NEW YORK - On a crisp morning strikingly reminiscent of that other day in September - the identical azure sky and astonishingly brilliant sun - the doors of the Winter Garden recently opened to the public after being closed for more than a year. For many, it was like coming home.
"It's beautiful to see it back again," said Dick Allerton, who had traveled from the Upper West Side with his wife to stand again in the public centerpiece of the World Financial Center. It underwent a $50 million reconstruction after it was severely damaged in the collapse of the World Trade Center.
"I'm amazed that it's back so soon," Allerton said, surveying the restoration, which included 2,000 new panes of skylight glass and 1.2 million pounds of marble imported from Italy for the floors and the walls.
Thousands made the pilgrimage to the 10-story dome (visitors to the space were not officially counted). They wandered across the new floor past the new palm trees and stared through the new glass at the Hudson River. Then they seemed irresistibly drawn up the monumental staircase to a marble platform with its view of the Ground Zero void.
"It's amazing to see that the trade center is now nothing but a hole in the ground." said Ted Faraday, a communications technician from Neptune, N.J., who was taking pictures with his father, Zaharia Vasile. "But we had to come and look."
From the platform they had a view of what was until recently unimaginable: visitors heading out the atrium's new eastern door, strolling past cheery ornamental plantings up to Vesey Street. Surrealistically normal traffic boomed obliviously by in the West Street corridor between the atrium and Ground Zero.
Inside the glass dome, some visitors were ebullient at the reopening, while others sat on the steps and cried, asking not to be intruded upon, creating personal cones of grief.
Nearby, Joe Garofalo, an artist, sat on the next-to-the-top step of the staircase and sketched the atrium. "With the palms there, it's very much like an oasis," he said.
Wedding photographers, who once posed couples on the ornamental stairs, were not yet in evidence. "They'll have a harder time shooting with this backlighting," said Rafael Pelli, the principal architect of the facade, referring to the new eastern expanse of glass.