he buzzed. But it happened exactly the same way on two or three future occasions.

Posted by: Sterling on November 22, 2005 05:06 PM

sounds like a lot more fun and a much more human experience than going to a best buy or circuit city and dealing with some pimply teenager or ebonic bufoon.

Posted by: anon on November 22, 2005 06:14 PM

I worked in the south tower for 4 years (until 9/11), and I hated the whole area - especially inside those towers and the underground mall.

My nostalgia is not for the bloated NYC monstrosity that sprang from our pre-Viet Nam hubris and destroyed the electronics district as a neighborhood. The place was a sh*thole and should never have been built.

We have an opportunity here to make the financial district a viable neighborhood again, to do away with the Bigthink attitude. We owe it to the dead to breathe life and spirit back into the neighborhood.

This is the only place in Manhattan that dies after dark, and on an island where pretty much every neighborhood is desirable these days, I can't be the only one who sees something wrong with the fact that people move to this area because it is cheap relative to the rest of Manhattan.

Posted by: L'Emmerdeur on November 22, 2005 09:04 PM

"...ebonic bufoon."

You misspelled buffoon. And I'm inclined to think you're a bigot.

Posted by: Sterling on November 23, 2005 02:28 AM

Nice catch.

Interestingly the Freedom Center and Performing Arts Center are also obliterated (Freedom is just another word for visitor's center).

Low rise buildings are exactly what needs to go in there. They should move the visitor center/museum to the buildings in there. It would be a lot cheaper and more appealing than the current "bury the memorial and its little museum too" plan.

It's smart to throw the developers a bone by saying they can build super buildings above it.


Posted by: roger on November 23, 2005 04:34 AM

what would incline to think that? maybe your prejudicial ignorance...

Posted by: anon on November 23, 2005 02:25 PM

I love c21.It's my favorite store.Please dont tell me it's closing down.

Posted by: chandra on November 11, 2006 04:06 AM

OK, we won't tell you.

Posted by: Sterling on November 11, 2006 08:56 PM