Andy Jurinko is leading yet another tour of his rented loft at 125 Cedar Street, 300 feet from what used to be the World Trade Center. As he's done for nearly a year for journalists from around the world, the Phillipsburg native is demonstrating what happens, and doesn't happen, when 2 tons of debris are catapulted into an apartment by the collapse of more than 200 stories of skyscraper.
Jurinko points to 10 windows overlooking the Trade Center site, which strangely resembles the foundation of a stadium in one of his baseball paintings. Every window blew out; one flew 20 feet into the loft without shattering. He points to the kitchen, where three windows exploded but an entire cabinet of china went untouched. He points to the living room, where he found a computer he didn't own, hurled from another building like a meteor.
The eeriest sight is the easiest to miss. Pinned to a wall in Jurinko's art studio are magazine photographs of beautiful women, models for his new series of paintings of erotic nudes. The Sept. 11 quake caused the girlie pictures to spin, leaving pinwheel patterns in the gray dust, the cremated remains of metal, asbestos and people.
This toxic grime is preventing Jurinko and his wife, fashion designer Pat Moore, from living in their home of 25 years. They're blocked, too, by indecision over plans for rebuilding the periphery of the Trade Center site, including a dangerously damaged skyscraper at the end of their block. For nearly a year, they and dozens of families in their neighborhood have struggled to occupy the only still-unoccupied residential block at ground zero.
Jurinko and Moore have been homeless, studioless and jobless. They've been ignored by emergency specialists concerned about the more obvious victims of the Sept. 11 attacks. They've become haz-mat workers, lobbyists and urban planners by default. They've spent nearly $4,000 in legal fees and nearly $8,000 in cleaning fees. Extremists have forced them to live a most extreme life in a city of great extremes.
''It's like trying to keep track of sand in the Sahara desert,'' says Jurinko, 63, of his quest to return to 125 Cedar Street. ''It keeps shifting.''
Jurinko moved to 125 Cedar Street because it was an oasis. In the summer of 1977, raw space in lower Manhattan was relatively affordable and building codes were fairly flexible, allowing him to add walls and plumbing without promising his first-born child. He felt like a communal pioneer, creating a residential studio on the third floor of an abandoned 12-story office building with art teachers, architects and other cultural professionals. Together, they began developing a financial-district answer to SoHo, the art colony born in the '60s in former warehouses. They worked where they lived on a quiet, alleylike block in a beehive of commerce, history and urban renewal, an easy walk from Wall Street, down the street from revered Trinity Church, across the street from the first New York residence of Edgar Allan Poe.
Cedar Street seemed ideal for a nomad such as Jurinko, who had managed an Atlantic City hotel, served as art director for advertising agencies in Allentown and Philadelphia, and designed multimedia sales shows for corporations. The gritty neighborhood looked better in November 1977, when he met Pat Moore, a Brooklyn native and the child of a New York City police officer. They were introduced, ironically enough, during a crisis. They met a block away in Liberty Plaza Park, escaping a fire in a restaurant, sharing a bottle of Jack Daniels to warm a cold night.
The next year Moore moved into 125 Cedar Street and began turning a space into a home. She and Jurinko created a real kitchen. They installed a toilet with two steps. They built a loft bed overlooking the Hudson River. They crafted side-by-side studios, sharing 10 windows.
Moore designed clothing for a line made in Hong Kong. Jurinko painted photogenic panoramas of old baseball parks (including Shibe, home to the Philadelphia A's and Phillies); photographic scenes of memorable moments (New York Yankees pitcher Don Larsen celebrating the only perfect game in World Series history); folkloric portraits of players famous (Ted Williams) and not-so-famous (Elmer Valo, the Philadelphia A's hero from Czechoslovakia and Palmerton). The Boston Red Sox paid Jurinko to paint their hall of famers; the Tribune Co., which owns the Chicago Cubs and this newspaper, paid him to paint broadcaster Harry Caray's induction into the Hall of Fame.
Jurinko chronicled baseball from 1945 to 1960, when he and the game came of age. During this time Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, night ball flourished on television, and Jurinko invented a game with scale models of the Polo Grounds, Ebbetts Field and other parks he saw on TV.
