Daily photographs by HANS VON RITTERN, with humorous, artistic and social commentary on life in the big city.

Posts tagged “World Trade Center


red white blue world trade center
Photo of the day: RED WHITE AND BLUE, REMEMBERING TYRONE MAY – The World Trade Center 9/11 memorial’s security walls came down today and as a native New Yorker tour guide who visited the site several times a week, it is very odd and it takes some getting used to that there are no longer any long snaking lines, advance $2 tickets and airport type security screening. As of now – you can walk right up to the waterfalls. Tyrone May’s family came to remember him as they privately visited the newly opened museum, they left this red, white and blue remembrance for him. On this rainy day, the raindrops looked like tears.


First look

First look




Photo of the day: THE DIVINE AUDACITY ~ CATHEDRAL IN NEW YORK CITY TO START CHARGING ADMISSION – Over the weekend New York City’s gothic treasure, St. John the Divine had the ‘divine’ audacity/necessity to send a memorandum out to the tour guide industry advising us that as of February 1st of this year tour groups will be charged admission. Brace yourselves – $5.00 (4€ euros) – to enter a church! The 9/11 memorial charges a cover charge of $2.00.

For the many, many of you that I have taken there on my tours, you well know it is one of the mostly undiscovered treasures of the city. They are fascinated to see the unfinished towers and dome. They love the story of the center doors only opening three times a year for Easter, the blessing of the bicycles and the blessing of the animals. To see the World Trade Center Towers on the columns in front begins to fascinate the wonderful mixing of old and new history inside.

Inside there is always a sense of awe. I advise my guests to take a brochure and put a donation in the donation box at the entrance. You then pass wonderful hand carved 15th century German wooden choir stalls and enter this magnificent world of surprises. The fireman’s memorial, the American history stained glass window that has the prototype of the first television of 1926 in it as well as movie stars Jack Benny and Mary Livingston. Another stained glass window shows the sinking of the Titanic. I tell the touching story of how the cathedral cared for the AIDS patients of NYC when no one else dared to as we look at the AIDS memorial. I show them the plaque dedicated to the horrible bookstore fire that damaged the church in 2001, ruining the organ’s pipes for 10 years. I show them the ‘zipper’ of the church marking the finished and unfinished part of the cathedral. I show them such wonderful worldwide gifts as the 17th century Barberini tapestries, the golden chests donated by the King of Siam, the urns given by the emperor of Japan, the Keith Haring graffiti triptych in the Asian chapel donated by John Lennon’s wife Yoko Ono. I lead them through the 7 chapels dedicated to the main 7 languages spoken in NYC in 1892. I take them up near the altar for one of the most breathtaking views of the front stained glass window containing 10,000 pieces of glass, 40 feet in diameter. I show them menorahs on the altar as well, explaining the church welcomes all faiths.

Well – they welcome all faiths, but they now do not welcome groups unless you pay to get into the house of god. Never at no time in New York has there been a house of god that has had the need to charge admission into what I thought is the house of the people. St. John the Divine is desperate for money, last year having sold off precious adjacent land to the church and allowing god awful high rise apartments to be built, therefore obstructing the rays of sunlight into the north side of the church. Now they are obstructing the tourists of New York.

As a fellow tour guide Tom said: “What they really, really, need is help to grow their endowment. Presumably they have an endowment, like Universities and Museums. With a massive old building that must have massive maintenance costs, there is no longer a massive congregation as in the old days to keep up the place. That’s where smart and competent money-managers take hold of the finances of the institution and go on a major campaign to grow a big endowment, sufficient for maintenance. This is how Carnegie Hall was saved. The famed Koch Brothers have contributed literally hundreds of millions of dollars: $100,000,000 EACH to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, to Lincoln Center and The American Museum of Natural History, total $300,000,000. So, who’s in charge of this program at The Cathedral?”

They are nickel and diming, almost literally, a huge problem. It will have the most unfortunate and unintended consequence of keeping some likely visitors O-U-T. The sudden sticker shock of $5.00 will leave many at the door. I can understand starting at $2.00 – but $5.00?! A full bus of 55 guests would cost $275!! The biggest losers here are the young visitors to New York, the student tour groups. My student tour groups from Virginia, Tennessee, the Carolinas and all along the coast. They are already on a tight budget, eating at McDonalds to save money on the big trip from their home town. They enter St. John the Divine starry-eyed and filled with wonderment at this magnificent gothic structure, the likes of which most will not get to see unless they are privileged enough to go to Europe. Sadly, it is simply adding itself to the list of those famous cathedrals of Europe all forced to do the same out of necessity. Notre Dame in Paris charges €3/$4.10 to see the treasury of riches. The Basilica in Rome charges 12€ euros/$16.00. The Cologne/Köln Dom in Germany charges 4€ Euros/$5.00. Seville cathedral in Spain charges 8€ euros/$10 dollars. St. Paul’s cathedral in London charges 16€ euros/$21.85. The wonderful art-filled little adobe churches in poor Tucson, Arizona do not charge at all. St. Patrick’s cathedral on the wealthy Fifth Avenue here in NYC does not need to charge. St. John the Divine in New York now wants to be added to the world wide list of those charging admission.

