By Shani R. Friedman
Photo Sam C. Long
“People may have forgotten that when the Tribeca Film Festival launched just seven months later, it was a very big deal and transformative. It’s a bond forged out of horrible circumstances, but a meaningful and lasting one for those of us who have spent thousands of days living, working and attending school downtown.”
At this year’s 15th anniversary Tribeca Film Festival, Honeysuckle will be covering in the heart of the action. Here, our writer, Shani Friedman, wanted to share some significant memories of the neighborhood.
I stumbled upon Tribeca by accident when I was applying to law schools, a few years before 9/11. When I was accepted to New York Law School, Tribeca quickly became my new stomping grounds. The school was just eight blocks from what would become Ground Zero.
For three years I spent most of my waking hours downtown, whether it was for class, on campus work-study or an internship at a nearby government office. Outside of courthouses and government buildings, the area didn’t have a lot to offer – a handful of restaurants and stores.
It was perfect for a student. No overpriced Starbucks, no fancy pastry shops. Places like Taco House, Gee Whiz Diner and the Pakistan Tea House kept us fed on the cheap and we spent lots of Thursday nights closing down the Reade St. Pub. In a short amount of time the school and the neighborhood became my second home, and a beloved one at that.
For me the Twin Towers mainly served as a way to orient myself, if I wanted to head north the towers would be behind me. I didn’t have much reason to go beyond Chambers Street, so the towers were more of an afterthought. I didn’t know of their history until much later, like Philippe Petit’s legendary walk between them.
As it so happened, I was at school during the very early morning hours of September 11th. But by the time I woke up late that morning, it was all over. I awoke disoriented, unable to process the news that I heard. Of course reality and worried messages on my answering machine quickly pierced my fog.
In the immediate aftermath of that day I started working in the shadow of the rubble for an immigration attorney who was on the front lines, representing a number of clients from the Middle East who were being held at various detention centers around New York. We could travel up to one of the higher floors and see the wreckage up close from our neighboring building. It was a discombobulating, unsettling time for me and my friends and former classmates and for Tribeca.
To look at it the area now – with its many luxury buildings, NYU dorms and high-end restaurants and shops — it is unrecognizable in many ways to how it looked for years after September 11th. You might not even know how devastated it was in 2001. People may have forgotten that when the Tribeca Film Festival launched just seven months later, it was a very big deal and transformative. It’s a bond forged out of horrible circumstances, but a meaningful and lasting one for those of us who have spent thousands of days living, working and attending school downtown.