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The Survivor Staircase at Ground Zero, A Place that Matters

survivors stairway lower manhattan historic preservation new york city

The “Survivor Staircase,” near the intersection of Vesey and Church streets in Manhattan, is a 20-foot chunk of ruined staircase and all that’s left of the outside stairs that once led from the World Trade Center Plaza to Vesey Street. When the towers were attacked on September 11th, many people used this route to escape to the street. For some, the stairs ensured survival.

The stairs are the only remaining above-ground remnant of the towers, and a powerful touchstone for memory about all that happened on September 11th and after. The National Trust for Historic Preservation just put the staircase on its list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Places because it falls within the footprint of the proposed WTC Tower Two, being built by Silverstein Properties and architect Norman Foster. Despite calls for preservation of the staircase in-situ, current plans for the site will not keep the staircase intact and probably not in place either. Instead, the surfaces of some of the stairs and what was once plaza paving may be salvaged and embedded in other parts of the complex, and the staircase remnant demolished.