Perhaps St. John the Divine got the idea from the very recent surprising November 2013 decision of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. to charge $10/7 € euros admission and perhaps I should feel I am getting a bargain. (In comparison, The Museum of Natural History’s full price adult admission charge is $22/16€ euros). But is this the beginning of a possible disturbing and disheartening trend in the famed churches New York City? Where the declining parish necessitates charging at the door? Most of the churches in Harlem are only surviving on the Sunday gospel tour dollars. It is no longer ‘the fashion’ to go to church in most large cities, therefore the declining membership results in declining donations. These grand cathedrals were built for the masses – church going masses who today – are tourists. A sad trend.

I am only a New York City tour guide and have no idea how this cathedral functions. But, what is needed at St. John the Divine is a professional, knowledgeable, experienced, committed, well paid, position of fundraiser to grow a serious endowment. Considering their list of well connected parishioners, their current plan seems like nothing more than a high school-level accounting class solution…if that.

Here is the memo: 

To: Professional Guides, Tour Operators, and Guest Lecturers
From: The Cathedral of St. John the Divine
Department of Public Education and Visitor Services
Please note the following updates in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine’s visiting group policy, effective February 1, 2014.
• Self-guided groups are encouraged to schedule their visit at least two weeks in advance. Groups are defined as ten or more visitors. Scheduling requests can be made through a web site request form, or through the Public Education Office by phone or email below. The group will receive confirmation of a one-hour time period to visit the Cathedral.
• Group arrivals are permitted between 9am and 5pm daily.
• Groups should enter through the Cathedral’s southern door at Amsterdam Avenue. The group leader or guide must check in at the Visitor Center upon arrival.
• Payment of the discounted group admission of $5 per person must be made upon arrival. One group leader or guide receives complimentary admission.
• Groups that do not pay group admission may only enter the Cathedral as individual visitors.
• The Cathedral accepts cash, checks, and Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express. Checks should be made payable to The Cathedral of St. John the Divine.
• Tour companies are encouraged to join the Cathedral’s voucher program to obviate admission payment on arrival in exchange for discounts and quarterly billing. To join the voucher program or receive more information please contact the Public Education Office.
• Scheduled groups will be given access to the entire Cathedral, including restrooms, as well as brochures for their participants. Confirmed groups will be alerted of changes to access as soon as possible. Groups that schedule to arrive during times of limited access will be notified in their confirmation.
• Late or early group arrivals will be accommodated as best as possible, however we do not
guarantee access to all parts of the Cathedral.

Photo of the day: HANS CRUISES NEW YORK

Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises

Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises

Photo of the day: HANS CRUISES NEW YORK – I spent five days taking 35 Germans and one American on a total sightseeing tour of New York City! They saw the whole big apple from top (Harlem) to bottom (Battery Park/World Trade). The minuses: getting up at 4:30 am to travel from Queens so I can meet them at their hotel in Seacaucus, Jersey at 8:00am. Dropping them off in Jersey at night and that long, long cold mass transit bus ride back. The pluses: The wonderment in their eyes seeing Times Square for the first time. Taking the famed Circle Line Manhattan boat cruise at sunset. Their eagerness to walk along Fifth Avenue decorated for the holidays.  The giddy Empire State building visit. The look in their eyes the next morning after they visited the places I had recommended. The hugs and German home made cookie I got at the airport as they sadly said goodbye…makes all worth while 🙂
Can you tell it was cold?

Can you tell it was cold?



Mondays on Memory Lane: STOUFFERS ‘TOP OF THE SIX’S’ RESTAURANT – As a child, “Top of The Six’s” meant a special occasion. You had done well in school or it was prom night or you were in love and wanted to impress with the sweeping view of the Empire State Building. The rooftop restaurant was located at the epicenter of the posh section of Fifth Avenue, between 52nd/53rd Streets, with a lobby fountain wall designed by Isamu Noguchi and easy subway access downstairs. Today it is but a postcard memory.

Lobby fountain wall designed by Isamu Noguchi

Lobby fountain wall designed by Isamu Noguchi


It all started in 1922 the Stouffer family opened a lunch counter on East Ninth St. in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. They sold sandwiches, dairy products and Lena Stouffer’s soon-to-be-famous deep-dish Dutch apple pie. By 1935 they expanded to six restaurants in the Cleveland area and in 1937 they opened the first Stouffer restaurant in New York City.

