The Phoenix Project
Rich Bartram was in Ft. Worth, Texas on
September 11, 2001. His work on the renovation of Wedge 1 of the
Pentagon was over and Bartram, field management director for Masonry
Arts, Bessemer, Ala., was starting another job. Joe Windsor and Ric
Vignevic were to finish up a punchlist at the Virginia building prior
to turning the job over to the government. That three-year project was
Windsor and Vignevic were doing some work on a
window that morning, and had to go to a local Home Depot for supplies.
They left the Pentagon about 8 a.m. and got caught up walking the
aisles, as most construction people do when they hit The Home, browsing
around before heading back. Some trim nails, sandpaper, no hurry; that
three-year project was finally finished.
Christopher Fromboluti, a principal of the
architecture firm of Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum, was in his office
across the Potomac River from the building that he had worked on since
1994. HOK was responsible for the design of the massive Pentagon
Renovation (PenRen) project at the Pentagon's Wedge 1. His work on the
project wasn't over, not by a long shot.
At 9:38 a.m., while Vignevic and Windsor were
stuck in traffic on I-395, while Fromboluti and Bartram were having a
second cup of coffee, American Airlines Flight 77 flew into history.
Hijacked Flight 77 tore into the Pentagon at
approximately 350 miles per hour, tearing through three of the
building's five concentric rings — "E," "D," and "C" — while exploding.
It killed 125 Pentagon workers and 64 airline passengers and crew. The
plane hit at a 45-degree angle, causing it to travel through both the
newly renovated Wedge 1 and a portion of Wedge 2 that was awaiting
renovation. About 2 million square feet were damaged by smoke, water,
and flames that burned for two and a half days. Of this, 400,000 square
feet were completely demolished and later replaced in the construction
Evey, program manager for the Pentagon renovation project, said that if
the building had not been under restoration, there could have been
10,000 Defense employees in Wedges 1 and 2. Instead, there were only
4,600 workers in the 2 million square feet of offices. Some had just
moved into new Wedge 1 offices while others were waiting to move out of
"I knew Ric and Joey were there," Bartram
recalls. "I went crazy until I got through to them about an hour after
it happened, about 10:30 a.m. I was happy to hear that they were away
from the job, out getting parts. They very well could have been right
where the plane went in, in Corridor 4."
For roughly 35 minutes, the survivors in Wedge
1 and 2 made there way out of the building, fighting the choking smoke
and acrid fumes, many crawling along the corridors seeking exits,
stairs, any way to get out. During that time, the integrity of the
renovated Wedge 1 walls gave them the time to move from floors three
through five to the ground floor and the exits.
Army Col. Roy Wallace was in "C" Ring on the
second floor just off Corridor 4. "We were on the phone in a conference
call when we heard this loud explosion," Wallace told Jim Garamone of
the American Forces Press Service. "It actually knocked us out of our
seats. The ceiling collapsed and windows along the outer wall blew out
toward the inside of the building. They must have been blast windows
because they didn't splinter."
The smoke was so thick in the building that
anyone trying to get out had to navigate by sound. "The smoke was black
as pitch [with] noxious fumes, and it was rolling like a wave from the
outer part of the building," Wallace remembers. Several people came out
of the smoke and went past Wallace. "When we couldn't stand the smoke
anymore, we went to the 4th corridor, at which time we saw an Army
officer coming from the "E" Ring. He fell in front of us and wasn't
moving. So five or six people and I picked him up and carried him
toward the center courtyard."
and others cordoned off the area where the smoke was too thick for
people to pass. He and several other officers and NCOs then went to
Corridor 5 to look for stragglers. The men had to duck into a bathroom
and wet their T-shirts and place them over their mouths in order to
breathe. The smoke grew so thick that they had to crawl along the
floor. Wallace went along the "B" Ring knocking on doors and, when he
got an answer, telling the people inside how to escape.
Bartram's concern for his men was obviously
his top priority when he heard about the crash. Later, he heard about
others he knew who were in the building that morning. "One pipe fitter
that I know was walking down Corridor 4 toward where the plane came in.
He was only about 50 feet down Corridor 4 when it hit. The shock wave
and the blast threw him down the corridor. Miraculously, a machine room
door that was always closed and locked suddenly opened. He hit the
door, bounced inside the electrical room, up against the rack and got
knocked out. He said he must have been out for about 20 to 30 seconds."
Bartram continues, "When he came to, he went
to open the door to get out from inside the closet, and the door was so
hot that he had to take his shirt and wrap it around the handle in
order to open it. The corridor was full of black smoke. He got on his
hands and knees and started crawling toward the roadway, called the A/E
Drive, that runs between Rings "B" and "C." He was just choking from
the fumes; he couldn't crawl fast enough. So, he got up and started
running. He couldn't see anything, but he knew which direction he was
going. Just when he got up, somebody grabbed him by the back of the
shirt and pulled him out to the 'Drive' where there was fresh air."
we all remember, the events of September 11, 2001 caused the government
to ground all air traffic throughout the country for several days.
