NEW YORK – The contaminated bank tower stood shrouded in black netting for years over ground zero, filled with toxic dust and the remains of 9/11 victims. It stayed where it was, not coming down even as the towers at the World Trade Center site slowly began to rise.
Nearly a decade after the trade center's south tower fell into it, the building with a sad history of legal and regulatory fights, multiple accidents and a blaze that killed two firefighters will finally be gone. The demise of the 41-story former Deutsche Bank building, just south of ground zero, is at least as welcome to its neighbors as the construction of new trade center towers.
"I love having the light," said Mary Perillo, whose eighth-floor kitchen window overlooks the busy work site where the steel framework of the Deutsche Bank building is being disassembled. "I love having that black monolith out of my face."
The bank tower — first slated for deconstruction in 2005, when a government agency bought it to end an impasse over who would pay to take it down — is down to two stories above street level. The Lower Manhattan Development Corp., the agency that oversaw the $300 million dismantling, said it will be completely removed in a little over a week.
"You're talking about the end of an era," said Kirk Raymond of Windsor, Ontario, gazing at what's left of the building on a visit to the trade center site. "You're erasing the last signs of something pretty terrible."
The delicate work of dismantling a skyscraper — referred to by its street address, 130 Liberty — is visible from surrounding buildings and from the street.
Tourists watched last week as a huge crane gently lowered a steel beam. Sparks flew as a welder removed the cables holding the beam.
"It was great," said Catherine McVay Hughes, a downtown Manhattan community board officer who walked by the building last week. "It was nice to actually be able to see through the skeletal remains of 130 Liberty."
Less than an hour after a hijacked jet slammed into it on Sept. 11, 2001, the trade center's south tower collapsed, tearing a 15-story gash in the Deutsche Bank building. Perillo said a piece of the destroyed tower was embedded in its neighbor "like a fork in a piece of cake."
The building was shrouded in black as Deutsche Bank and its insurers fought over whether to raze it or clean it. To resolve the dispute, the LMDC, the city-state agency created to oversee the rebuilding of the trade center area, agreed to buy the building for $90 million, clean it and tear it down.
The cleanup of toxins including asbestos, lead, mercury, PCBs and dioxins was delayed multiple times by fights over how to remove the material without polluting the neighborhood. More than 700 body parts of Sept. 11 victims were recovered, mostly on the roof, along with parts of the hijacked plane. Environmental and city regulators spent years coming up with a cleanup plan that would keep the toxins in with polyurethane coverings and other protective panels.
Accidents plagued the deconstruction. In May 2007, a 22-foot pipe fell from the building and crashed into the firehouse next door, injuring two firefighters.
Three months later, a construction worker's discarded cigarette sparked a fire that tore through several stories. Firefighters faced hazards including deactivated sprinklers, stairwells that had been blocked to contain toxic debris and a broken standpipe, a crucial water conduit like a fire hydrant.
Firefighters Robert Beddia and Joseph Graffagnino were trapped on the burning 14th floor and died of smoke inhalation on Aug. 18, 2007. Prosecutors investigated every agency involved and heavily chastised the city for failing to regularly inspect the tower and make sure its dismantling was safe.
Three construction industry figures were charged in the fire. Prosecutors said Mitchel Alvo, Jeffrey Melofchik and Salvatore DePaola knew the standpipe had been cut and did nothing about it. The three pleaded not guilty to manslaughter and other charges; their lawyers have argued that the men have been singled out unfairly when government agencies and others are to blame for the fire.
Joseph Graffagnino's widow, Linda, said she has mixed feeling about the criminal case.
"The people who are going on trial are scapegoats for higher-ups who were more responsible," Graffagnino said. "Do I really care about what happens to those people? Not really."
The Graffagninos have sued the city, the LMDC, the main contractor Bovis Lend Lease and subcontractor John Galt Corp. The parties have also sued each other over the mounting costs of the cleanup.
The fire delayed the cleanup and dismantling for a year. Removal of toxic debris started in 2008, and deconstruction resumed in late 2009.
Once it was under way again, the work seemed to go quickly, said Paul Bostick, who could see the trade center site from his apartment once 130 Liberty no longer blocked his view.
"I went from looking across the street at black netting and a building that has a lot of sad history behind it to having an expansive view," Bostick said.
LMDC spokesman John DeLibero said the tower crane that once stood 570 feet high, removing pieces of the building, will come down this week. The dismantling will be complete around Jan. 20; he said the post-holiday snowstorm delayed a Jan. 15 target date.
LMDC leaders did not return calls seeking comment from The Associated Press.
When the former Deutsche Bank building is gone, including below street level, the LMDC will turn the site over to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The transfer is expected to take place next month.
The Port Authority owns the 16-acre trade center site and plans to place an underground truck-screening facility at the site. The spot has long been slated for the fifth of five towers planned to be rebuilt at the trade center site, although there's no timeline for it.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, whose district includes ground zero, said the toxic tower's removal is enough of a milestone for now.
"It's one more symbol that lower Manhattan will come back from Sept. 11 bigger, better and stronger than ever before," Silver said.
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