In 1946 Stouffer’s opened on Shaker Square and at the Westgate shopping center in the Cleveland suburbs. It was at the Shaker Square location that patrons began requesting takeout orders of items on the menu and the Stouffer foray in to frozen food began by 1954. By this time Stouffer’s had restaurants in Florida, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Detroit.

1958 – Opens restaurants at the stainless steel deco-like #666 Tishman Building (built 1957) located at 666 5th Avenue in New York City one on the 1st & below-street levels, the other on the 39th floor, at the time the highest public restaurant in N.Y. They went there, by the millions. In July 1973, about 15 years after it opened, the restaurant announced that it was about to serve its 10 millionth meal. Ominously, a review that month found the cuisine anything but haute.


They continued to expand, building a frozen food processing plant in Solon, Ohio in 1968 and they ventured into specialty casual dining eateries with names like Rusty Scupper, Cheese Cellar and the Grog Shop. In 1969 NASA chose Stouffer’s products for Apollo 11, 12 and 14 for astronauts to dine on.

But it was the Stouffer’s “Top of the…” restaurants that became the special occasion places to go. “Top of The Hub” in Boston, “Top of the Rock” in downtown Chicago, “Top of the Sixes” in New York City, “Top of the Flame” in Detroit and “Top of the Town” in Cleveland.

The view was terrific from 40 stories up, especially in those days long before the World Trade Center, when a restaurant on top of a skyscraper was a novelty. Prices were reasonable. Children liked the view, and so did young couples on dates. Men proposed to their wives there,” it was a time when going to ”the city” meant journeying from Queens to Manhattan. You didn’t necessarily go there for the food, it was that wonderful atmosphere.

Tishman Building #666 Fifth Avenue

Tishman Building #666 Fifth Avenue

On September 18, 1996, The New York Times announced the closing of this beloved rooftop gem. The new tenant would be the Grand Havana Room, a cigar temple that will bear as much resemblance to a smoke-filled parlor as, say, the Oak Room at the Plaza Hotel. Right now I’d give anything for a mid-west cooked Stouffer’s meal atop of the Six’s. The best I can do, is to go to my rooftop, spread a tablecloth and open my microwaved Stouffers dinner – it’s just not the same.

What are your memories of “Top of the Six’s”?



Photo of the day: REMEMBERING, 9/11 NEVER GETS EASIER – The mood was still very somber ‘the day after’ on September 12. Standing by the side of the south waterfall was this survivor who just simply stood there for hours with his hand touching his loved ones name. One of 2,998 names officially counted. It never gets easier.

Photo of the day: 9/11/2013 SO MANY LOSES / SO MANY GAINS

Photo of the day: 9/11/2013 SO MANY LOSES / SO MANY GAINS (and…karma is a bitch!) – On this day in New York when we remember the over 3,000 loses of loved ones at The World Trade, a work place I once called home on the 102nd floor, we also last night gained so very much back! A dedicated group of individuals who sought to stop the hemorrhaging of this city, banded together and defeated one of the most corrupt, cold hearted, and scheming politicians since Boss Tweed in 1853, councilwoman Christine Quinn last night.
Weiner's goodbye

Weiner’s goodbye

Donny Moss and 91 year old Natasha

Donny Moss and 91 year old Natasha

The mighty Quinn: For the past twelve years, Quinn and Bloomberg have systematically destroyed New York City as the city has become a city of the über rich and the very poor, 45+% now live near or at the poverty level. We have lost over 12 hospitals during their term in office, glass luxury apartments replace them. Quinn ruled the city and controlled the zoning laws with her slush funds making the city open season for the greedy real estate developers as zoning law changes have become the norm. South Street Seaport’s Pier 17 is being torn down, neighborhoods like Harlem, Greenwich Village and Soho are loosing their soul. Her tearing down of St. Vincent’s Hospital, it’s church and the 9/11 memorial is the most egregious. As the years passed, she became the most powerful politician only second to Bloomberg, a power that was had by vitriolic temper outbursts and control of the city funds.

