When the Napa 9/11 Memorial Garden is complete and landscaping and sidewalks surround the steel beams recovered from the fallen World Trade Center, a collection of rubble from the towers will be hidden from view, but not forgotten.
Now buried under the memorial site off Main Street adjacent to Napa Creek are chunks of concrete, rebar and other debris removed from the six steel beams that will make up what’s said to be the largest 9/11 memorial on the West Coast.
“You just don’t take this kind of stuff to the dump,” artist Gordon Huether said of the concrete Napa firefighters removed from the girders, a gift to Napa from New York’s Port Authority. “When the steel first came to the city, there were coffee cups in there. It was very human.”
“This would be considered by many sacred material,” Huether explained to a small group of high school students who were present Thursday to help with the project. “Almost 3,000 people died that day. All they did wrong was go to work that day. ... Their lives were ended and it rippled throughout this country, throughout the world actually.”
Huether, who designed the art component of the memorial garden, decided to have the concrete removed, leaving bare but unfinished beams for the piece.
“I didn’t really think it added to the aesthetic by leaving it on there and I was also worried that someday the pieces might start falling off,” Huether said.
The Port Authority donated the beams to the city under the condition that all pieces be incorporated into the memorial. In the process of conducting site work, crews uncovered two underground utility vaults owned by AT&T, one of which the company donated to the project, said Mark Tomko, a senior civil engineer with the city.
Thursday, local high schoolers were invited to the site to help load the concrete pieces into the vault. A group of about 10 from area schools — most of them members of Napa Valley Water Polo — showed up and shoveled, carried and dropped the rubble into the bunker that was exposed by a 2-foot-wide manhole.
Some concrete was saved and will be used in a circular platform that will hold a flag pole.
“It’s kind of strange thinking these were actually part of the World Trade Center,” said 16-year-old Elizabeth Schafle, of Vintage High School.
Jim Asbury, co-chairman of the Napa 9/11 Memorial Garden Coalition, which orchestrated and fundraised for the project, said it was important to him that young people be involved in the construction of the memorial.
“When this happened, they were 4, 5, 6 years old,” Asbury said. “We have no idea what they were told, what they felt, what was going through their minds. The only way we can engage them is to get them involved in the project and hopefully they’ll learn what 9/11 was all about and what it continues to be about and as citizens of Napa when they come visit this site, that they’ll be a part of it.”
Another teen, Brianna Quade, a 16-year-old New Technology High School student, said she has more vivid memories of Sept. 11 than some of her peers because her father works for United Airlines.
“Even though we weren’t there, we don’t really remember it, it’s our way to help,” she said. “It gets us involved.”
A few other locals showed up to help, including Amy Larson, who wore a shirt that read, “Investigate 9/11: Honor the fallen by the relentless pursuit of truth.”
Last year on Sept. 11, Larson was arrested and charged with vandalism for writing “9/11 Truth” and “9/11 Truth Now” in chalk on the First Street Bridge over Napa Creek. The vandalism charges against Larson were eventually dropped.
“I think it’s important to talk about it,” Larson, who helped bury the concrete, said. “I’ve got my opinions about it, but definitely a lot of people died that day, which is terrible.”
Outside the chain link fence surrounding the construction site, Larson set a large sign reading, “Reopen the 9/11 investigation.”
“I don’t think we should forget this,” she said.
It is the hope of the city and the volunteers behind the project that the lives lost on Sept. 11 will not be forgotten. Four panels of glass will surround the steel beam. Three of them will be filled with the names of each person killed that day, and the fourth will explain the attacks and why Napa constructed a memorial.
The city contributed $120,000 from the public art fund for the memorial and volunteers raised about $130,000. About $16,000 was still needed as of Thursday, Asbury said.
In two weeks, the central component of the memorial — the four tallest pieces of steel — will be erected at the site. On the morning of June 26, crews will lift four beams vertically and place them on bolts already set in place.
Once standing, the beams will reach 24 feet into the downtown Napa sky.