Cornerstone Removed From Ground Zero

THE NEW YORK TIMES • click for original

June 23, 2006


The 20-ton cornerstone of the Freedom Tower was carted off from the World Trade Center site early today, nearly two years after it was ceremoniously set in place on July 4, with its silvered, chiseled letters as a "tribute to the enduring spirit of freedom."

No one made a speech this morning. No one sang "God Bless America." No one read from the Declaration of Independence.

Instead, the cornerstone was placed on a truck and returned to Innovative Stone in Hauppauge, N.Y., where it will remain for as long as two years until it returns to ground zero. About 6:30 a.m., the five-and-a-half-foot-high block of Adirondack granite was hoisted by crane from its place near the temporary PATH terminal, said Mel Ruffini, a senior vice president of Tishman Construction Corporation, which is building the Freedom Tower for Silverstein Properties.

Then it was lowered on to a flatbed truck and covered in a tarp. By 7:15, it was rolling up the long ramp out of the ground zero pit, headed for Innovative Stone on Long Island, where it had been cut, honed, polished and inscribed in 2004. It arrived safely three hours later, said Karen Pearse, the chief executive at Innovative.

The cornerstone will be kept there in a plexiglass case, viewable by appointment.

"It needs to be repositioned to make sense in the new building," said David Worsley, a senior vice president and the director of construction at Silverstein Properties.

Ever since the Freedom Tower was redesigned last year because of security concerns, the cornerstone's location had been rendered obsolete. The architects had shifted the building's edge about 40 feet to the west. The cornerstone was left standing outside the bounds of the reconfigured tower.

But stand it did, protected under a blue plywood enclosure, while the tower project faced delay after delay.

Its absence carries a couple of meanings. Obviously, it is an acknowledgment that much of what passed for progress at ground zero to date has been longer on symbolism than substance.

On the other hand, with the cornerstone gone, the foundation subcontractor, Laquila Construction, can now begin excavating the east side of the tower site to prepare it for the underground infrastructure.

When he presided over the cornerstone laying two years ago, Gov. George E. Pataki declared, "Today, we build the Freedom Tower."

As it turned out, the building could not start until the cornerstone was removed.