Jurinko and Moore worked opposite the twin towers of the World Trade Center, which the couple adopted as a second home. It was here they caught the subway, bought recordings, did their banking, attended performances, entertained, received jolts of global adrenaline. It was, says Jurinko, ''an extension of our living room.''
On Sept. 11 one living room was devastated and the other disappeared. When the first hijacked plane crashed into the Trade Center's north tower, Jurinko was in bed, watching a financial-news program on CNBC, and Moore was on the sofa, watching a videotape of a soap opera. They rushed to collect wallets, clothes and other essentials. In their hurry they couldn't find their frightened cats, Siegfried and Roy, black and white brothers rescued from a New Jersey flood.
Jurinko, Moore and another resident of 125 Cedar Street were walking uptown when a jet hit the south tower. About 15 minutes later, six blocks away in a friend's apartment, Jurinko was making coffee when he heard Moore scream. The south tower, the one closest to their home, had collapsed.
Moore and Jurinko watched the rest of that day's disaster from a roof above Nassau Street. He remembers the antenna on the north tower falling like a javelin. The adjacent 7 World Trade Center plummeting in seconds, torched by debris striking thousands of gallons of stored diesel fuel. The morning sky suddenly changing to midnight, as if painted by a giant drybrush.
''I was feeling that a part of me was dying,'' says Jurinko. ''Our whole home, our whole life, was gone. It just felt like the end of the world.''
Scared by the acrid, billowing smoke, Jurinko and Moore ran down 12 flights of stairs and up Broadway to the SoHo home of a friend of a friend. Shortly after the disaster, they moved into the luxurious loft of another friend's stepsister. ''I like to joke,'' says Jurinko, ''that I'm the only homeless person I know who upgraded as a result of being homeless.'' For two months, 15th Street and Sixth Avenue became their residence and command center.
The war zone
It took three days for Jurinko and Moore to learn if 125 Cedar Streetstill existed. Since the building was off-limits to civilians, they talked a police officer guarding ground zero into bringing them news of the building. Minutes after the copwalked away with Jurinko's keys, a geyser of oily water erupted from the sidewalk.Jurinko and Moore ran for safety with dozens of police, National Guard reservists and other disaster workers.
It took another two days for the couple to get into their loft, then only to search for their pets. Their search for Siegfried and Roy was authorized by Steve Musso, a friend who is senior vice president and chief of operations for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. They traveled past soldiers in an ASPCA van with other ground-zero pet owners and Henry Ruiz, a retired homicide cop from the Bronx. He was on hand, says Jurinko, ''to barge past guys with bayonets.''
What Jurinko and Moore saw on Sept. 16 reminded them of a training film simulating an atomic explosion. Fifteen of their 17 windows were gone. The loft floor was a minefield of glass. Jagged pieces of metal mimicked crashed flying saucers. All of the new appliances refrigerator, gas range, washing machine were smashed. Debris was as thick as 3 feet.
Every inch of the 12-foot-high ceilings, every millimeter of the 1,800 square feet, was covered in a bizarre gray dust. ''It was pulverized glass, metal, fiberglass, asbestos, you name it,'' says Jurinko. ''It was so fine it felt like the finest talcum powder, like liquid. It had a strange, sickening smell that included a little sweetness to it, which was probably the human side of things. It was a real witches' brew.''
The next two months became a nightmare of bureaucracy. Jurinko and Moore spent up to eight hours a day in a Sept. 11 disaster center, waiting in endless lines to process endless relief papers. ''It was like a bad movie,'' says Jurinko. ''It was like 'Village of the Damned.'''
Each time Jurinko and Moore visited 125 Cedar Street, they had to cut through battalions of what Jarinko calls ''hot-shot MP types.'' Each time, says Jurinko, ''we were treated like criminals or suspects or trespassers.''
With environmental-protection agencies slow to respond, the couple became haz-mat workers without pay. They bought jumpsuits, respirators and an $800 vacuum cleaner.
Moore and Jurinko never found their cats. They did, however, find their birth certificates, marriage license, and $30,000 in color photographs for a baseball-art book Jurinko has been preparing for a dozen years. They found stranger items while filling 150 garbage bags with wreckage.
