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Lower Manhattan Before the World Trade Center

April 18, 2007 Reading 10 Comments

Yes, this is still a St. Louis-focused blog. Just go with me to New York for a bit, we will return to St. Louis I promise.

I’m researching a paper I have to write for one of my classes at Saint Louis University, “Planning the Metropolis.” The subject? The former World Trade Center in New York. The main focus of the paper is on rebuilding the site after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. As part of the research I’ve been reading City in the Sky: The Rise and Fall of the World Trade Center by New York Times reporters James Glanz and Eric Lipton.

What a colorful story of powerful and unaccountable agencies, backroom politics, the small businessman, eminent domain and how deals get done. What started off as a much smaller project on lower Manhattan’s east side (yes, east side) as a way to boost downtown interest as businesses fled to mid-town ballooned into a massive and mostly unnecessary building project.

I’m not even going to attempt to give you the full story and sadly I’ve not found a good online source. I’ll give you a quick run down and suggest you get this book — it is available from the library (except I have the Buder branch copy at this time). As you read this very long history remember the grand opening dedication took place in 1973:

  • 1939: The New York World’s Fair includes an exhibit “dedicated ‘world peace through trade’ and called World Trade Center.” WWII put any immediate plans aside but a committee organizer was Winthrop W. Aldrich, head of the Chase Bank and whose sister was married to John D. Rockefeller, Jr.
  • July 28 1945: A B-25 Army bomber plane accidently crashes into the north side of the Empire State Building on the 79th & 80th floors, killing a number of people. Flames erupted from the fuel.
  • 1946: NY Governor Thomas Dewey names Aldrich to be a member of a “new state agency named the World Trade Corporation.” The mission was to build a World Trade Center downtown. The plan was a 10-block area with 21 buildings “loosley modeled on the seven-hundred-year-old Leipzig Fair in Genmany.” Well, except for having underground parking. Estimated cost: $150 million. Critics said it would not work and “The planners themselves determined that an astonishing 80 percent of the country’s six thousand largest companies would have to become tenants to give the trade center a chance at financial survival.” The concept was dead just four months after naming the board.
  • 1946: 32 year-old David Rockefeller joins the family bank, Chase.
  • 1951-54: David Rockefeller takes up the family tradition of shaping New York, by helping raze a large section of an upper west side neighborhood called Morningside Heights, to be rebuilt as a housing project consisting of six high-rise buildings called Morningside Gardens. This would replace 71 apartment buildings, 4 rooming houses and 68 retail stores. The new high-rises would be reserved for the middle-class only. Rockefeller, of course, teamed with the legendary Robert Moses.
  • 1955: David Rockefeller seeks real estate for new HQ building for family’s Chase Bank, still headed by his uncle Aldrich. Upon securing real estate is convinced by others more investment is needed in downtown area to keep others in financial district from heading to midtown (as many had done). Rockefeller formed the Downtown Lower-Manhattan Association in late 1955.
  • October 1958: Rockefeller’s Downtown association releases report suggesting razing entire blocks of lower Manhattan and supports Moses’ Lower Manhattan Expressway. Combined estimated “investment:” One billion dollars.
  • May 25, 1959: First noted record by Rockefeller’s Downtown association of what they then called the “World Trade and Finance Center.” At this point they were focusing on the “downtown” of Lower-Manhattan which is on the east side of the tip of the island.
  • June 1959: Hired consulting firm McKinsey & Co determined the World Trade Center may not be so wise, from the book authors, the firm indicated the WTC “could be a serious financial bust. Almost nothing about the concept —its mission or its target client base — was assured.” The authors also noted the report suggested that if it were going to be done, it should be in midtown where everyone was moving to anyway. A key note in the report that if the WTC project were to succeed it would need to be very unique to attract tenants.
