May 16th, 2013

A Couple's "Memorial" Journey

This is the true story of a couple's ten (10) year journey that led them into what would become the largest memorial design competition in the world. A journey that would end in heartbreak and test their faith in humanity as to what is right and wrong. 

The story begins on the morning of September 11th, 2001. As Robert and Patricia Maestas witnessed the horiffic events unfold on television that morning they were unaware their lives would be changed forever.

The days following the events of September 11, 2001 Robert could not sleep and was consumed by the tragedy. One evening he awoke his wife and said "I'm going to design a memorial for Ground Zero in New York ."

In the following months Robert would come home from work and continue working on a rough draft for his concept for the World Trade Center Ground Zero Memorial. With the support of family, friends and coworkers the draft was ready to first be presented to some of the influential people in the Denver community. In early November 2001 Robert and Patricia set up a meeting with District 9 City Councilwoman Deborah Ortega to present the concept. The meeting went very well and the next thing the couple knew, it was being arranged for them to fly to New York City and meet with City Councilman Guillermo Linares to present their concept. It was early December 2001 when the meeting took place in New York City.

After the meeting with Mr. Linares the expectations were high as he was 100% behind the couple's concept. Mr. Linares told the couple to wait in the office for a moment while he made a phone call. Upon completion of the phone call the couple were told, "Let's go now." In what seemed like an instant they were somewhere in Manhattan being rushed into a restaurant for a meeting. The meeting was with the famous designer Oscar De La Renta. Robert was to present his concept to Mr. De La Renta while having lunch. Mr. Maestas was uncomfortable with this as he felt it was not the time or place to show a memorial concept that would take into account so many lives lost on 09/11 and it did not seem right. The victims and familes deserved much more respect. Eventually the presentation was given and the conversation went back and forth between Mr. De La Renta and Mr. Maestas. In the end Mr. De La Renta had different views as to what a memorial concept should entail. During the meeting Mr. De La Renta did state to Mrs. Maestas "Your husband has tenacity, never let him lose that quality." The lunch ended and the couple were driven back to Councilman Linares' office. Upon arriving back at the office Mr. Linares had his assistant schedule a cab to pickup the couple to get them back to their hotel room. Robert and Patricia left the office and arranged to fly back to Denver the next day.

After returning to Denver Robert kept his focus on his memorial design. He continued receiving letters of support for the memorial concept and kept abreast on a daily basis via the internet on what was going on in New York.

It was early January 2002 when Robert heard there would be a Grass Roots meeting in SOHO to discuss memorial plans for the 16 acre site at Ground Zero. The program was being organized by Monica Iken, founder of September's Mission Foundation. Other family members of the victims of the 09/11/01 tragedy and the New York press would be at the meeting as well. Robert and Patricia felt they had to fly back to New York to attend this meeting. One very emotional evening in January 2002, the couple found themselves in a SOHO loft with family members of the tragedy and other designers that had concepts on what a memorial design for Ground Zero should look like. These were the first "unofficial" presentations for a memorial and it was the first time families and press of New York ever saw draft design concepts from designers for a Ground Zero Memorial.

Robert, in a wave of emotion, standing in front of a very emotional and grieving audience began his presentation on their memorial concept. The concept had been shown to various influential Denverites and influential people in New York in November and December but never to the grieving family members that had lost loved ones in the 09/11/01 attacks.

In a nutshell, Mr. Maestas' Centerpiece for the Memorial was to be based on 12x12" photograph and inscription/remembrance tiles that would remember every individual that was murdered in the attacks of 09/11/01. These "Faces in a Wall" and "Remembrance" tiles would be place permanantly into the walls of the building that would be constructed at Ground Zero. The design would reflect the large scale of this tragedy with photographs and stories written by loved ones. After the presentation, Ms. Iken and other family members came up to Mr. Maestas and gave their support on the concept and thanked the couple for what they had presented to them that evening. One family member said, "I am astounded that in such a short period of time after the attacks a couple from Denver, Colorado could put so much compassion and love into a concept that would remember every individual as a person and not just a name." Robert was granted permission from Ms. Iken and other families to continue using the photographs and inscriptions of their loved ones in his concept for whenever the "official" memorial design competition was announced. After the completion of the meetings Robert and Patricia left emotionally and mentally drained. The next day they were on a plane back to Denver.

