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125 Cedar Street

Going back to go forward

By STEPHEN BUCKLEY, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 8, 2002

NEW YORK -- Time stands still in Apt. 3N.

NEW YORK -- Time stands still in Apt. 3N.

Tape across the refrigerator warns, "Do not open." Fish has been in there for a year. Ditto for the clothes in the laundry basket.

Dust encases photos, yarn, sewing machines, life-sized paintings, books.

"Talk about dust jackets," says Andy Jurinko, who lived in 3N with his wife, Patricia Moore, until Sept. 11.

Moore and Jurinko want to go home. Home to 125 Cedar St., a century-old edifice of brick, brownstone and terra cotta, 300 feet from ground zero. No apartment building stands closer.

Here they lived 25 years. Here they met and fell in love. Here they built a community.

There were 39 tenants, among them two lawyers, two architects, a schoolteacher, a few painters, a fashion designer, a nautical engineer and an occupational therapist.

Their apartments, with 12-foot ceilings and sublime views, are overwhelmed with toxicdust and ash, forcing them to scatter to temporary homes to start anew.

Some victims of Sept. 11 want distance from Lower Manhattan. But Jurinko and Moore say leaving would mean succumbing to their pain. They must go back, they say, if they are ever to move forward.

* * *

In August 1977, 125 Cedar St. was a 12-story shell. It had no plumbing, no electricity, no telephone service, no heat. It did have two distinct advantages: location (in the shadow of the 4-year-old World Trade Center) and government-controlled rent (as low as $385).

Tenants built kitchens, bathrooms and lofts, installed showers and toilets, laid tile and Sheetrock. The hard work bred community.

Moore and Jurinko moved to 125 Cedar separately. She was a sharp-tongued Brooklynite, who jokingly describes herself as a "fashion designer/artist/activist/dominatrix." He was a laid-back painter who calls himself "the only unemployed homeless guy in New York who has a personal trainer."

Soon, they were living together.

Moore and Jurinko loved living next to the World Trade Center. They didn't have bathrooms those first few months, so they used the complex's toilets. Its tunnels helped them avoid the Hudson River's piercing winter winds. Moore befriended scores of trade center regulars -- commuters, subway workers, store owners.

Lower Manhattan blossomed with the years. Battery Park City, with its 9,000 residents, was born in the 1980s. Cedar Street alone boasted four restaurants -- a Thai place, a Japanese restaurant, a health food market and a pizza joint.

* * *

Jurinko was in bed Sept. 11 when he heard a "hurricane-force wind."

After the second plane struck, Jurinko said they needed to go, now. Expecting to return that afternoon, he grabbed only his wallet; Moore took her purse.

They went east and north to a friend's apartment on nearby Nassau Street. Shortly after they arrived, Jurinko was making coffee when he heard his wife scream. The south tower had fallen. Then they watched the north tower collapse.

At 130 Liberty St., less than 100 feet west of their apartment, the Deutsche Bank building lost windows and was gashed by debris. A half-block from 125 Cedar, St. Nicholas Church, built in the 1830s, was flattened.

"I knew our building was crushed," Jurinko says.

They went back a few days later; somehow, 125 Cedar had survived.

A blasted-out computer monitor was in their living room. They never owned a computer.

Their cats, Siegfried and Roy, vanished.

Their apartment had doubled as studios, and their livelihoods were wrecked. Jurinko, 63, lost four months worth of work. Moore, 48, lost tens of thousands of dollars in colorful yarns, knitting machines, sewing machines, design books.

They lost more than $200,000 in possessions. They were left with their savings, a $40,000 insurance policy and help from the Red Cross. In the weeks after Sept. 11, they shoveled away 1.5 tons of debris.

* * *

Nearly a year later, Jurinko and Moore come to their apartment four, five times a week to rescue what they can. Mostly, they toss out what's left behind.

Dust still smothers sills and shelves. On their refrigerator, someone has scrawled "Kilroy" in the dust.

It's in the 80s this August afternoon, hotter still inside the moon suits and respirators they wear to protect themselves. They wear latex gloves, white garbage bags on their feet and smaller bags on their heads.

They're dressed to ward off deadly toxins that dust and debris carried into their apartment -- crushed fibrous glass, asbestos, cadmium, dioxin, mercury.

They hover over their laundry basket, pulling out clothes, one by one. Clothes they haven't seen in a year.

"We've already thrown out thousands of dollars worth of clothes," Moore says.

She discovers an olive-green linen dress, one of her favorites. It stays. They decide to keep virtually everything.

"I can't afford to buy an entirely new wardrobe," she says.

"It's a calculated risk," he says.