  • August 11, 1959: The hired consultants, contacted by Rockefeller’s staff prior to the meeting, indicated to the Downtown association executive committee they would back out of the $30,000 consulting contract. It was that or give a glowing report they knew to be false.
  • 1959: Architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (aka SOM), designers of Rockefeller’s new Chase Bank building, sketched out an idea for the WTC.
  • 1959: Rockefeller holds private talks with the Port of New York Authority (as it was known at the time). This agency was created by the states of New York and New Jersey, and had huge revenues from tolls on bridges & tunnels. Rockefeller viewed the Port Authority as the only group with the governmental power and financial resources to pull off the project.
  • 1959: David Rockefeller’s older brother, Nelson, becomes Governor of New York.
  • October 8, 1959: At the Downtown association annual meeting indicates their “program must be pushed forward as rapidly as possible.”
  • January 25, 1960: Reporters were gathered as Rockefeller announced plans for the WTC. Estimated cost was $250 million on 13.5 acres “near the site of the Fulton Fish Market on the east river.” The concept resembled the United Nations complex, a 3-story base with parking with a couple of towers on top, one maybe 70 floors. The plan even called for shops, restaurants and a theatre lining the streets. The complex was to have roughly 5 million square feet of space.
  • 1960: The Port Authority, headed by the powerful Austin Tobin, began a study of the project. The authors describe the agency at the time, “The Port Authority had just finished building the second deck of the George Washington Bridge and the third tube of the Lincoln Tunnel, and was heavily involved in constructing the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge… Tobin and his agency had outmaneuvered both Robert Moses and the city of New York for control of the three regional airports.” This was a big agency, with over 5,000 employees. Tobin’s salary in 1960: $60,000/year. Tobin argued the WTC would act as a modern port to justify the project being for the public good.
  • March 10, 1961: Port Authority releases glowing report on future of the WTC, still assumed facing the East River. The study team evaluated various sites and concluded the site on the East River was the most suitable. Estimated cost, $355 million.
  • 1961: New Jersey Governor Robert Meyner objects to the WTC. Indicates the proposal on the east side of Manhattan would not benefit New Jersey to the West across the Hudson River. Meyner also said the Hudson & Manhattan Railroad, which served the west side of lower Mahattan via transit tunnels, had been bankrupt since 1954 and was costing New Jersey Plenty. The two states could not come to an agreement.
  • 1961: New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller introduces a single bill to group the east-side WTC with the H&M railroad on Manhattan’s lower west side. Some believed this move would actually sink both. New Jersey lawmakers were not happy with Gov. Rockefeller. Apparently the Port Authority’s Tobin was not pleased either (they had a history of friction). Another stalemate.
  • Late 1961: The Port Authority’s point man on the possibly dead WTC project, Richard Sullivan, had just received a report from collegue Sidney Schachter on the two H&M terminal bulidings along Church Street. They were “twin towers” of 22 stories each and, in 1900, the “nations largest office buildings.” The authors make it sound as though by today’s standards we’d renovate the buildings but in that day they assumed razing. Sullivan visited the site of the H&M twin towers and had an idea — if they were going to raze these buildings why not build the WTC there, over a new train station.
  • December 8, 1961: “Sullivan and Schachter presented the idea [WTC on H&M land] to Tobin.” Tobin gave the go ahead for further study but all were to keep quiet about the concept.
  • December 1961: The newly elected Governor of New Jersey, Richard Hughes, meets with Tobin at the offices of the Port Authority. After a full day of meetings, Tobin shows Hughes the model created to promote the WTC on the East River. Tobin then presents the concept of combining the WTC with buying out the bankrupt H&M Railroad and using the site for a combined project. The NJ Governor-elect agreed.