How much is that doggie in the window? To show her lack of character, she was against all animal rights activists to the point of refusing to pass a bill that would now make it mandatory to require sprinkler systems in pet shops. Let the puppies and kittens burn, along with the workers.
Daniela and ABQ friends

Daniela and ABQ friends

Karma is a bitch! In 2011, I lost my Gray Line tour guide job of seven years thanks to Quinn. She single handedly destroyed the double decker tour guide industry by pushing through a ‘headset bill’ in order to please a few well heeled residents of Greenwich Village who had complained that tour guides on the open mics were “too loud”. The original bill did not provide for the headsets to be connected to a live tour guide, me. Councilwoman Gail Brewer added the proviso in the bill that a live guide must be giving the tour. Since Twin America the monopoly that owns the double decker tour bus companies City Sights and Gray Line are heavy contributors to her Christine Quinn’s campaign, miraculously the ‘live guide’ proviso was taken out of the bill in the middle of the night. No sound tests were ever done as required. I headed a group called “Keep New York Live” and protested at every TV station and at city hall with the help of my fellow tour guides. On the final day of our fight we had a twelve noon rally planned on the steps of city hall. No press showed up. At 12:15 I called friend and transit reporter Greg Mocker of WPIX11 and asked ‘where you all?’ Greg’s response “well it’s canceled isn’t it? Quinn said it was canceled.” The bill passed with Quinn’s single authority. Over 200 tour guides were no longer ‘allowed’ to come to work or were given insulting low buy out packages. No work, no health care, nothing.
Well Ms. Christine Quinn – karma is a fierce bitch. YOU took MY job away in 2011 and now I  have taken YOUR job away in 2013 ! ! !


The heir to the throne: With an arrogant sense of entitlement as covered in the New York Times, she also had the ’empty chair syndrome.’ At many of the local mayoral forums chairs were set up on stage for all the mayoral candidates, hers – was usually empty. If she did deem to show up, her head never looked up from her blacberry.


The cowardly lioness: Donny Moss became the monkey on Christine Quinn’s back, she could not leave her house without Donny trailing her as he held up his signs and calling out the truth about her record. No matter what camera angle she tried, there were either Donny or the ‘ABQ’ people behind her. It came to the point that Quinn would not enter any venue through the front door, she had security sneak in her the back door for fear of bad publicity photos and press. What sort of beginning is it to your term as office when you run and hide from your public? Too yellow, spineless and cowardly to face your constituents.
The awesome DONNY MOSS & DANIELA watching DeBLASSIO'S victory

The awesome DONNY MOSS & DANIELA watching DeBLASSIO’S victory

Rag tag group takes down Quinn – Crazy cat ladies, people who dress up their dogs, horse lovers, gay activists, passionate New Yorkers like the incredible Donny Moss, Arthur Cheliotes, Allie Feldman & Wendy Kelman Neu formed groups “Defeat Christine Quinn” and “NYC Is Not For Sale” respectively which then morphed into the “ABQ – Anybody But Quinn” campaign, unprecedented in New York’s political history. We canvassed subway stations every night, manned phone banks and hounded Quinn wherever she made and appearance, Donny Moss being the most wonderfully persistent of all of us! In that time Quinn went from leading in the polls by wide margins to plummeting weekly. No greater plummet than election night when, as other candidates percentages went up….hers went down from 26% to 18% to an embarrassing 15%.
Brian Gari "cat calls" republican mayoral candidate Catsimatidis

Brian Gari “cat calls” republican mayoral candidate Catsimatidis

Picture election night: Each candidate had their large expensive venues filled with their high paying donors and political strategists in their expensive suits with the media tripping over them. Yet here we were, in a little bar called Mustang Sally’s on the west side, fifty of us in the back room, in our sweaty t-shirts and jeans, none of us rich, only rich in passion and conviction. It wasn’t the Bloomberg/Romney-like dollars that Quinn had, it wasn’t all the New York newspaper’s endorsements, it wasn’t the political pundits who said she would win, no, it was the people with pet hair on their now iconic red ABQ (Anyone But Quinn) t-shirts that had all the might. It was volunteers like 91 year old Natasha and my 87 year old mother Ursula. We have changed the course of New York’s history. Never underestimate the passion and the anger of the crazy old cat lady!





South Street Seaport 2013

South Street Seaport 2013

Photo of the day: THE DESTRUCTION OF SOUTH STREET SEAPORT – The ever changing skyline of Manhattan is about to change again, the beloved South Street Seaport also known as Pier 17, thanks to the ever greedy Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is about to be torn down at the end of September. FINAL DAY OPEN IS THIS MONDAY SEPT. 9th.
What will replace it? A big soulless glass box (mall) with a red letter sign atop of it “South Street Seaport”. You wouldn’t need big lit red letters screaming “Seaport” to remind people of where you are if you have removed any vestige of our once great seaport’s history.  One of our old sailing ships the Peking will soon cease to exist for lack of funds to repair it, that will leave us with on single solitary ship in what once was the greatest and busiest harbor in the world. Our Mayor Bloomberg and his cohort councilwoman Christine Quinn should be tarred and feathered and drummed out of New York for destroying our seaport’s heritage.
Anyone But Quinn for mayor!