Fast forward to April 2003. The official announcement for the World Trade Center Site Memorial Competition was announced by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC) out of New York. This was to become the largest memorial competition in the world. Robert and Patricia had waited for this moment for a year and a half. They had presented his memorial concept unofficially over the past year and a half and now the time had come to make it official.

After reading the submission guidelines Robert had to refine and update the concept to fit onto a 30x40" presentation board that all entrants were required to use. Robert's emotions again surfaced as it was at this moment he knew the reason he would revise and submit their official concept. It was for one reason and one reason only. It was dedicated for the victims and the families that lost their loved ones on February 26, 1993 and September 11, 2001. He never lost sight of that meeting in the SOHO loft that evening back in January 2002. After refinement the couple's final statement would read "Centerpiece for the Memorial, Constructed by the People for the People, Remembering Everyone, Forgetting No One!"

Once complete it was time to submit the signed documents, fees and official concept on the presentation board. The one thing the couple struggled with was signing the LMDC's documents as they knew they would be giving away their emotions, compassion and love of the project they had been working on for the past 17 months. Signing the documents would give LMDC full ownership to all submissions of concepts for the memorial. It takes the artists' and designers' blood, sweat and tears that they put into their designs for a memorial and makes them give it away.

The Terms and Conditions of 9-3 state: "Ownership of the Submissions. All submissions in Stage l and Stage ll shall become the sole property of LMDC. LMDC shall own the entire copyright in all submissions selected, in whole or in part, for use in the final memorial design. Competitors whose submissions are not selected, in whole or in part, for use in the memorial shall grant to LMDC a worldwide, perpetual, gratis license to reproduce and/or use the submission in any way, in any medium now known or hereafter devised, for any purpose, including but not limited to publication, exhibition and archive of the competition results. Use of any submissions will be properly credited." Keep in mind the last sentence, it could serve as the most important piece of information in this whole story.

The couple's concept was officially submitted. In the end there would be 13,683 registrations received and of those 5,201 official submissions from 63 nations and 49 US States. The couple now realized they were one of the 5,201 official entrants from around the world that submitted a memorial concept honoring all those lost on February 26, 1993 and September 11, 2001. It was a defining moment in their lives.

On January 6th, 2004 the winning design for the Ground Zero Memorial was announced by the World Trade Center Site Memorial Competition Jury. The winning design was Reflecting Absence designed by architect Michael Arad and landscape architect Peter Walker. When the couple heard the news they knew their journey for designing the Ground Zero Memorial was complete, they also knew the emotional high the two architects must have been feeling at that point in time. Robert and Patricia realized the dedication it would take by these individuals to make a drawing on a 30x40" presentation board come full circle and become the memorial for the people of the world to come and pay their respects to all those lost on February 26, 1993 and September 11, 2001.

As time and years passed the couple kept abreast on the status of the Ground Zero Memorial. Their design was not selected but they always felt they were part of the process. Out of the sixteen acres being redeveloped at Ground Zero eight of those acres would be set aside for the memorial and a museum to be built on the site. Reflecting Absence was shaping up to be a monumental memorial, it was scheduled to open to the public on September 12th, 2011, ten years and one day after the September 11th, 2001 attacks.

It is now August 2011. Robert is no longer with the Department of Agriculture working as a computer specialist; he chose to pursue a career as an artist a few years back. Patricia is still employed with the Federal Government. Patricia and Robert never forgot the families they met and the sorrow they witnessed on those faces back in 2002. They will always remember their contribution to the World Trade Center Site Memorial Competition.

