National Geographic : 2015 Dec
New New York 97 and journalists heading toward the burning buildings while others were fleeing them. As a reporter, I kept coming back for weeks to the neighborhood of too much disaster and even more courage. Now the new tower was open at last, and I felt a duty to visit. It will be for a long while the city’s (and the nation’s) tallest building, at 1,776 patriotic feet. The ride to the 102nd floor took 48 seconds. There was no sense of movement, no whooshing pull of the body. Inside the eleva- tor car, a time-lapse panorama played images of the history of New York, with the Twin Towers appearing for only four fleeting seconds. With a whispery sigh, the door opened. I walked into the enclosed observation deck. From those windows, I could see in all direc- tions. North for about 30 miles up the Hudson River. East to my home borough of Brooklyn, parts of Queens, and a slice of Long Island. South to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and beyond to the vast Atlantic. West to New Jersey, with a view of a tiny Statue of Liberty, our most famous French immigrant. I moved closer to the windows and looked down. There it was, the Woolworth Building. My favorite. Still here. Changing color in the fading sun. My eyes briefly blurred. The view was spectacular, but I felt no sense of wonder. Instead, I was seeing my father and his neighborhood friend, Eddie, going up the subway stairs in front of me and out onto Cort- landt Street and the wonders of Radio Row. Bulbs, tubes, extension cords, radios them- selves, new and used, gleamed from stalls, shops, from under tents. I remembered too the end of Radio Row, in 1966. The legal theorists of eminent domain had won. Radio Row was scraped away to make room for the first World Trade Center. My father wasn’t the only New Yorker who nev- er forgave them. But like other New Yorkers, I’d grudgingly gotten used to the Twin Tow- ers. They’d grown familiar, if not loved. Now I missed them too. After a while, I wanted to get back to street level. To look at strange faces, see the distrac- tion, sorrow, joy, laughter in their eyes. I descended to earth. On the sidewalk a young visitor asked me how to get uptown. I pointed him toward the subway. He smiled. “No, I want to see all the way.” I gave him directions, telling him to go to Church Street; walk north; make a left at Waver- ly Place, which would bring him to Washington Square; and then ... “Enjoy the neighborhood,” I said. j Four Freedoms Park was the last work designed by architect Louis Kahn in the 1970s, but it was only finished three years ago. It celebrates Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1941 speech calling for a world founded on freedom of expression and worship, freedom from want and fear. The park is on the southern tip of Roosevelt Island in the East River, which is being redeveloped. George Steinmetz (far left) just published his fourth book of aerial photography, New York Air: The View From Above. Pete Hamill started writing about the city 55 years ago as a reporter for the New York Post. He has published 11 novels, two short story collections, two memoirs, a biography, and four works of journalism, including a new edition of his book Why Sinatra Matters.