Brooklyn Bridge 1980

Brooklyn Bridge 1980

Mondays on Memory Lane – MY DAILY WALK OVER THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE IN 1980 – In the spring of 1980 I moved into the newly rennovated Brooklyn Eagle Warehouse at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge. I was 24 years old and shared the 1,200 square foot apartment for a mere $700 a month, $350 each…yes $350! The Brooklyn Waterfront was still undeveloped and actually dangerous at night.

Eagle Warehouse

Eagle Warehouse

Eagle entrance at night

Eagle entrance at night

DUMBO didn’t exist, what did exist was a dumping ground for unwanted animals, dead animals and an occasional dead human being. In 1983, I got a job at Dancker, Sellew & Douglas Design Firm on the 102nd floor of the World Trade Center. Each morning, to save to cost of the .75¢ subway fare, I headed out over then 100 year old Brooklyn Bridge by foot towards Manhattan, across the steps of City Hall (there was no security in those days), through unrenovated downtown Manhattan, to the Trade Center South Tower elevators which carried me up to my desk on the 102nd floor in the clouds. How much more of a quintessential New York daily routine could one have?! It was a wonderful time.

The view from my desk at World Trade, south tower

The view from my desk at World Trade, south tower

Photo of the day: TWIN TOWERS 2013

High rise and Verbascum Thapsus (Great or Common Mullein).

High rise and Verbascum Thapsus (Great or Common Mullein).

Photo of the day: TWIN TOWERS 2013 – The iconic twin towers of The World Trade Center are gone. But today in this era of overbuilding in New York City, if you look closely and use your imagination, there are still some ‘twin towers’ to be seen . . . some more beautiful than others.



Mondays on Memory Lane: MY OFFICE VIEWS FROM THE 102nd FLOOR OF WORLD TRADE CENTER SOUTH TOWER – With the advent of the spire topping off and finishing the new World Trade Center Tower, I will tell you what it was like to work in the original towers. In 1983 I got a job on the 102nd floor of the World Trade Center, the south tower. I was senior project manager of a commercial design firm named Dancker, Sellew & Douglas. I worked there with my dear friend Helene Bernicoff. My desk was right near the tall floor to celing windows. It was incredible.

On my first day to work – I was late! I am German, Germans are never late! But I was. You see, I had calculated the exact amount of time it took to take the subway from Rego Park, Queens to the Trade Center. What I had not calculated on was the vertical traveling time. That took an additional 12-15 minutes. By the time you found an express elevator in the rush hour that had room to take you to floors 50 and 100, then, transferred to the local elevator which took you to floors 101 – 110. . . it was 12 to 15 minutes vertical traveling time! To transfer from a “local” to an “express” was something one usually does with trains and buses, not elevators, it was surreal. Then you had to un-pop your ears every morning as you arrived at your desk. (There were 198 elevators in total).
My view was north. I could see the whole of Manhattan, the Chrysler Building, The Empire State Building, Central Park and far into New Jersey. My friends relied on me for weather forecasts. If the radio said it was a sunny afternoon for the park, I would contradict the radio and say, ‘No, no, I see a big dark weather pattern coming in the from the north or the south’. It was fun.
Northeast view from the original World Trade Center Tower. Woolworth Tower below.

Northeast view from the original World Trade Center Tower. Woolworth Tower below.

On stormy days the building would sway in the wind, it had to of course. The girls would complain and say they were getting sea sick…no they weren’t, they just wanted to go home to watch their soap operas. There were 12 lobby elevators which expressly took you to the higher floors, twelve of them. Each was the size of a cattle car – huge! On very stormy days, only the outer corner elevators would be operational because we were told the center 10 car cables were not stable enough to handle the swaying…great to know. Once inside the elevator, even the biggest loudmouth shut up. There was always this “silence” in the elevators.
The elevator banks at the World Trade Center

The elevator banks at the World Trade Center

On those stormy days you had to learn to balance yourself. No, not walking – in the toilet. You see, the water in the bathroom bowl swayed the way it does on a ship in stormy high seas. If you weren’t careful, you’d get a wet bottom.
Since we were a design firm, we had many colored markers at our desks. What we would do, is to attach one of the markers from the ceiling with a string and hang it so the tip would touch a piece of paper on our desk. We would watch the marker make the same pattern on the paper over and over again as the building swayed. As the wind shifted, so did the design on the paper. I wish I had kept on of those papers, but it was a novelty taken for granted in those days. There was always ‘white noise’ in the background, the hum/buzz of the air ventilation systems, it was like being on an eight hour airplane ride daily. To work in the clouds – a memory I will never forget and always treasure.



Photo of the day: DISTURBING AIRPLANE PHOTO OF FINISHED WORLD TRADE CENTER – Friday May 10th, 2013 marked the final topping of the new World Trade Center with the last top portion of the spire being put in place. The finished symbolic height 1,776 feet. 1776 the year of the birth of our country. The Twin Towers were 110 floors high, this new tower is 111 floors high. While photographing the new spire on it’s monumental day, I happened to catch this disturbing image as a jet airliner passed by.