  • December 22, 1961: Port Authority publicly announces plans for WTC on the site of the H&M terminals. The Port Authority had previously indicated the only real site for the WTC was on the East River. David Rockefeller helped them out by agreeing the west-side site was an excellent choice. The original site is now the location of the South Street Seaport.
  • December 1961: New York Mayor Robert F. Wagner learns about switch to the west-side site by reading the Newark Evening News! The city is not involved in any negotiations or discussions even though they will be greatly affected.
  • December 27, 1961: Real estate mogel Lawrence A. Wien, and his investment group, purchases the Empire State Building in a deal considered one of the most complex of the day.
  • 1961: At some point during 1961 Jane Jacob’s book, Death & Life of Great American Cities, is published.
  • Janaury 1962: Oscar Nadel was vacationing in Florida when he got word of the WTC proposal. Nadel owned two radio & tv shops in the area immediately to the west of the H&M terminal buildings in an old but thriving district known as Radio Row. Radio Row had apparently become this mega district for all things transistors. The sidewalks were packed on Saturdays as shoppers & tourists flocked to the area to get the latest in electronics. Further reading: Wiki, NPR, The Sonic Memorial (audio), and NYC-Architecture.
  • January 1962: Maps from the Port Authority changed all month. The project quickly grew from an inital 7 blocks (which barely spared Radio Row) to 13 blocks and 16+ acres, wiping out Radio Row.
  • 1962: Tobin studies the proposed 16-acre site and decides the first phase of the WTC should include 10 million square feet of leasable space. The authors were not able to find a reason for the increase in the project, a market demand was certainly not the reason. However, Tobin was under “great pressure” to spend the excess money the Port Authority earned from tolls. The 1960 surplus was $79 million.
  • March 27, 1962: Governors Rockefeller and Hughes sign laws authorizing the Port Authority to build the World Trade Center and take over the H&M railroad (commuter service between Manhattan and NJ). The Port Authority unveils a new model which is little more than the UN-like design moved to the new site on the west side. They explain architectural ideas will need to be fleshed out. Estimated costs: $470 million.
  • 1962: Nadel, the TV & Radio store owner, was head of the Downtown West Businessman’s Association. They claimed over 30,000 people worked in the area to be razed, consisting of over a thousand shops/offices and over 400 street-level storefronts. They claimed this produced $300 million in revenues in the area. 1958 figures from the Planning Commission estimated workers at less than 20,000. The Port Authority offered tenants $3,000 to relocate. Merchants began protesting the project.
  • February 12, 1962: Tobin puts Guy Tozzoli, a Port Authority employee who had been lent to Robert Moses for a year, in charge of constructing the WTC.
  • Spring 1962: Over 300 merchants and property owners attended a meeting organized by Nadel’s newly hired legal gun: Morris Ernst. The lawsuit filed in New York State had a great title, Courtesy Sandwich Shop v. Port of New York Authority. It seems the Port Authority had faced opposition to projects before, this was simply par for the course.
  • May 9, 1962: Oscar Nadel, on the advice of the lawyer, asked the Port Authority for a public hearing on the WTC. The Port Authority, not wanting any hearings, worked out a meeting with Nadel. But, Nadel later cancelled. The idea was to goad the Port Authority into anger and making public mistakes.
  • June 14, 1962: Nadel and Tobin meet face to face at the Port Authority. With the idea of breaking the solidarity of the merchants, Tobin offered Nadel a prime location in the new WTC. Nadel refused, realizing he could not be shut down for years before opening in the new complex.
  • Summer 1962: Lower courts ruled technically in favor of the Port Authority but the courts did not agree it was a “public purpose” nor did they agree the merchants had not been damaged. Without public purpose on their side, it would be unconstitutional to take the private property via eminent domain.
