Rebuilding Ground Zero

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September 11 memorial anniversary
CBS/AP
In the windowless netherworld of the World Trade Center Story Corps booth, Maureen Santora lets her pain show.

"We're here to talk about my son, Christopher Santora, who was one of the firefighters who died on Sept. 11," Maureen says with tears.

All the Santoras want is some shred of immortality for their dead son. The Story Corps is a national oral history project, reports CBS News Correspondent Martha Teichner.

The booth is set up inside the train station next to Ground Zero. Four years after 9/11, they were hoping there would be more here.

But there are signs of progress, albeit symbolic. The doves of peace, homing pigeons actually, released at the groundbreaking for the $2.2 billion transportation hub, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, were meant to represent the rebirth of the World Trade Center site.

The Calatrava transportation hub is adjacent to the so-called Freedom Tower that is flanked by other office buildings. A cultural center is planned here, the memorial will go on the footprints of the twin towers, and below the plaza a museum filled with 9/11 artifacts.

"New York is rising from the ashes of the attack of Sept. 11 and we are going to soar to new heights, heights we have never seen before in the city or in this country," announces N.Y. Gov. George Pataki.

But tell that to those who believe the site has been hijacked..

"Governor, you've lost your way. You've lost sight of what is most important at ground zero," Patricia Reilly, who lost her sister on Sept. 11, says in response to Pataki's announcement.

"I know the level of pain. The depth of pain I'm feeling right now," Reilly says, adding that, "When I die it'll only mean something to my family. My sister was part of something bigger, I'm gonna make sure of that."

"Governor Pataki, you've ruled Ground Zero with an iron fist for too long. You've let corporate elites and other special interest groups dominate what's done here," says Anthony Gardner, whose brother was killed in the attacks.

"They have made a process that is a national disgrace," echoes Nikki Stern. Stern's husband died in the north tower. "Certainly, I think families have an important moral voice in what happens, definitely in the memorial."

Families of 9/11 victims have been asking from the beginning: whose site is it anyway?

"There seemed to be like these givens. They would say, 'well, that's, that has to be that way.' Well, sometimes you ask the question, you found out it didn't exactly have to be that way," explains Tom Roger, whose daughter was a flight attendant on one of the planes that hit the World Trade Center.

"It's been consumed by politics, controlled by politics and seems only to get more and more just sunk into the quicksand of politics," opines architecture critic Paul Goldberger.

Goldberger is the author of "Up From Zero" about the rebuilding process.

"In the first year, it looked as if we were really gonna aim for the highest thing possible. And then, gradually, sort of like the waves eating away at a sand castle, you know, they just wore away, bit by bit and it's gotten more and more ordinary," says Goldberger.

"And the high expectations for this site sadly, they're mostly gone," he says.

Case in point: the Freedom Tower. After a highly publicized competition with much fanfare, in February 2003 it was announced that Daniel Libeskind's master plan for Ground Zero had been chosen over entries submitted by a dazzling who's who of the world's most famous architects.

The centerpiece of Libeskind's design was his Freedom Tower, but the developer wanted his own architect to build it. That was version 2. Then the police demanded changes for security reasons. So now we have version 3. So much for Daniel Libeskind.

The New York Times was brutal. His fall was emblematic of the kind of hardball being played. One of the only designs to make it through the labyrinth of Ground Zero politics relatively unscathed has been the memorial.

"Reflecting Absence," architect Michael Arad's design for a street- level plaza overlooking two pools of water was chosen from more than 5,200 entries.

"The concept is really based on creating these two enormous voids. In the plaza," explains Arad.

Arad brought in respected landscape architect Peter Walker to work with him.

"The park, the woods, represents life," says Walker. "You go down to the memorial and come back up, it represents catharsis. It represents coming from death to life."

The memorial will cover 4 1/2 acres. Estimated cost: $203 million.

"If you look from the north or south, you will see the trees seem to be random, like a woods. But when you turn east and west and look through them, there are a series of colonnades, almost gothic colonnades formed by the trees," Walker says.

On a cold, winter day last year, we took Walker to Ground Zero.

"One will be right here and the other will be other side of the ramp, diagonally," Walker tells Teichner of the footprints' planned location.
"And the water will fall from each opening down from about this level. The openings are 200-feet square. We have 1,600 feet of waterfall. It will be the largest fountain in the world," Walker says.

In all, the memorial is a quarter-mile long. "It's gigantic," Walker says.

Water expert Dan Euser built a mock-up in his back yard outside Toronto, Canada to refine how the real thing will work. Euser's model was just 1/6 the size of the actual memorial.

But the emotional heart of the memorial can be found here, behind a curtain of water, at the base of the waterfall in the grotto-like gallery where the names of the 9/11 dead are to be displayed. How they'll be listed is yet another matter being fought over.

"The difficulty with the names is that it's such an emotionally charged issue," Arad says. "The design, I think, can be abstract but there's nothing abstract about the loss that people suffered."

It is how personal and yet how public that loss was that speaks to the sensitivity of doing anything on a site that to a nation is hallowed ground, but to nearly 3,000 families is still a gaping wound.