There was the meteoric computer, which Jurinko excavated after four trips. There was a $9,700 check from Windows on the World, the celebrated restaurant in the Trade Center's south tower. There were pages from a memo regarding the accident policy of Cantor Fitzgerald, the securities firm that lost more than 600 employees in the north tower.
While Jurinko and Moore were discovering foreign objects, they were losing their own. About $4,000 worth of their belongings disappeared. Losing everything from an expensive radio to a new respirator increased their sense of insecurity.
''You're already going into this space and seeing your life wrecked,'' says Jurinko. ''When you're standing there, looking at your life as an atomic blast, you're paralyzed, you don't know where to begin. We'd take these hard-assed New York cops into our space, and that just changed their attitude completely. They just melted.''
Jurinko and Moore stabilized themselves by counting blessings. Moore's intention of voting on Sept. 11 had saved her from traveling to work on the subway under the Trade Center. Jurinko saved some 400 baseball paintings by pure luck, placing them last summer in the warehouse of an online auctioneer of sports memorabilia. The couple says the decision to leave 125 Cedar Street immediately after the first attack saved their lives.
''If we had gotten out 15 minutes later,'' says Jurinko, ''I wouldn't be talking to you now.''
In November the couple's fortunes improved. Jurinko and Moore received a $50,000 insurance payment and rented a brownstone in Brooklyn Heights. Safe Horizon, which helps victims of violence, paid for taxis to transport items to their new borough.
Fearing her husband was going insane, Moore pushed Jurinko to find a studio ''if nothing else to salvage and reinvent myself.'' He found one in Tribeca, the meat-packing center elevated to film-and-restaurant mecca. Here Jurinko cleans baseball art; here he paints lusciously naked women. ''They're Victoria's Secret gals,'' he says, ''without clothes.''
Befitting Manhattan's latest hottest neighborhood, Jurinko pays $1,400 a month for what he calls his ''recovery-and-rescue station,'' a long, hallwaylike room with one window and no sink. It's what he and Moore are paying in Brooklyn Heights; it's what they paid for 125 Cedar Street. Jurinko sees his old home when he leaves his studio, steps out on Greenwich Street and looks two dozen blocks south.
New year, new calamities
In the new year, the couple's luck went south. In early January, Jurinko and Moore traveled outside New York City for the first time since Sept. 11. They were in a funeral parlor in Los Angeles, paying respects to her uncle, when they learned their loft was flooded. They shortened their stay and returned to 125 Cedar Street to discover 2 inches of water and a rampage of toxic mold. ''That was the lowest point,'' says Jurinko.
Other low points followed. In March, Moore lost her $95,000-a-year job. According to Jurinko, she couldn't concentrate on designing clothes while tracking emergency aid and assisting fellow residents of 125 Cedar Street.
Jurinko compensated for the loss in income with two-plus months of unemployment assistance. The $400 a week, however, came with a heavy price and another surreal episode.
In April, the New York State Department of Labor declared that Jurinko hadn't seriously searched for employment and had to pay back $6,450 in unemployment aid. During a hearing, a judge asked him to prove his worth as an artist. Jurinko indicated that a recent Internet auction of his baseball art had grossed $120,000. Impressed by the figure, the judge halved the repayment.
In the meantime, Moore worked overtime as liaison to the lawyer for the 19 families in 125 Cedar Street, all of whom survived the Sept. 11 disaster. Together, they lobbied agencies to clean and preserve the building. Their chief allies were the offices of New York State Rep. Jerrold Nadler and Sheldon Silver, speaker for the New York State Assembly. Empowered by the politicians, and extensive coverage from The New York Times and NBC, Moore and company pleaded their case for aid to a collective of organizations, including the Environmental Protection Agency and the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., formed after Sept. 11 to restore the island south of Houston Street.
In June the EPA, a federal agency, agreed to supervise the cleaning of all 12 floors of 125 Cedar Street, a private building. In July the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the Trade Center site, released six proposals for rebuilding the property. Every suggestion included an anchor attraction (a park, a memorial to Sept. 11 victims), and every suggestion essentially eliminated 125 Cedar Street. In one plan, Moore and Jurinko's home was replaced by another residential structure.
