ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
Today, the National Trust for Historic Preservation announced its annual list of America's most endangered historic places. Among the 11 was a surprising name, the Vesey Street staircase at Ground Zero in New York City. Dubbed the survivor staircase by many, this partly ruined concrete structure juts out of the gaping hole.
And as NPR's Margot Adler reports, it is the only remaining above-ground remnant of the World Trade Center.
MARGOT ADLER: Tourists come to the World Trade Center site every day. As trucks rumble and construction workers begin the monumental task of rebuilding on the site, you might not notice the one remaining above-ground artifact. The tourists who pass by peeking through the fence and reading posters about September 11th rarely focus on this staircase that miraculously survived the collapse of the towers and would've been torn down during the clean up if it didn't rest on top of an old subway entrance.
Richard Zimbler can see the steps from his apartment window. We stand near Vesey Street looking at the staircase through the fence.
RICHARD ZIMBLER: If you walk to the side of it, we'll see a stairway and also the bed of an escalator. What the stairway and escalator did was take you up one story to the Plaza level.
ADLER: Zimbler, a computer specialist and member of the World Trade Center Survivors Network, wants the staircase preserved.
ZIMBLER: It's strange to think that something that's derelict and pockmarked and ugly to look at is a symbol of hope, but it really is. I see this everyday from my window and I look at it and I say, if that can survive, I can survive too.
ADLER: Patty Clark and Kayla Bergeron both work for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. They say they owe their survival on September 11th to those steps. They spent 45 minutes trying to get down more than 65 flights of stairs. The first tower had already collapsed. They felt their building begin to shake, the stairs twist, the lights go out and back on. They finally got down to the plaza, filled with debris and dust from smashed concrete billowing like smoke.
PATTY CLARK: So we started screaming, saying where do we go and then there was one lone man on the plaza who said, come this way. I mean, you were walking over the building ports, the only way for us off the plaza was because of this staircase behind us.
KAYLA BERGERON: When we finally got down with our heels and our skirts and everything, after we're breathing, kind of taking this in, I remember a policeman telling us to run and then we turned around, we could see the tower coming down. We ran 16 blocks to the Holland Tunnel.
ADLER: When Patty Clark looks at the staircase today, she says if you think of everybody who survived --
CLARK: Everybody went up or down steps. And you look at them, at the top, they are as healthy as they were September 10th. And yeah, the bottom, they're damaged, but kind of aren't we all a little damaged after September 11th? So, to me, it's a symbol of the people that worked in the building, lived in the building, the strength of the building.
ADLER: It isn't clear what the future holds for the staircase. It lies within the footprint of the proposed World Trade Center Tower II, which is being designed by architect Norman Foster and developed by Silverstein Properties. Larry Silverstein has not commented on the project nor responded to a letter sent by several preservation groups.
People who work for the Port Authority say there's a process. There will be hearings and public comments. Some people believe the stairs should be preserved exactly where they are, like Frank Sanchez of the Municipal Art Society.
FRANK SANCHEZ: As the only in situ remnant, the only authentic remaining piece of the Trade Center, that is very emotionally loaded. If, for example, it were to fall within a lobby or within the footprint of a building, then it's our feeling that this remnant is important enough that the building should be designed around it.
ADLER: Others, like Richard Moe, president of the National Trust, which put the Vesey Street staircase on its list of endangered places, says this kind of issue has been dealt with in the past.
RICHARD MOE: Coventry Cathedral in Great Britain was nearly demolished by the bombing of World War II. The ruins were saved and a new cathedral was constructed next to it. So there's a lot of ways to do this. There's not a formula for it, and it's going to take some creativity.
ADLER: And as several survivors said to me, some compromise.
Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.
NORRIS: The other 10 spots on the National Trust list of most endangered places span the continent. And some are obvious choices. There are landmarks and historic areas along the Mississippi coast and in New Orleans. Less obvious is an old German neighborhood in Cincinnati called Over-the-Rhine. It's been home to generations of immigrants, but it's now fallen on hard times. And there's Fort Snelling's Upper Post, overlooking the confluence of the Mississippi and the Minnesota Rivers near the Twin Cities. The military abandoned the site after the Second World War and it's been left to the elements.
SIEGEL: Here in Washington D.C., the Smithsonian's Arts and Industries building on the National Mall made the list, along with the Kootenai Lodge outside of Big Fork, Montana.
NORRIS: In California, Mission San Miguel Archangel sustained damage in an earthquake. It'll cost $14 million to fix, and it's on the list. Kenilworth, a suburb just north of Chicago is, too. It's home to the work of several famed architects.
SIEGEL: Blair Mountain Battlefield in West Virginia was selected. It's where coal miners armed themselves to fight for better working conditions in 1921. Today, coal companies want to strip mine on the site.
And finally, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has highlighted the plight of the Doo Wop Motels of Wildwood, New Jersey on the Jersey Shore. A string of motels there glisten with neon bright colors and funky 1950s signs and dÃ©cor. There used to be a lot more of them, but one by one they've surrendered to the wrecking ball. So the National Trust picked the surviving motels, along with ten other sites, for this year's most endangered list.