The Power of a Story II

May 13, 2011

By Jerome Leslie Eben, AIA

AIA NJ Regional Director ’11-‘13

Apparently many of you enjoyed my article last month entitled The Power of a Story and told me so.  Therefore, the communication that I had hoped for in my very first article as your Regional Director is finally happening! As the saying goes “keep those cards and letters”……………E-mails coming!   When Rob asked for this month’s article, I thought why not write The Power of a Story II?

For many years I have worked in my home community of West Orange on its Downtown Alliance as a member of the board, always with the hope that we could be bringing the downtown as I have often stated “back from the brink”!  Both this statement and the downtown itself have been viewed as a negative, though in my mind bringing something back to what it may have once been (vibrant) can in fact be a good thing.

My community’s downtown snakes basically along an approximately two mile main street aptly named Main Street. An extension of the downtown goes a bit further in a mostly residential area along Valley Road aply named so because it is in fact the valley of what is known as the first mountain aptly named so, because it is the first of two mountains!  Of course if you were talking to my counterparts, the Regional Directors out west they would tell you that these are really only two hills!

This past Sunday May 1st which as it turns out will long be remembered for something more important than the above geography lesson, my wife, Marsha who as many of you know worked at the World Trade Center for more than 20 years, (though a dental appointment, kept her out of the office and harm’s way on that fateful morning), took in a new world premiere play entitled The Tallest Building in the World.  Maybe some of you caught the splendid review that was in the Sunday NY Times. The play was written by Matt Schatz and is directed by Troy Miller and tells the story of the building of the World Trade Center, which if only to hold the record ever so briefly as the tallest buildings in the world and destroyed by the hands of terrorists just over a generation after being completed in 1974.

The premier was here in West Orange, where the Luna Stage Theater Company, which did a splendid job of telling this story with just five professional actors (some playing multiple roles), is the newest tenant in what had long been a vacant old industrial brick structure, tastefully renovated by HANDS, a non-profit design-builder.  They specialize in difficult development of housing and commercial property in urban areas. Not unlike the story of the construction of the WTC buildings, this extension of the West Orange downtown corridor is an area that is in transition, and was formerly known as ‘the valley’, sharing a common municipal line with neighboring Orange. More recently it has and is being positively promoted as the Valley Arts District.

The new village concept is a breath of fresh air in what a century ago was the “hat capitol of the world” an old manufacturing area that had certainly seen better days and now with this most recent renovation, is positively coming “back from the brink”!  Always a home to good Italian restaurants and coffee clubs, the Hat City Kitchen, is a restaurant featuring local live music was recognized in NJ Monthly Critics’ Pick as their New Best Restaurant!

The responsibility for this new area belongs to a group of true stakeholders that include but are not limited to long-time residents, artists, local government, public and private funders.  This is truly becoming a live/work area and the Neighborhood Revitalization Tax Credit Act has brought in an additional $150 million in private development.

The play has many great lines and as the review stated, “reminds us of the public’s complicated emotional relationship with the World Trade Center as architecture”.  I am sure as architects we all can relate to the message this play is conveying.  It runs through May 15th, so if you are not going to the convention, take it in not only the play but a new and vibrant urban area and most certainly where you can see the Power of this Story II stand tall as the WTC once did and will again, soon.

Jerry

jebenaia@aol.com

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