  • September 1962: Port Authority announces Minoru Yamasaki would be the WTC architect. Yamasaki, born in Seattle and now practicing architecture in Detroit, was not well known. In 1955 he designed the Pruitt-Igoe housing complex and in 1956 the main terminal at Lambert Airport. By 1962 the Pruitt-Igoe housing complex was already experiencing major issues. It was imploded just 10 years later in 1972.
  • September 2, 1962: The Port Authority completes the renaming of the Hudson & Manhattan Railroad to PATH: Port Authority Trans-Hudson. The PATH name remains in use today.
  • Thanksgiving 1962: The Port Authority had appealed lower decisions and arguments began at the Appellate level.
  • December 11, 1962: New York City’s Board of Estimate votes to block Robert Moses’ Lower Manhattan Expressway.
  • February 19, 1963: The Port Authority gets the constitutional decision from the Appellate court: the project is not for public purpose! A judge indicated all agreed the takeover of the H&M railroad, the Hudson tubes, was for public purpose but that was inseparably tied to the WTC project by the legislation from New York and New Jersey. The next legal stop, the Court of Appeals.
  • February 28, 1963: The court agreed to hear arguments quickly because of the urgency — the legal basis under which the Port Authority was now operating the PATH trains (formerly H&M) was just ruled unconstitutional.
  • April 4, 1963: The Court of Appeals ruled 6-1 in favor of the Port Authority, considering the Port of New York enhanced by the proposed project. The merchants, previously victorious in court, had only the US Supreme Court as a next step.
  • May 1963: Port Authority Engineer Malcolm Levy instructed all engineers to design the WTC to meet New York Building Codes. The Port Authority, as a government body, was not subject to NY’s codes, this will become an issue later on.
  • November 1963: The US Supreme Court refuses to hear the case due to a lack of a federal question.
  • January 18, 1964: Architect Yamasaki unveils model to the public. The twin towers we came to know (and love) are seen for the first time. However, all was not always well between the architect and the Port Authority. They had disputes over the plaza, restaurants, window sizes in the tower and the underground area.
  • February 3, 1964: Engineers complete report on the structure, including calcuations on the structure if hit by a Boeing 707.
  • February 13, 1964: Wien, the lead owner of the Empire State Building and numerous other real estate holdings, has a press conference at the Empire State. Wien indicated the WTC Towers would not be structurally sound like the Empire State. Furthermore, he had assembled a group of real estate owners “who together owned a fifth of the 157 million square feet of office space in New York.” They formed the Committee for a Reasonable World Trade Center, opposing 10 million square feet of publicly funded office space competing with them. It was simply too much for the market, they argued.
  • February 14, 1964: The Port Authority held a press conference to counter Wien’s contention the WTC Towers would be unsafe if hit by a plane. They produced countless engineering reports on the subject. The book’s authors indicate the press was quite unkind to Wien and others that questioned the WTC design. However, the Port Authority didn’t talk much about resulting fires from lots of aviation fuel. They simply assumed the structure would survive an impact. The engineering team also didn’t seem to address the issue of the heat generated by such a fire, assuming only many people would die due to fire.
  • Fall 1964: Engineer Leslie Robertson learned of the results of wind tunnel testing that had been conducted in secret in Colorado. The results showed major issues with the design as proposed at the time.
  • January 1965: The first of four reports on wind related issues would be created for the team. Others followed in March & July of 1965 and another in June 1966. Eventually they’d get it right but changes were being made as late as 1968.
  • August 1965: Studies in Oregon on slight movement of rooms produced unwanted results, test subjects felt unstead and dizzy. The slight motion, not really detectable, was disorienting. The planned structure for the WTC would allow the building to sway in feet, not inches like more traditional buildings like the Empire State. They needed a stiffer plan for the lightweight steel structure.