MEET 59 OF MY NEWEST FRIENDS FROM INDIA! – Three years ago my friend Ajay Bansal took one of my NYC tours while I was working for a horrible private touring company which wasn’t very “receptive” to their guests. Ajay left that company and came to me privately to lead his student tours through New York and it has been a joyful relationship ever since. This spring 2013  tour was comprised of 52 gifted students (all boys) and 7 chaperones. Their eyes were filled with wonderment and eager with anticipation, hanging on my every word. As with most children abroad, their only concept of America and New York is through movies, videos and commercials.
Their naïveté is adorable – upon seeing the Empire State building the youngest ones asked “Ooooh, is that the World Trade Center?” “Where is the Liberty Statue?!” “Can you see movie stars on the street?” “Have you met the president?” “Do you live in a penthouse?” I simply fell in love with all of them. The age range was from 13 to 18, so the group ranged from total innocence to hip hop wanna-bees.  But one thing they all have in common is a stringent politeness. It took me a whole day to stop them from calling me “sir’ and we finally settled on “Mr. Hans”.
It was a full three day schedule including: the Empire State Building, bus tours, a harbor cruise to see Miss Liberty, The 9/11 Memorial, Wall Street, South Street Seaport, the United Nations, Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum (who knew they had a Bollywood exhibit?!), the Museum of Natural History (dinosaurs!) and of course M&M World in Times Square. It was a busy schedule. As we toured through the city several quotes come to mind:
“What are all those white boxes in the windows?” = air conditioners.
“The water coming from the sky is definitely making me wet.” = rain.
“Was King Kong really right here?” = no…that was a doll (the little boy seemed rather disappointed.).
“Is that Canada?” = no, it’s New Jersey.
“Will it snow today, please?” = no, it’s too warm.
“This food is most pleasing” = ‘delicious.’
We may laugh at some of these comments but they are terribly endearing. To have had the privilege to spend time with such innocent, polite and loving children made the tour such a joy.  All the sights excited them, I think the big ‘hits’ were the Liberty Statue and the wax museum. They were fascinated that are streets are filled with such diversity “in our country – everyone looks the same.” But above all that, they had only one consuming desire and that is – to shop! (Head phones seemed to be atop most of their lists.) So Best Buy was their main goal.
Their next stop is on to Washington, D.C., and then on to Disney World. Not bad, huh? It was hard to say goodbye to them, but same time next year, I’ll have some little boy tug on my sleeve and say “Sir . . . how far is Best Buy from here…?” I look forward to that already.


JESUS IS KING AT THE WORLD TRADE CENTER: I am born and raised in this city. Walking past construction sites is a part of the fabric of life here. At first you gaze down into the big hole, then as the months pass, you start to gaze up as the construction rises in front of you.  First the beams rise to the sky, then followed by the mortar and brick – nowadays that step is mostly skipped in favor of quickly just putting up sheets of glass.
Wooden walls or chain link fences keep us safely separated from the site. The temporary ‘wall’ surrounding the site becomes a form of city art. Posters advertising the latest show, cable TV shows, spiritualists, party, politician or artist. They get torn, sometimes artfully so or get glued or stapled over, layer by layer, a sort of record of time. That is usually collaged with a colorful array of graffiti, some of it the usual street gang type (kING63) or profound messages or rather naughty ones. But never have I looked up and have seen the graffiti on the building itself – and on top of that – a religious message.
At the World Trade Center construction site, along Church Street, as building #3 rises, look high up at the buildings cement core and you first think the spray paint markings in safety day glow orange would naturally be some sort of construction markings of distance or height. The answer is no. If you look closely, it is a message declaring “Jesus is King.”
I have never, ever seen a construction site graffitied by it’s workers much less religious graffiti. I am equally astounded it is allowed by the site – apparently so . . . Merry (early) Christmas 🙂

Story of the day: A 9/11 HERO

This is the story of how an African King, a Greenwich Village hero, a former World Trade Center worker, a ceramics enthusiast and people who care came together.

Dusty Berke is a 9/11 hero. No she didn’t rush into the burning buildings to save people, nor did she ever work at the site, but she is an impassioned community activist.

