January 1, 2003, NFPA Journal [National Fire Protection Association,] "Lost art," by Bill Flynn,
On September 11, 2001, America's loss extended beyond the overwhelming death toll to include countless artistic and historical treasures that can never be replaced
THE TRAGEDY OF September 11, 2001, is second to none in U.S. history, and Americans will forever remember the nearly 3,000 people who died that day. As if the catastrophic loss of life weren't bad enough, the terrorist acts also destroyed millions of dollars worth of art and historical artifacts in New York City and Arlington, Virginia. In fact, PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that property insurance claims alone will eventually reach billions of dollars in what the Insurance Journal has called the largest single insurance disaster in world history.
At the time of the incident, the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were home to an estimated $100 million worth of art, historical archives, and artifacts. At least 500 corporations, non-profit organizations, and municipal, state, and federal departments or agencies also stored their records, archives, and libraries in those buildings. At the World Trade Center and nearby buildings alone, the property losses sustained by art and historical institutions are expected to reach tens of millions of dollars. At the Pentagon, which is self-insured, the attack destroyed 24 works of art from the collections of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps and considerably damaged another 40. The Pentagon library, although eventually recovering most of its collection, was out of commission for months after the disaster.
To assess the damage cultural and historic institutions in Lower Manhattan and at the Pentagon, the Heritage Emergency National Task Force commissioned a report entitled "Cataclysm and Challenge: Impact of September 11, 2001 on Our Nation's Cultural Heritage." The report describes the artwork, historical artifacts, archives, and libraries in the seven buildings of the World Trade Center complex and in adjacent buildings, and lists damage to the artwork at the Pentagon and to its library. The report was based, in part, on the results of a survey sent to 122 cultural and historic institutions in or near the World Trade Center aimed at assessing the level of damage they sustained, how prepared they were to cope with disaster, and how they responded in the aftermath of the attacks.
Jane Long, director of the Heritage Emergency National Task Force, says one of the most significant results of the survey was the discovery that collecting institutions need to do a better job planning for continuity of operations.
"The collections of some institutions were completely destroyed," Long says. "Other museums and archives, though, sustained relatively moderate damage initially, but the damage got worse over time because the institutions weren't prepared. It really was a surprising result, but there's a great need to be much more attentive to the continuity of operations following a disaster."
Long says the longer damaged artwork sits without attention, the more likely the damage is to worsen. Mundane issues at many institutions, such as the lack of cleaning equipment or materials needed to stabilize the environment, contributed to damage weeks after the initial attacks.
"It would seem that addressing this aspect of emergency preparedness is something virtually every collecting institution in the country ought to address" Long says.
The Heritage Emergency National Task Force, established in 1995, is a partnership of 34 federal agencies and national non-profit organizations, led by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Heritage Preservation, Inc. The task force was founded as a result of the 1991 San Francisco earthquake and Hurricane Hugo in 1989 as a way to help libraries, museums, archives, and historical sites protect themselves from natural and other disasters. The task force preaches the need to develop emergency plans, teaches loss-mitigation techniques, and provides expert information on response and salvage when a disaster occurs. The primary financial supporters of the "Cataclysm and Challenge" report were the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Bay Foundation of New York City.
The extent of the losses
Among the artworks destroyed on September 11 were several by world-renowned artists, including Pablo Picasso, David Hockney, Roy Lichenstein, and Ross Bleckner. Cantor Fitzgerald, the bond brokerage firm on the 105th floor of Tower One that lost all its employees working in the building that day, also lost everything in its "museum in the sky" collection, including drawings, casts, and sculptures by the great French sculptor Auguste Rodin. Reportedly, this privately owned collection was worth millions.
More than 100 works of art owned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey were also on display in the vast public spaces of the 16-acre (0.16-hectare) World Trade Center complex, including works by Alexander Calder, Louise Nevelson, Joan Miro, and Masayuki Nagare. Perhaps the most recognizable among them were two huge outdoor sculptures, Fritz Koenig's "Sphere for Plaza Fountain" and James Rosati's "Ideogram." After the attacks, virtually everything inside the buildings was gone, and only the Koenig piece, although badly damaged, survived outside, where it's on display again as a symbol of hope and survival. According to the Heritage Emergency National Task Force report, this public art was worth an estimated $8 million to $10 million. Copies of the report are available at www.heritagepreservation.org/NEWS/ Cataclysm.htm.
The Port Authority also lost archives dating back to the 1920s that documented the construction of many New York City landmarks, including the World Trade Center itself. Among other artifacts that were destroyed were thousands of pieces from an eighteenth-century African burial ground and more than one million artifacts from the nineteenth-century workingclass neighborhood of Five Points.
In spite of these irreplaceable losses, stories of discovery and resourcefulness also emerged. "Bent Propeller," a stabile by Calder, was one of the best-known works of art at the World Trade Center. Officials assumed it had been destroyed along with the hundreds of other pieces, but shortly after the disaster, the artist's grandson, Alexander Rower, began distributing flyers describing the sculpture to recovery workers. Consequently, more than 35 percent of the sculpture has been recovered. Whether it can be reconstituted hasn't yet been determined.