  • January 1, 1966: John V. Lindsay, a Republican, takes office as New York’s Mayor. Lindsey had campained against “unelected ‘power brokers’ like Robert Moses and Austin Tobin.” Deputy mayor Robert Price looked for anything the Mayor could do to stop the WTC project. He quickly realized the Port Authority had the legal right to condemn the private property of shop owners but they needed the city to turn over the streets. Furthermore, the previous mayor had not formalized their agreement to a small payment in lieu of taxes.
  • May 2, 12 & 13: The WTC is the subject of a meeting of the city council (2nd) and the Board of Estimate (12-13). Many people spoke on both sides of the issue, some at length. Jane Jacobs was there, as was a young Ed Koch who spoke against the project. Empire State owner Wien had this to say: “I do not know that from my standpoint, it seems that without any supervision, without being accountable to anybody in the city of New York, to build the largest buildings in the world with a method of construction which has not been tested and tried and proved appropriate, subjects the city of New York to the possibility of a major physical disaster.”
  • May 1966: The city had secretly been meeting with the Port Authority, demanding roughly $250 million in concessions to the financially strapped city in exchange for issuing the building permits necessary. Price, the deputy mayor conducting the negotiations, intentionally leaked the list of demands to the press, blaming another person on the committee.
  • May 29, 1966: New York Times architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable had this to say, “Who’s afraid of the big, bad buildings? Everyone, because there are so many things about gigantism that we just don’t know. The gamble of triumph or tragedy at this scale — and ultimately it is a gamble — demands an extraordinary payoff. The trade center towers could be the start of a new skyscraper age or the biggest tombstones in the world.” Sadly, the towers would be both.
  • July 1966: Port Authority’s Tobin accused Mayor Lindsey of lying to them about supporting the project. Mayor Lindsey, unlike the previous mayor, did not budge.
  • July 14, 1966: Tobin released selected meeting notes which gave the impression the mayor was not being honest.
  • July 15, 1966: Tobin learned his wife Geraldine, vacationing at their summer home on Long Island, had set her nightgown on fire lighting a cigarette. She died the next day (a Saturday) with funeral services set for the following Tuesday.
  • July 1966: The authors indicate within a few days negotiations were complete, with both sides giving. Added to the deal was the creation of phase 1 of Battery City with dirt excavated from the WTC site. The Port Authority would compensate the city for the value of the land from the streets and pay fees relative to that had a private developer being paying taxes (the Port Authority was tax exempt). The remaining merchants of Radio Row were to be treated better. Work began within 48 hours.
  • May 1967: A bar owned whose family had operated a pub on Cortland Street since 1872 opened in a new location. However, the Port Authority arrived and took back the mahogany bar saying they owned it as part of the real estate they had “purchased.” Patrons also didn’t follow him to the new location so the business closed. Oscar Nadel, the merchant who tried to stop the project, also relocated his businesses but filed bankruptcy by February 1968. The individual businesses had succeeded in their own district but not scattered as they were forced to do. An auction was held on May 11, 1969 to sell the remaining assets of Nadel’s business.
  • April 10, 1968: Jane Jacobs arrested during a highway protest.
  • May 2, 1968: Lawrence Wien, the owner of the Empire State and other real estate in the city, continued to fight the WTC. Besides legal challenges, he engaged in PR warfare taking out large ads in local papers. The ad this day showed an “artist’s rendition of a large commercial airliner, flying due south, a fraction of a second before it rammed the offices in the upper stories of the north tower, which stood directly in its path.” The ad, titled, The Mountains Come to Manhattan, read in part: “The total potential hazard is staggering. Unfortunately, we rarely recognize how serious these problems are until it’s too late to do anything.”