Robert has decided to remember the ten year anniversary of 09/11/01 by creating an emotional exhibit entitled, "A Tribute To 09/11/01." The exhibit is being held at the CHAC Gallery, 774 Santa Fe Drive, Denver, CO from August 31, through October 1, 2011. It is a statement to the couple's ten year journey. His artistic tribute is his way of presenting an opportunity for the people of Denver and greater Colorado to recognize, reflect and continue to show their support for the remembrance of 09/11/01. Robert is exhibiting his official World Trade Center Memorial Concept to the public along with various art pieces and poems he created specifically for the exhibit.

It is September 2, 2011, a little over a week away from the ten year anniversay of the 09/11/01 attacks and the opening of Robert's art exhibit. It is a very surreal evening as the people come to view the exhibit. Emotions run high and the feedback Robert receives seems as heartfelt from the public as it did almost ten years ago when the couple presented their draft memorial concept in that loft in New York City. Comments from viewers from the exhibit ranged from, "I cannot believe this concept for the World Trade Center Memorial was not selected..." to "...We can build this memorial here in Denver, it's not too late." Robert thanked the people for their kind words and said, "All I would like to see now is for this exhibit to be moved to a permanent location for the world to see. It deserves to be placed somewhere permanently for the people and not taken down and placed in a closet." The people agreed!

The evening was coming to a close. As Robert took one last look at the exhibit wall he reflected on the ten year journey he and his wife had made. It was coming to an end and a sense of sadness came creeping into his inner creative being. He knew his wife must have felt the same.

As the couple was driving home they talked about the opening and the emotional comments and feedback they received from the people. Robert said, "You know our design may have not been chosen by the World Trade Center Site Memorial Competition Jury but the exhibit this evening was just as gratifying. It has always been about presenting a memorial and exhibit for the people to honor all those that perished on February 26, 1993 and September 11, 2001."

As Patricia got ready for bed Robert turned on the television to see the latest news. In that instant Robert DeNiro came on the screen announcing how to purchase tickets for the opening of the Ground Zero Memorial to the public on September 12th, 2011. A web site address was provided and Robert wrote it down. After the commercial was over Robert went to the computer and typed in the address that DeNiro provided and hit "Enter" on the keyboard. Robert was taken to to the official site for the 09/11/01 Memorial, a site he had visited in the past. As Robert began browsing he noticed a tab on the top of the page that read Museum. He selected the tab and a drop down menu appeared with a picture that read Memorial Exhibition. Robert clicked on the selection.

In an instant it's as if Robert's visions, dreams, plans, emotions, dedication, presentations, meetings and sleepless nights had come back to haunt him. He called out to his wife, "Patricia come here, come here now!" As Patricia entered the room she looked over Robert's shoulder at the screen. The couple could not believe what they were viewing. Their ten year journey to create a memorial for Ground Zero had not ended, in fact it may have just begun.

Robert and Patricia stood quiet and in disbelief for a moment as they took in what they were seeing. Their concept of victims faces and inscriptions on a wall that they had talked about and presented for ten years had been brought to life. Robert felt like he had just been punched in the gut, this could not be happening, how could this be happening! The next click on the screen was a button that read Play Video. Robert clicked and as if time stood still the couple found themselves immersed in a short visual animation video of their idea, a concept for a memorial they dreamed about for so many years. The camera panned through a corridor of the victims faces lit up on a wall. Robert instantly remembered his presentation of the faces on glow tiles back in that New York City loft in January 2002. The more the couple clicked the more information was presented. They were stunned and at a loss for words. Their original concept proposed in 2001 was being emulated and shown on the 09/11/01 Memorial Website in 2011 as the design proposed for the 09/11/01 Museum Memorial.

Update: Click on the below link to view Leslie Stahl's segment (9/11 Museum: Curating memories of terror and tragedy) that aired on 60 Minutes on 04/21/2013. Pay close attention to the video starting at 8:56 seconds in. This is Mr. Maestas concept which has been renamed to "The Heart of the Memorial" instead of his original name "The Centerpiece of the Memorial."

As of this writing (09/08/11) the couple have never been involved, acknowledged or given proper credit for the use of their submitted design as stated in the Lower Manhattan Development Corporations Terms and Conditions 9-3 Ownership of the Submission."