Some cultural institutions near the World Trade Center survived the devastation, either through fate, as in the case of St. Paul's Chapel, or, in the case of the Museum of Jewish Heritage, through sound implementation of an emergency plan.
St. Paul's Chapel, which sits a block north of the World Trade Center site, is the oldest public building in continuous use in Manhattan and its only surviving colonial church. George Washington prayed there before his inauguration, and the first rendition of the Great Seal of the United States hangs above the pew where he knelt. Remarkably, the church survived with little more damage than a thick coating of dust and ash.
Even more inspiring is the story of the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Battery Park City, just south of the World Trade Center. Just minutes after the first jet crashed into Tower One, the museum's fire alarm system began an automatic shutdown of outside air vents. When Lower Manhattan lost power several minutes later and the automated procedures stopped, the museum's engineers climbed onto the roof and manually closed the remaining vents, even as law enforcement began evacuating the area.
Two days later, when a few museum employees were allowed to reenter the building for a quick inspection, they found no damage to the structure or its collection, not even a speck of dust-all because the vents had been properly closed and the water turned off.
Other institutions weren't as lucky or prepared, and many suffered heart-wrenching losses. Two blocks south of the World Trade Center, on West Street, stood the West Street Building, built in 1907 by Cass Gilbert, a prominent architect of the early twentieth century who later designed the Woolworth Building, one of the first true skyscrapers. The West Street Building was the headquarters of the Helen Keller Foundation, and its archives contained rare documents on the causes and treatment of blindness, as well as photographs, historical files, first editions of books, and letters written by Helen Keller. The entire collection about this remarkable woman is gone.
On Cedar Street, a block away from Tower Two of the World Trade Center, stood St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church. For nearly a century, this tiny church served the needs of the Orthodox Christian community on Lower Manhattan, housing the relics of St. Nicholas and St. Katherine and a magnificent collection of old gold chalices, candelabra, crosses, and icons. Several of the icons were gifts from Tsar Nicholas II of Russia. On September 11, the church and its contents were demolished. Recovery workers found twisted candelabra and several candles in the debris, the only physical evidence that St. Nicholas Church ever existed.
At the Pentagon, weeks passed before librarians were able to assess the damage to the institution's large military library and archives. Fires fed by jet fuel burned for nearly a week, and the library remained off limits for several more weeks while federal agents conducted their criminal investigation. By the time the librarians were able to return, they found the facility overgrown with toxic mold. Ultimately, library officials were able to save about 99 percent of the library's collection, and none of the historical material was damaged. Because of the disaster, however, about a month passed before American military experts had access to the library's crucial information about the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s.
Only 46 percent of the institutions the Heritage Emergency National Task Force surveyed had a written emergency plan and only 42 percent had staff trained in disaster response procedures. Sixty percent of respondents had a current collections catalogue or inventory, but more than half didn't keep any off-site record of their inventory. Had the destruction in Lower Manhattan been more widespread, many collecting institutions would have been left with no complete record of what they'd lost.
"The survey results show that there are significant gaps in preparedness," says Lawrence L. Reger, president of Heritage Preservation. "Quick-thinking staff members who turned off air-intake systems saved valuable collections from corrosive soot and debris. However, more than half the organizations surveyed had only minimal emergency response procedures. Our cultural heritage is vulnerable to potential future disasters."
In fact, 68 percent of respondents said their staffs could benefit from emergency management training, while 67 percent intended to create new emergency plans or revise existing ones. Although the events of September 11 were terrorist acts, rather than the "usual" emergencies, the study found that standard emergency plans and responses worked well and were actually the most effective in dealing with the resulting damage.
Ruth Hargraves, a FEMA official in the Clinton administration, was the project director for the report. As she followed up with survey respondents, she was surprised by the disconnect among groups of staff at some of the institutions. In most instances, Hargraves says, employees in the public affairs departments completed the survey. When she called to clarify a response, however, she was often referred to the security or engineering staff.
"When I asked questions, such as `when did they start to close the air vents' or `what kind of emergency procedures did they follow,' I kept getting a response such as `you need to talk to `Joe," the security guy,"' Hargraves says.
When she finally tracked down "Joe," she often found that he knew more about the institution's emergency preparedness plans than anyone else in the organization but that he was only a part-time volunteer.
The other issues that "shocked" Hargraves was the number of institutions that didn't keep a complete inventory of their collections at an offsite location. Of the responding institutions, 40 percent didn't have an up-to-date inventory, and more than 50 percent of the 60 percent that did have such a list didn't keep a copy of it off-site.
"That's an issue that we've really got to concentrate on," she says.
What we've learned
Based on the survey's findings and extensive follow-up interviews, the report offers some specific recommendations for emergency planning for cultural institutions. Key points include more staff training and complete, current inventories of collections. The report also calls for more effective communication between the emergency management and cultural heritage fields. It encourages professional associations, government agencies, and private foundations concerned about cultural heritage to make disaster management a priority and urges museums, libraries, and archives to begin a dialogue with local emergency officials before disaster strikes.