Bartram, in Ft. Worth, knew he had to get back to the Pentagon and help
— for years, the project had been his daily life. "I couldn't get a
flight out but I had my truck with me so I drove 20 hours straight and
got there about midnight Friday night/Saturday morning. About 1:30 in
the morning I got together with the renovation team. That's when they
asked if we could do the façade, put the stone back, and I told them,
'Yes, of course.'
"That's how we got the contract," he adds.
"Our executive vice president, Ken Hayes, flew in a couple days later
and locked up the deal. We actually purchased the blocks out of the
quarry and had drawings made of the stone and fabrication before we had
a signature on a contract."
Immediately after the firefighters had the
fire under control, the PenRen program manager, Lee Evey, started to
plan the rebuilding of the Pentagon. With smoke still coming from the
damaged section, someone suggested the new program be called The
Phoenix Project, from the greek myth about the bird rising from the
ashes. The name stuck. With a handshake commitment from everyone, the
plan was agreed upon: E-ring at the point of impact would be ready for
business as usual by September 11, 2002 — one year to the day, 61 years
from the groundbreaking of the original building in 1941.
Two names come up repeatedly when discussing
the speed of the response to the attack: Lee Evey and Allyn Kilsheimer.
According to Fromboluti, "Lee Evey is a 'can-do' guy. He was the
project leader on PenRen and when the crash occurred, he knew that a
special team was needed to get the building cleared, the damaged
section demolished, and the reconstruction done as quickly as possible.
He's the one that's kept all the government contractors in line, in a
supportive role as opposed to an adversarial one."
Evey called on Allyn Kilsheimer, a structural
engineer and an expert in rebuilding structures that had been blown
apart. He was on the site on September 11.
Fromboluti remembers, "Evey asked, 'Who do you
want to work on this project?' Kilsheimer submitted a list of those he
thought could do the job. The Pentagon said okay and picked the team in
"Kilsheimer comes to work at 1:30 every
morning. If things aren't going right he yells and screams," Fromboluti
says with a smile. "If people don't listen to him he goes to Evey and
explains it and Evey says, 'Do it!'" Kilsheimer was on site late the
morning of September 11 and worked through the night and into the next
day and next night, doing the initial stabilization of the structure."
For weeks after the attack, Masonry Arts had
workers on the site, helping with the cleanup and assisting forensic
agents from the FBI to sift the debris. People like Isaac Peterson, a
stonemason, and ironworkers Vignevic and Windsor labored at whatever
work was necessary. Bartram was building his team even as Evey and
Kilsheimer built theirs. Masons and ironworkers came from Alabama,
Maryland and Virginia to help.
"There was a memorial held on October 11 for
the people who were killed," Bartram notes. "On October 12, we started
taking the stone off the building. We took down approximately 2,400
pieces of stone, a lot of which had melted aluminum from the plane
embedded in it. We took it all down in about 13 days.
"While we were taking it down, they had
already started the demolition on the building, tearing the rest of the
structure down in the Phoenix area. After we had all the stone down,
Mary Oehrlein, who calls the shots on how to clean and fix historic
government buildings, gave us directions on cleaning the stone. We
trucked all the stone over to the North parking lot where we separated
and cleaned it according to her requirements." Oehrlein, of Mary
Oehrlein Associates, Washington, DC, has also worked on the restoration
of the Washington Monument.
KCE went through the impact area, they came to
the conclusion that the damage was severe enough to warrant removing
all five floors of the three outer rings between corridors 4 and 5.
Fire, water, and impact damage had made these areas unreliable, a much
greater area than initially thought. Another decision was to use poured
reinforced concrete for the wall instead of the original brickwork.
Fromboluti, the architect, was part of this
team. "When we rebuilt Wedge 1, the original wall was masonry with a
limestone façade. We reinforced that wall with steel. Another big
difference is that this is a cavity wall, whereas in the original
construction the limestone was attached right to the masonry so there
was no cavity. We had to redesign the limestone wall to look like the
old, non-cavity wall. That presented quite a challenge."
Craig Morgan, a senior associate working with
Fromboluti, adds, "We worked with Masonry Arts to get the details done
right. Usually the architect does a bunch of drawings, the job goes out
to bid, everybody gripes about it. Then you get shop drawings and you
fight over it. That process takes a long time. This job was different.
We all worked on it together. That's why it went so fast — we're all on
the same page."
They started pouring the Phoenix area on the
southern corner. "They wanted the 'E' Ring done as fast as possible so
we could put the blast windows in and get the stone process started as
soon as possible," Bartram says. "That front wall was done three months
earlier than anybody expected it to be done. When they were still
pouring the last section of the 'E' Ring wall on the far North side, we
were already up three or four floors with stone on the South side."
With all the trades gathered, with the speed
of the Project at the forefront, the construction site started to take
on the usual look of confusion. "When we first started, it was very
difficult," admits Bartram. "The concrete crews were stripping forms,
concrete trucks were coming and going, they had pump trucks set up in
front of the building right in the center of the Phoenix area.
