After surviving storm, tiles to be site of 9/11 gathering


By Lincoln Anderson

They call it the “Heart and Soul of the Village,” and it’s been that way ever since the tragedy of 9/11. And almost anyone that you ask wants to make sure it stays there forever.

The Tiles for America memorial, at Greenwich Ave. and Seventh Ave. South, was hurriedly taken down to protect it in advance of Hurricane Irene. Now, a push is on to get all the tiles hung up on the fence again by the 10th anniversary of 9/11 this weekend.

Dusty Berke, who is leading the effort, is out by the memorial all day long, rain or shine, asking passersby to say a prayer and put up a tile.

The Village spot is set to be the center of an all-weekend memorial gathering, Berke said, featuring everything from flowers, candles and quiet reflection to guitar playing and singing. It will be nondenominational, she said.

“Sixty to 100 people helped us take these tiles down as Irene was coming,” Berke said. “People started coming from all over, people with their dogs, people with their kids.

“Angelo from Rizza hair salon stored some of the tiles. The busboys from Wogies bar carried tiles. Cafe Rourou has also been holding some. Elephant and Castle sent busboys out to help.”

Now, in turn, by offering people the opportunity to put a tile back up on the fence, Berke said, it’s letting them feel that they’re part of the rebuilding process.

The firefighters from Squad 18 recently rehung the Tiles for America sign.

With the 10th anniversary this weekend, the memorial has rapidly been taking on a renewed life of its own. The other day, Chris King, who runs a flowers and plants business in the Flower District, dropped off 20 large potted palm trees.

“He wants this to be an oasis,” Berke explained. “He had a lot of people in the World Trade Center.”

The plants won’t make it through the winter, but that’s O.K.; it’s for now, she said.

Jim Power, the “Mosaic Man,” pitched in and helped plant the palms in the tree pits around the triangle. But part of his larger contribution is a 9/11 mosaic tree planter, which he brought over from Astor Place. And sticking out of Power’s planter is now a giant palm, courtesy of King.

But that’s not all — Power is also creating a special concrete bench made out of some of the broken Tiles for America tiles, and the bench will be left at the memorial corner.

“People are calling me from all over the country,” said Berke. “There’s a woman who lives in Israel who lost people on 9/11. She said she’s painting tiles and bringing them here.”

A spontaneous 9/11 memorial, the tiles hanging on the chain-link fence were painted by children at Our Name is Mud, the former ceramic studio next to the triangular lot, which is owned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Villagers and visitors alike have taken to the inspirational memorial, and it’s even become a regular stop for local tour buses.

A group of local women who call themselves the Village Angels — Berke is one of them — tend the memorial and make sure it’s kept clean and in good repair.

The M.T.A. plans to build a fan-exhaust plant with a “fauxcade” at the site, and has said it will work some of the tiles into the project — but Berke said the tiles should be given greater priority.

“Why can’t we build a memorial that has a vent inside to protect us?” she said. “Why can’t we change the thinking about it?”

Community Board 2 is on record calling for the Tiles for America memorial to be preserved at the location.