The WTC, as we know, continued. It was not without construction problems, after all, much of the techniques were experimental in nature or at least on a scale that had never been accomplished before. I was going to leave you with just the timeline leading up to construction but some of the later events between the construction and 9/11 are very telling about such projects. That story is just as interesting with numerous high and low points.

  • 1968: Steel was being sourced from all over the country, including the St. Louis Region. Laclede Steel produced the 32,000 steel floor trusses while Granite City Steel produced corrugated steel floor decking.
  • August 6, 1968: The first piece of steel is set on the site now that the basement level was dug and the foundations were in place.
  • February 11, 1969: The NY architectural firm working on the project with Yamasaki balk at changes to the specifications as to the amount of fireproofing to be used on the structural steel. They indicate they cannot assume responsibility. As the structural methods used on the site were new, it was uncertain as to how much fire proofing was needed. Testing in furnaces was not conducted.
  • October 30, 1969: The Port Authority informs the fire proofing contractor the thickness should be one half inch, not the inch and a half suggested by others. Again, no testing had been done.
  • April 1970: A CBS news crew, just learning of dangers of asbestos, do a story on fireproofing at the WTC which contains 20% asbestos. The team switches to a new fireproofing as a result. However, driving rain was known to remove the fireproofing so efforts had to be made to prevent that loss and to reapply.
  • December 16, 1970: Boody & Co., a world exporter company moved into suite 1163 of the north tower, still under construction. Plywood walkways in the lobby directed employees and visitors to the right spot as construction was still on-going. This firm occupied just over 2,500 square feet out of 10 million total.
  • 1970: The Port Authority was trying to lease roughly 4 million square feet of space, the other 6 million to be leased by public agencies. The private tenants had to be involved in international trade to locate in the building but it seems few corporations liked the idea of pulling their foreign departments away from from the rest of their companies. Leasing the space would prove difficult as long forgotten reports had suggested.
  • December 23, 1970: Steel workers “top out” the north tower.
  • 1972: Austin Tobin leaves the Port Authority after a major dispute with the NJ Governor.
  • Late 1972: New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller directs the Attorney General’s NYC office to relocate to the WTC. A lawyer, terrified, called the New York City Fire Department for assurances the building was safe — they refused to offer such an assurance. The fire department listed issues such as “lightweight floors, the large open spaces across which a fire could quickly spread, the substandard fireproofing, and, worst of all, no automated sprinklers.” You read correct, no automatic sprinkler system. The authors indicate that “over 40 fires” had been reported in the towers at this point — mostly small ones.
  • April 4, 1973: Ribbon-cutting ceremony.
  • August 7, 1974: A frenchman did a daring and unauthorized tightrope walk from one tower to the other. In 1976 a young man would scale the outside of a tower and reach the top. The towers were becoming “humanized” and part of the NY scene.
  • December 1974: The new movie The Towering Inferno holds a grand premier in Times Square. The movie, set in a fictional buiding in San Francisco, focuses on poor fireproofing, bad fire stopping between floors and no working sprinkler system (the movie building had a sprinkler but it failed to work). These were all issues of the WTC.
  • February 13, 1975: A disgruntled window washer starts a fire on the 11th floor of the north tower. The fire quickly got out of control and due to bad fire stopping (one foot holes in the floors) meant the fire traveled up to the 17th floor and down to the 7th. It took 3 hours to put out the fire. The fire was set late at night so the building was not fully occupied.
  • May 19, 1975: The worker turned arsonist set additional fires, seven to be exact, on floors from the 25th to 36th. This time he was caught and arrested. Workers from the building hold emergency inspections of the building.
  • May 23, 1975: The state holds a press conference on the Plaza to declare the danger to the workers. The Port Authority responds by spending $14 million on new doors and other improvements but refuses to spend the estimate $43 million on sprinklers.
  • 1976: A NY State Audit shows the WTC operating at a $20 million annual deficit.
  • April 1976: The Port Authority opens a restaurant on the top of one of the towers. Windows on the World featured a $10 million interior. The restaurant quickly become a popular spot.
  • 1977/78: The Port Authority’s new directer, realizing they must lease the vacant spaces, opened the WTC to any business — not just those engaged in foreign trade as had been required to justify the “public purpose” of the Port Authority taking private land.
  • January 1978: A former treasurer of the Port Authority, recently resigned, committed suicide by jumping from his home balcony. A number of irrgularities were found on his watch although the worst against him was $200 tickets for him and his wife to see a show. A number of others from the Port Authority were found to have used public funds for extensive personal travel.
  • February 1981: A Boeing 707, the type the building was designed to withstand an impact from, is confused by the air traffic instructions and barely misses hitting the north tower — just “ninety seconds before impact.”
  • 1984: Port Authority Director Peter Goldmark sets aside $45 million for a sprinkler system. Sets up division to look into how to combat terrorism at the WTC. Concerns about chemicals and easy access to the parking garage are among the list of vulnerabilities.
  • July 1985: Port Authority announces an $800 million, 20-year lease with a major firm. Ed Koch, now mayor, indicates the WTC to be “one of our greatest assets.” The WTC was finally a financial success. In fact, rents were climbing to the point the original target group — importers and exporters — were being forced out.
  • 1986: The special office looking into securing the WTC against terrorist attacks completes report but director Goldmark had resigned. Without major incidents recently happening, the possibility of a threat was not taken seriously. The Port Authority recorded license plates entering the garage but did not make major improvements (such as improved stair lighting) as the report recommended.
  • February 26, 1993: Terrorists set off a truck bomb in the garage of the WTC. The Towers filled with smoke, stairways were dark. Some, including a Port Authority engineer that helped with the design, were stuck in an elevator. They pried open the doors and cut through the plasterboard around the elevator shaft. Yes, plasterboard.
  • 1993-1996: The Port Authority spends $700 million on upgrades and renovations following the attack.
  • July 2001: The WTC is now 99% occupied and Larry Silverstein agrees to lease the complext for 99 years for roughly $3.2 billion.
  • September 11, 2001: The authors tell the story of the attacks beautifully and in great detail. I feel for all the lives taken and affected by these attacks.