Logistically, it was very difficult coordinating everything and moving
around. Everyone wanted to occupy the same space at the same time."
But this was no ordinary site. This was The
Phoenix Project, more emotional, more enthusiastic, more everything. As
Bartram explains, "It got a little crazy once in awhile, but everything
went a lot smoother than anybody thought it would. You have to give the
credit to Allyn Kilsheimer. If it weren't for Allyn, none of this would
have been possible. He doesn't have 'quit' in his vocabulary. If
someone tells him he can't do something, you better believe it's going
to be done. Allyn never looks backward; he just goes forward.
"He made all the decisions to get this thing
rolling because the government wanted it back in business. To cut
government red tape, we'd go to Allyn. We'd get an answer from him,
sometimes within five minutes or at the latest within 24 hours. In many
cases, we would be done by the time the paperwork came back from the
government and the general contractor."
While the limestone that could be salvaged was
cleaned, inspected and tested for integrity by Peterson, the architects
were working with Oehrlein to find replacements for the units that had
been damaged beyond use. Oehrlein is an architectural consultant, an
expert on limestone and historic buildings. "She was a key part of the
team," says Morgan. "Picking the right limestone was very important. We
went out to Indiana three times to find the right stone. First trip, we
just talked. On the second trip, we looked at the stone they were going
to use and it was the wrong type. The three trips were key to getting
It was the start of winter in Indiana limestone
country and the quarries were already shut down. Luckily, the team
found blocks already harvested and ready for cutting. "It was kind of
wild," recalls Morgan. "We all went out to the fabricator, Bybee Stone,
and we had to pick out the blocks to use. It's hard to tell what stone
will look like when it's sitting there in a big block. That's where
Mary Oehrlein helped us a lot."
Bybee had the stone, the experience, and the
equipment to replicate the original limestone façade units. Because the
Pentagon is a National Historic Building, even repairs as extensive as
The Phoenix Project had to conform to the original look while providing
a stronger, more blast-resistant facility. The use of steel blade gang
saws to cut the blocks gave them the same rough-hewn look as those
installed in 1942, maintaining the historic image.
At the Pentagon, the stone began arriving in
February — 45 truckloads in all. As the outer wall of "E" Ring was
finished, the first of the new blast windows was put in place by
Masonry Arts on February 25. Masons like Isaac Peterson and Jeff White
from Masonry Arts and others from R. Bratti & Associates,
Alexandria, Va., started placing the limestone on March 4.
Having cut the stone from 60-year-old
drawings, some of it needed onsite adjustment. Here, trimming the stone
to fit, the edges were not as critical from a historical standpoint so
modern diamond blades from World Diamond Source (WDS), Pompano Beach,
Fla. were used in equally modern saws. Matt Shrater, regional sales
manager of WDS for Virginia comments, "We were honored to provide the
blades they used on this important project. It's a small contribution
to help the Masonry Arts crew get the job done quickly and properly. It
made us all feel like we, too, were part of the team."
Pete Machado, a mason from R. Bratti, found
some of the old techniques were still being required. "We used the old
stone in the first section. Some of it was in pretty bad shape. We were
setting it with a cold bed of mortar, something we're not used to doing
anymore. That technique has pretty much been phased out of new
Machado felt the project was being carefully
supervised. "There were plenty of people to inspect what we were doing
— from the general contractor to the government to the historical
society. There was always someone watching very closely what you were
doing. Most of us aren't used to that kind of scrutiny."
Even with all the over-the-shoulder watching,
his crew completed their work in record time. "It was pretty exciting,"
he admits. "Everybody worked a lot of hard hours, but there was always
a lot of cooperation. There's usually more bickering on jobs. This one
was all teamwork."
On June 11, nine months after the crash, a
special memorial stone, still stained and scarred from the impact of
Flight 77, was put into place covering a dedication capsule containing
memories of that day in 2001. The ceremony was carried on national
television, a fitting remembrance of the tragedy and the efforts of The
Phoenix Project team to fight back.
At a press conference that day, Evey
attributed the project's speed to the workers' personal motivation and
dedication. "People don't really pay that much attention to what their
title is, what their job is, what they've been specifically told to do,
or what the normal constraints are in the way they operate," he said.
"Everyone's there to make that project successful. They pitch in. They
work. They help. They support one another and it's been very
On September 11, 2002 the "E" Ring offices
will be back in business. That's been the plan from Day One of The
Phoenix Project. As Fromboluti says, "They will have people at their
desks looking out the new blast windows at the ceremony going on below.
The important thing is, the stone will be on the "E' Ring exterior and
the building will look just like it did on September 10, 2001. That's
because of the work of the crews from Masonry Arts and R. Bratti did
under pressure even more intense than that of 1942."
All Mason Contractor Association of America
members and their employees salute Masonry Arts and their
subcontractors for the work they did on The Phoenix Project. As
stonemason Isaac Peterson said, "It's an honor to be involved in
something that's going to show the world people can put a hole in our
life, but we can put it back together quickly and do it right. It's
something that I can do for my country that I know how to do."
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