The report's recommendations are designed to address any type of emergency, and, according to Hargraves, should be adaptable to any cultural institution in the country.
For Allan Fraser, a senior NFPA building code specialist, the report's recommendations, though encouraging, are also frustrating because the tools needed to accomplish many of the report's recommendations existed well before September 11, 2001. He points, in particular, to NFPA 909, Protection of Cultural Resources, and NFPA 914, Fire Protection in Historic Structures.
"The performance-based guidelines in each code allow all kinds of planning between the cultural institutions and the local fire department. And the planning can get quite extensive and detailed," Fraser says.
According to Fraser, cultural institutions in Europe are decades ahead of those in the United States in developing workable plans to protect cultural resources. He cited the example of the enormous Schoenbrunn Castle in Vienna, Austria, where castle staff and the local fire department have worked out a highly detailed emergency plan.
"Not only do they have a plan in place, but they practice it," Fraser says. "In these drills, fire departments respond with six people aboard each piece of equipment. Half the crew starts fire suppression work while the other half goes into the castle and helps castle staff start packing predetermined art objects. Everyone knows exactly where they're going and what they're expected to do. Plans such as this one are in place at museums and other cultural institutions all over Europe."
In Scotland, for instance, fire departments have what he calls a "phenomenal" database tied into computers on fire apparatus. The data tell firefighters what needs to be done when responding to an emergency at any particular cultural institution.
"The database tells you that one particular castle has its own fire pond nearby," Fraser says. "At another, the data will tell you not to put a fire axe through a twelfth-century carved door at the front, but to go through a utility door at the side. It also tells firefighters, if they have to make choices, what they should save first."
Long, of the Heritage Emergency National Task Force, believes the disaster of September 11 was a "wake-up call" to cultural institutions throughout the country.
"The lesson about how the Museum of Jewish Heritage saved its collection hasn't been lost," Long says. "Collecting institutions all over the country are asking for copies of our report. And the need to develop an emergency plan that involves everyone, and then to practice it, is becoming a top priority among the biggest and smallest institutions."
Cultural Heritage Resources for Disaster Preparedness, Response, and Recover
American Institute for Conservation (AIC) Washington, DC (202) 452-9545
AIC provides referrals of conservation professionals to the public. The AIC disaster recovery page is at http://aic.stanford.edu/disaster/.
AMIGOS Library Council Dallas, Texas (800) 843-8482
Amigos Preservation Services (APS) are available to archives and libraries in the Southwestern U.S., primarily the states of Arizona, Arkansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas, with planning activities and recovery from damage caused by various emergency situations, including natural disasters. Prior to, or following an emergency, APS can provide information, guidance, referrals to local resources and on-site assistance as required.
Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts (CCAHA) Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (215) 545-0613
Among its conservation programs, CCAHA provides surveys to assist organizations with preservation planning, workshops and seminars, internships, and emergency assistance.
Heritage Preservation Washington, DC (202) 634-1422
A founding partner of the Heritage Emergency Naltional Task Force.
Library of Congress Preservation Directorate Washington, DC (202) 707-5213
Emergency Drying Procedures for Water Damaged Collections. Concise information, broadly covers air-drying of paper, framed items, books, photographs, and recovery of water-damaged collections with mold.
Emergency Preparedness for Library of Congress Collections. This publication provides detailed guidelines for an emergency preparedness plan. Among the topics covered are risk assessment, communication systems, supplies and training
Minnesota Historical Society
St. Paul, Minnesota, Conservation Department, (651) 297-1867
Information on salvaging personal belongings, historic buildings and government records damaged by natural disasters. National Archives and Records
Administration College Park, Maryland (301) 713-6705
Vital Records and Records Disaster Mitigation and Recovery focuses on identifying and protecting records vital to conducting business under emergency conditions or protecting the legal financial rights of the Federal government. Also recommends policies and procedures for damage assessment and implementation of record recovery.
Northeast Document Conservation Center Andover, Massachusetts (978) 470-1010
A 1999 online Preservation Manual including worksheet for outlining a disaster plan, suppliers list, and salvage information. As part of its Field Service, NEDCC offers emergency assistance for institutions and individuals with damaged paper-based collections. NEDCC provides free telephone advice 24 hours a day if a disaster occurs.
Atlanta, Georgia (404) 892-0943
Web site, www.solinet.net, includes Contents of a Disaster Plan, Disaster Recovery Services and Supplies and list of Internet disaster resources.
The Upper Midwest Conservation Association South Minneapolis, Minnesota (612) 870-3120
A nonprofit regional conservation center working in the Upper Midwest. Emergency assistance is a high priority for the Field Services Department. Assistance in emergency preparedness planning is provided in the form of telephone consultations, onsite visits, and workshops. The Field Services Department is available 24 hours a day to assist in emergency response and recovery
BILL FLYNN is a frequent contributor to NFPA Journal.
Flynn, Bill. "Lost art." NFPA Journal. 2003. HighBeam Research. (October 3, 2010). http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P3-283219871.html