Dusty Berke

Dusty Berke

Tiles For America was started shortly after the attack. It is an empty lot owned by the MTA (M.ass T.ransit A.authority) with a simple chain link fence around it. It is right across the street from what used to be 150 year old St. Vincent’s Hospital. (I say ‘used to be’, because greedy politicians such as Mayor Bloomberg and councilwoman Christine Quinn saw to it that after the hospital went bankrupt in 2010 – it was quickly turned into a giant condominium complex, leaving all of Greenwich Village and lower west side Manhattan without a hospital.) St. Vincent’s handled the cholera epidemic of 1849, took in the only survivors of The Titanic. It was at the center of the AIDS epidemic and took in the first survivors of the World Trade Center 9/11 attack and in 2009 cared for the passengers of ‘the miracle on the Hudson‘ – the landing of Airways flight 1549 by Capt. Chesley B. Sullenberger III. The poet Edna St. Vincent Millay got her middle name from the hospital.

St. Vincent's

St. Vincent’s

Just hours after the attack, loved ones rushed to the hospital clutching quickly made flyers looking for their loved ones. The hope was, their loved ones would yet be found under the rubble, perhaps were passed out inside the hospital or were wandering around the city in a daze. They gathered outside the hospital and across the street at the empty lot waiting and waiting….and waiting. Volunteers came from the community with clothing, blankets, food and offers to donate blood for 2,998 victims that were never to arrive at the hospital. The anxious hours that passed turned into days which turned into weeks. The gathering place for survivors was along side this empty lot.

Tiles For America

Tiles For America

Local resident Lorrie Veasy who was the owner of a paint your own pottery shop called ’Our Name Is Mud’ came to the hospital with her husband to donate blood the day of the attack. Wanting to do more and to reach out and comfort those who waited and to comfort a community, she created 500 ceramic angel and flag tiles and attached them to the fence. Customers came to the shop to make tiles of their own. ‘Texas loves you!‘, ‘We will never forget’, ‘God bless the USA’, ‘In loving memory of…‘. Videos of the tiles made it onto the internet and soon school children and people of all ages from around the world started to send their own hand painted tiles to the store to be put onto the fence. Germany, Spain, England, Israel. From Maine to Alaska tiles arrived and created a place of hope and comfort. For eleven years the tiles became a tourist destination. A place of pride in the community. A place to remember and never forget.

The tiles

The tiles

‘Our Name Is Mud’ sadly went out of business, but right around the corner, lives Dusty Berke, a long time Greenwich Village resident who was and is determined to preserve the tiles memorial. ‘The Tiles For America Preservation Society’ was founded by her. In 2011, the ten year anniversary of 9/11, hurricane Irene threatened to devastate lower Manhattan and possibly the tiles. Dusty quickly gathered a group of scrappy volunteers who within hours took down all the tiles and brought them to safety. When all was clear they were lovingly re-hung on the fence.

Hurricane preparation

Hurricane preparation

In the meantime . . . in 2010, the MTA was planning to construct an air shaft on the lot and that plan came to reality early this year. The tiles? They were to be ‘put in storage’ in Albany. The community’s faith in that idea was nonexistent, especially to Dusty Berke. Along with local residents Paul McClure, Andretti Mullens and friends, a call went out on the street and the internet.

As a local tour guide, I pass by this lot every week and could not believe my eyes, nor contain my anger when I saw posted signs pleading to help save New York’s first 9/11 memorial. You see, in 1983 I got a job at The World Trade Center as a space planner at the design firm Dancker & Sellew. We worked in the clouds on the 102nd floor. At the time I lived in Brooklyn Heights and would walk across the Brooklyn Bridge every morning towards the two shimmering towers. The view from the top was breathtaking. In stormy weather the building swayed to and fro. We would hang magic markers from the ceiling and watch them make the same pattern on the paper on our desks over and over again. It was surreal. Wonderfully surreal and I was so, so proud to work there. To my luck, our lease was up several years later and the company relocated elsewhere downtown. The thought of these tiles also coming down was incomprehensible to me. On a rainy August 14th I joined Dusty and her friends and we gathered on the sidewalk and determinedly asked anyone who passed by to sign a petition to save the tiles.  The mood was optimistic. But eventually the word was out the demolition crews were coming and September 11, 2012 was to be the last day of the tiles thanks to the callousness of our politicians. As a born and raised New Yorker and as a photographer, I made it a mission to photograph all of the tiles. A memorial concert was held on September 11th. The next morning we waited and waited and waited. When were the bulldozers due?

The petition drive

The petition drive

Dusty and Andretti were busy buying packing materials to rescue the tiles. The fence may belong to the city, but the tiles – belong to the citizens of the world. Every day I contacted Dusty, ‘call me when you’re taking down the tiles!’. Wednesday September 12th passed, I took some more pictures. Thursday September 13th I showed up, no one was there. Word was the demolition was to take place Monday, September 17th.  On September 14th, I assist mom in taking our dog to the vet. I received a phone call.

