July 31, 2013

Council Discusses Trade Center Memorial For Monument Drive

Details of a plan for a monument to those who died in the September 11 World Trade Center attack were presented to Princeton Council at its July 22 meeting. While no action was taken, the Council expressed enthusiasm for the proposal, which would place the sculpture on Monument Drive outside the former Borough Hall.

Mayor Liz Lempert encouraged Deputy Chief of the Princeton Fire Department Roy James to present the plan to the town’s Historic Preservation Commission as the next step. Mr. James has been advocating for establishment of a monument since securing a 10-foot long, two-ton steel beam from the ruins of the World Trade Center in March 2010. The beam was brought to Princeton from Brooklyn last year on a flatbed truck by first response vehicles and motorcyclists.

Architect Pam Rew of KSS Architects and sculptor Pietro del Fabro, who have been working on the project, said they want to place the monument in a spot that would afford privacy for visitors, but could also be seen from the road. “We wanted people to be able to memorialize loved ones, but we don’t want the site to be a museum piece,” Ms. Rew said. She looked at designs of memorials by architect Philip Johnson, among other artists and architects, in coming up with a plan for the memorial.

The column of steel would be encased in limestone forms that are broken at the top, Mr. del Fabro said. Information about the memorial, including poetry, would be placed on a stone walkway. The material for the memorial would be the same as that of the existing Battle Monument near the site. The sculptor also said that the public would be encouraged to participate in the memorial by etching their own messages onto another beam at the site.

“History will always repeat itself if we forget,” Mr. James said. “We’re trying to make this memorial different from what you’d normally see.”

A point of concern about the steel beam salvaged from the Twin Towers is that it has a hole in the shape of a cross carved into one side. Some members of Council said that the cross could be seen as a religious symbol, which would violate the separation of church and state. “We know our community was affected by these tragic events,” said Council member Heather Howard. “But we have to do our due diligence on the legal end with issues if government is promoting one religion over another. There may be legal risks.”

Mr. James said he feels the cross, which was likely carved by a worker at the disaster site, is part of history and should not be hidden. But if obscuring the cross is a condition of getting the project in place, he is willing to accept it. Mr. James would like to have the steel beam in the ground by September 11 for a small ceremony, to be followed a year later by a more extensive unveiling of the memorial.

The memorial would cost between $76,000 and $100,000. Mr. James said he wants to start fundraising once the proposal is approved by Council. Asking if the town could help with excavating, he said Princeton University has offered to donate bluestone and possibly limestone. He added that he could borrow the money from Council and pay it back once donations are secured.