No wonder Jurinko regards his life since Sept. 11 as an emotional earthquake. He and Moore have been interviewed by the world; they've appeared in their loft on CNN, the BBC, and in a documentary shot by a student from war-torn Croatia. Repeating their odyssey has been boring and painful; it's also been therapeutic, and not only for them.
''They felt that my covering their story was appreciated, and it made me feel great, because to cover stories like theirs was for me the initial reason to be in this business,'' says Stephan Mueller, who has produced three segments on Jurinko and Moore for SAT1, a German cable TV station. ''I admire the courage and the humor they showed. I thought that if I had been in the same situation, I would have gone from a phase of enormous anger to a phase of just letting everything go and leaving.
''I also admire their hope,'' adds Mueller. ''Despite all the months of being ignored, despite the friction sometimes between them, there's no desperation on their part. It takes more than an international disaster to make them stay down; in that respect they're typical New Yorkers.''
Free to visit their loft, Jurinko and Moore feel plagued by gawkers and hawkers at ground zero. It's depressing, says Jurinko, returning to salvage a shell of a home through a gaudy bazaar of trinket sellers and voyeurs, who peek through holes in the fence around the Trade Center hole. One day Moore looked up from her cleaning to discover a stranger, a tourist who had wandered into 125 Cedar Street. to photograph the devastation, ''up close.''
''It's a carnival, a freak show,'' says Jurinko with a grim smile, reviewing the strangely sedate mob three stories below the loft. ''I'm waiting for them to get cotton candy and set up a baseball toss.''
On the other hand, Jurinko and Moore have received disaster relief from all quarters. A foundation named for painters Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner gave them $10,000. The owner of restaurants named after baseball legend Mickey Mantle paid $10,000 for the right to reproduce Jurinko's paintings as posters. Jurinko's stockbroker sent $1,000; participants in Moore's jewelry-making group collected $700.
Still, Jurinko and Moore feel isolated from friends outside Manhattan. Nearly a year has passed, and few have visited the couple. ''Many people have treated us sort of like lepers,'' says Jurinko. ''They don't want to think of us as out-of-pocket. Some said: 'We saw it on TV: we suffered with you.' I told them: 'No, you didn't first of all, you didn't smell it.' It's like crying to somebody who went through a concentration camp.''
The best news of all
On Aug. 12 Jurinko and Moore toe-stepped from their prison. They were sitting across Cedar Street in O'Hara's Restaurant and Pub, waiting to do a follow-up with a team from a syndicated TV program. While drinking coffee they received a cell-phone call from Yvonne Morrow, director of constituent services for Assembly Speaker Silver. The Port Authority and the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., she told them, had agreed to spare their block.
When and if Jurinko and Moore resume living in 125 Cedar Street depends on a ground-zero poker game. One factor is the speed and success of the toxic cleanup. Another is the renovation or demolition of the seriously damaged Deutsche Bank skyscraper at the end of their block. Still another is the possible development of the Trade Center site as another office complex or a farmers market.
The wild card is their landlord's plans for their building. It could stay an affordable rental property. Or it could become an expensive condo such as next-door 114 Liberty Street.. Still unoccupied, the building has huge units owned by rap impresario Russell Simmons and actor Wesley Snipes.
Whatever happens, Jurinko and Moore will sit ringside at a global circus. ''We're very relieved we're not earmarked for the wrecking ball,'' says Jurinko, who is scheduled to return with Moore from a European trip on Tuesday, the day before the one-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. ''Yet every time we go home, it looks like a hard place to come back to. Maybe we'll decide: We've tried adios, amigo. But we have a certain amount of stubbornness, of combativeness, to save the building. If not for us, then for the building's sake.
''You know, it was quite an adventure getting into that place, putting in the walls and the plumbing and such-and-such,'' adds Jurinko. ''And now it's an adventure getting back into it.''
Interview over, Jurinko leaves his loft, passing a fellow artist who uses his bird's-eye-view photograph of the burning south tower to petition passers-by to save their building. Jurinko leaves 125 Cedar Street, passing a next-door fire station that lost five members on Sept. 11. He crosses Liberty Street, passing a construction workers' sleeping quarters nicknamed the ''Love Shack.'' He zigzags through the hordes staring at what used to be the World Trade Center, which is 300 feet from what used to be his world trade center.
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