The risk involves possibly developing nose bleeds and chronic coughs. It involves possibly contracting cancer in 30 years.

Moore, Jurinko and their fellow tenants expected the federal Environmental Protection Agency to clean their apartments. It didn't.

The EPA said its scientists found asbestos in the air near ground zero, but not enough to imperil residents. Nongovernmental scientists said they found dangerous levels of asbestos and other toxins.

The EPA ombudsman sided with citizens.

"The government made a decision not to follow the rules and clean up Lower Manhattan," said Hugh Kaufman, the ombudsman's chief investigator and a 30-year veteran of the EPA. "It's gross dereliction."

Professionals wanted to clean Moore's and Jurinko's home for $24,000, but that was too expensive. They chose to keep pushing the EPA.

The EPA has reversed itself and agreed to clean Lower Manhattan apartments, one by one.

"This is after 11 months," Moore says. "If it's so dangerous, why did you let us go in there?"

* * *

Moore is leading the effort to get residents back into 125 Cedar St.

First, though, she has to keep the building on the map. When the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation released six redevelopment plans in July, none specifically mentioned Cedar Street.

The plans called for new apartments or a park. Moore organized tenants, wrote letters, crafted strategy, confronted officials at meetings.

"I said, 'Why do you keep showing people these plans? If you don't intend to demolish the block, why do you keep telling the public that you are?' "

The development corporation finally sent a letter to the area's state legislator. It said 125 Cedar St. "will not be condemned."

They're not believers yet.

"The best way to fight this thing," Jurinko says, "is to be in the building."

* * *

Moore is trying to salvage birthday cards, Valentine's Day cards, Christmas cards. Cards that, according to scientists, will forever remain toxic; the ash and dust are too engrained. She opens a Valentine's card from 1988 and a line of dust spills out.

She wants to save it: "How do I throw this stuff out?"

At times, stress overwhelms her. She lost her job as a fashion designer in March. She is seeing a therapist. Minor annoyances make for major tension.

"It's put us on edge," Jurinko says. "If something bothered you before, it bothers us twice as much now."

"If you took a big ceramic plate and dropped it on the floor," he says, "all the pieces would still be there, but the plate would be shattered. That's what I feel like. My life is still there, but it's all fragmented."

Jurinko sheds the space suit. His black T-shirt is soaked with sweat. His eyebrows and eyelashes are wet.

"She seems a little angrier than I am on the surface," he says.

"No," she interrupts, "I'm just more upfront about it."

Moore stands at a window, eyeing the crowds at ground zero. They snap photos of the 16-acre construction site, abuzz with workers rebuilding the No. 1 subway line.

"What are they looking at!" Moore shouts. "It's just a hole in the ground. Go home! I'm still angry already. Sometimes they see me in the window and they point, and they try to take my picture. I walk away from the window."

* * *

Michael Cook lived one floor up from Moore and Jurinko. Like them, he moved in 25 years ago.

Like them, he yearns to return.

Still: "As time goes on, we keep asking, are we really crazy for wanting to get back in there?"

Cook has questions: What if he and his wife and 15-year-old son move back and can't live next to a place many consider a mass grave? What if their apartment is clean, but a neighbor's is still toxic? What about all the traffic and construction? What if they get sick from toxins?

What if they can't return?

He and his wife, both painters, can't afford not to.

A place in Manhattan half the size of theirs runs $3,150, three times their rent now. If residents can't go back to 125 Cedar, Cook would abandon the city, a thought that depresses him.

Some days, he is sure they'll return. Other days, he hears rumors of secret redevelopment plans, or the presence of poisons worries him.

"I've considered my son," says Cook, 51. "The joke is, 'Well, we'll all be dead in 20, 30 years anyway.' Well, he won't."

* * *

Later that day, Moore and Jurinko are in their temporary home on a tranquil street in Brooklyn Heights, just across the Brooklyn Bridge. A friend lets them stay in a small, elegant apartment in a brownstone.

It's a community with chain stores (the Gap, Waldenbooks) and neighborhood joints (Happy Days Diner, Mrs. Souvlaki). There are flower boxes in residents' windows.

There are fir trees behind Moore and Jurinko's place and maples in front.

"This is really a pleasant neighborhood," he says.

"If we wanted to live here -- which we don't," she says.

In one corner of the middle room are family photos. Moore removed several of her friend's photos because she couldn't live with "pictures of other people's children up on our walls."

Jurinko nods: "I feel like I'm in somebody else's life here."

Nearby, a promenade affords them views of the Brooklyn Bridge, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty. They can gaze at the place in the sky where the trade center used to be.

Their old neighborhood.

Just across the harbor, just beyond their reach.

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