9/11 Memories of 90 West Street and the Retirement of a Salesman’s Salesman

The first ad for the newly completed 90 West Street, future home of Vanguard Direct for 16 years between 1985 and 2001.

On November 17, after 23 years with Vanguard Direct, Richie Ravalia will be retiring. Richie is in sales, and although his charm, wit, and knowledge will be missed, what will be missed most of all is his personal dedication to his clients. When I first started here at Vanguard Direct, I sat next to Richie and was impressed that he kept index cards for each of his clients with personal information culled over years of talking to them. He would know children’s names, birthdays, anniversaries, etc., and would use these as reasons to call, which eventually would lead to an order. He was a salesman’s salesman.

Unbeknownst to many, I spent the morning of 9/11 with Richie and his wife, Mary, after evacuating Vanguard’s offices at 90 West Street. As the story goes, after the first tower collapsed, I found shelter in the cement halls of the old South Ferry building with about a dozen or so other frightened strangers. We were told to stay put because the second tower was coming down, which we did. After the second tower came down and the dust cleared, I emerged. I will never forget the dust-covered streets, the smells, and the sounds. One of the first sounds I heard was someone shouting my name: “Hey, Caska!” It was Richie.

With Mary clutching his arm, we eventually evacuated Lower Manhattan via the Staten Island Ferry, which was followed by a NYC bus ride to the foot of the Bayonne Bridge. We walked up the ramp with the intent of crossing the bridge by foot. We were headed the same way––Richie and Mary to their home in Cliffside Park , and me to the NJ Transit trains in Hoboken. As luck would have it, a Polish plumber in a van pulled over in response to my extended thumb (Richie says it was Mary’s leg) and gave us a ride to the light rail in Bayonne. Since the light rail was not complete, we could only go as far Port Imperial and then had to walk the balance of the way to Hoboken. Toward the end of our journey, I received a phone call, which I answered “Tony’s Pizza.” It was Ralph Fucci checking on me, not knowing I had company. He was relieved to hear our voices and learn that we were none the worse for the wear and tear.

That would be the end of the tale, but in the days leading up to Richie’s retirement, I was handed a copy of the Printers’ Ink publication from February 20, 1907. This was loaned to me by a friend from his small collection of letterpress-printed books that were left to him by an old-timer who had retired. They were printed by the man’s grandfather on letterpress equipment that had been scrapped for the metal as offset presses were replacing the old method of hand-set type.

As I skimmed the pages, an advertisement caught my eye on page 31. Here was one of the first ads for rental space at the newly completed 90 West Street, future home of Vanguard Direct for 16 years between 1985 and 2001. The ad reads “Location unsurpassed. Centre of the machinery, coal and iron trades … Architecturally the most beautiful office structure in the world.” Set to open on April 1st, 1907, the building had a grand restaurant on the 24th floor that connected to the roof garden in the summer. 90 West Street was one of the happier stories of 9/11: The building was directly in line with the falling towers but did not collapse. More than three-fourths of the floors were gutted by the flames, and two people lost their lives in the building that day. The woodcut in Printers’ Ink does not do the building justice, so I attached some of the newly restored photos to see the beauty the ad spoke about in 1907. When you look at the ad, you will see that the rental agents were some of our very own Traffic Coordinator Renee Cruikshank’s distant relatives: the Cruikshank Company.

Although Richie was not there for the opening (as some might suggest), as I think about it all today, he did have a connection to 90 West Street.

All the best in the world, Richie, from me––just some guy you met coming out of the ashes on a day we will never forget.

To learn why 90 West didn’t collapse on 9/11, click here.

Author: Tom Caska

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