It was ‘Ladi’, His Royal Highness James Burehmo, to be exact . . . King James Oladipo Aroko-Ola Burehmo the Oba of Idera in Nigeria. A true African king. He leaves his village as king, and comes to New York every summer as a Gray Line tour bus driver to earn money for his people. When I worked for Gray Line as a tour guide, Ladi and I became fast buddies and dear friends. Ladi, a gentle giant, always has a smile on his face. His voice instantly elicits joy and confidence. We have stayed in touch ever since. ‘Hans, I just passed by the tiles and they are boxing them up!’. My mother saw the look on my face, and she simply said ‘go’.

King Ladi

King Ladi

HrH James Burehmo

HrH James Burehmo

As I arrived, the last of the tiles were being taken down. Word had come a short time earlier that councilwoman Christine Quinn’s office had said they were taking ownership of the tiles, possibly threatening arrests. There was no time for Dusty or Andretti to do a phone or email blast. They rushed to the site, with many sets of pliers and boxes and hurriedly took down as many as they possibly could and asked any passerby to help. As the last of the tiles were coming down I arrived. Eleven years later and the fence was almost bare, the visual history temporarily erased for now. I looked up at the shell of what was St. Vincent’s Hospital and teared up as I saw the tiles being wrapped up. I photographed the moment as quickly as I could, upset I couldn’t be there right away, but time was of the essence. Passers by stopped in their tracks as what had become a routine sight, was now gone.

Packing the tiles

Packing the tiles

Andretti takes down the last tile

Andretti takes down the last tile

The tiles will live on, in respect to the 2,998 victims, the survivors, the community and those loving hearts and hands that painted the heartfelt messages on little square pieces of ceramic. The goal is to open a museum in an empty storefront across the street. It will be nice if the city and or construction workers will give us the rusty fence they are going to trash anyway. We hope to line the wall of the museum with that rusty chain link fence and hang the tiles once more. A memorial of survival, of determination and of love. As the sun set the last heart-shaped tile was packed up, the boxes closed in hopes of opening one day soon at the planning of the museum. The tiles are safe now, we are determined.

This is how an African King, a Greenwich Village hero, a former World Trade Center worker, a ceramics enthusiast and people who care came together, to save a piece of American history.


From the gallery: REMEMBERING


Photo of the day: NEVER FORGET

NEVER FORGET: Every Sept. 11, St Paul’s Church is covered with remembrances of 9/11. St. Paul’s church is quite old, it was built in 1766, it was George Washington’s church – his pew is still inside. It is also right across the street from the former World Trade Center Towers. On the day of the attack, the air pressure of the buildings collapsing and the flying debris damages all the buildings in a three block circumference. Windows were blown out, wall smashed in, roofs destroyed.  The church was buried under two feet of ash and debris.
But this little church, old as it is, right across the street from the WTC didn’t have one crack in the glass nor one crack in the stone. So, whether you’re religious or not – there’s something to it, this little church remained untouched, all the other buildings were damaged. The red cross workers dug their way to the church and set up headquarters for the rescue workers in side the church for their food and sleep, this was their home for many months. There is even a children’s book written about it by author and mother A.B. Curtis, based on a poem she wrote for her children called “The Little Chapel That Stood”.

From the gallery: LOUIS

LOUIS: Tears for Louis. World Trade Center Memorial waterfalls.

Photo of the day: TILES FOR AMERICA


After the tragic events of September 11, 2001, ceramic studios around the world joined together to offer a creative outlet to the people of our nation. Thousands of tiles, reflecting patriotism, heroes, courage, unity, poetry, and other positive themes arrived in NYC. The “artists” are represented worldwide and have been families, children, schools, churches, scouts, and senior groups. Each tile reflects the artists’ thoughts of sadness and hope in the face of this American tragedy and once again, shows that the American people will pull together in times of national disaster. New York’s first memorial is located on a chain link fence at the corner of 7th Avenue and 11th Street.

Now the city want to tear it down. On 9/12/12, all of this will disappear, to make way for an MTA air vent for the Subway. To honor this amazing corner of our world, A.rtists W.ho C.are, is seeking volunteers, now, during, after, this event:

Beloved musician and New Yawker CYNDI LAUPER will be our guest!

Artists Who Care, 19 Christopher Street, Suite 7, NYC 10014 Paul McClure, Artistic Director

From the gallery: WORLD TRADE CENTER 1973

WORLD TRADE CENTER 1973: It is October 1973. The World Trade Center was the new sensation of New York City having just been completed in April of that year. New Yorkers were astounded at how majestic they were, at how new an idea it was – twin towers.
People were buzzing where you could go to get an unusual view of these new icons. My best friend Tony Indelicato and I decided to go to  New Jersey and view them from there. I don’t recall where we were, but when we reached this desolate spot, we loved the contrast.
(Those are my skin tight seude Sasson jeans, my in vogue authentic bomber jacket and big hair – good times.)