Before I move on in my research as to the plans for what to build at “ground zero”, I can’t help but think about the process that took place to get the WTC built. Clearly this illustrates the mindset of the time, the willingness to displace viable business for some grander, yet poorly conceived, vision. What is the story behind many of the urban renewal projects in St. Louis? Our China Town was dismantled for Busch Stadium II in 1966. Numerous housing & highway projects dislocated thousands of residents and businesses, that much we know. What was the polictics and manuevering behind the scenes? Can we determine with any certainty how many residents and businesses left the city in the 1950s and 1960s rather than attempt to stay within the then-crowded city limits?

UPDATE 3/18/2007 @ 3:15pm — Added a few items above: December ’62, April ’68, April ’73.

  • Thor Randelson

    You know, while I don’t agree with the process behind the plans or the justifications given for the use of eminent domain, there is one big positive in all of this. The Hudson and Manhattan Railroads were going bankrupt, but Port Authority leaders were able to see the vision and important link between having a huge office complex located above a rail hub. At a time when commuter rail lines were folding across the US, the Port Authority made the PATH a sucess by linking rail and development. Call me crazy, but that vision and the financial ablity of the Port Authority to pull it off is a lesson that St. Louis should take to hart. Metro could do far worse than have the financial ablity to undertake such developments.

    [UrbanReviewSTL --- At the turn of the 20th Century the nations largest office buildings were already located above the H&M station.]

  • Tyson

    A few things struck me while reading this: first, it’s amazing the WTC deal was finalized with basically no knowledge of the city. It really drives home how much power these trans-state organizations have. Who are they ultimately accountable to? Second is the issue of fires in Minoru Yamasaki buildings, in addition to the WTC, Yamasaki’s U.S. Military Personnel Records Center in St. Louis was built without a sprinkler system and suffered a large fire in 1973 destroying millions of irreplaceable military personnel files. I’m not sure if having no sprinklers was a Yamasaki thing or just an unlucky coincidence of clients who didn’t ask for them. Third, the issue of large projects like the WTC providing a glut of office space which then takes decades to absorb, often at great taxpayer expense. I think about this every time someone brings up the proposal for an 80+ storey building in DT St. Louis.

    I regret transgressions of governmental power like the dispacement of intact communities for quasi-public projects or even blatantly private ones; however in light of the inability to come to an agreement on a new Mississippi River Bridge one almost pines for the days when a Moses-like figure could get large infrastructure projects done without resorting to the now en-vogue “public-private partnership”.

  • Thor Randelson

    That maybe Steve, but given the focus in New York at that time (additions to the Lincoln Tunnel and the GW Bridge, plans to trip apart much of the island to improve auto access with the Lower Manhattan Expressway and the Cross Manhattan Expressway) a city based on transit access was moving decidedly in an auto-centric path.

    Building a tunnel under the Hudson in 1900 to link Hoboken, Jersey City and other nearby Jersey cities with lower Manhattan by rail was not revolitionary or particular noteworthy. But investing in that same infastruture in 1965, (the Port Authority could have instead considered other options, like using the tunnels as a new auto route or building a bridge into Lower Manhattan) is noteworthy and a-typical of the period.

    Look no further than St. Louis’ own decisions over the samer period, burying our streecar infastuture and abandoning the interurban service to Illinois. The fact that the Port Authority took on the PATH system cuppled with the massive downtown anchor that the towers became (eventualy) should not be overlooked even if the process by which these investments took place was decidedly un-democratic.

    [UrbanReviewSTL --- Don't fool yourself into thinking the Port Authority took some noble position --- they were arm twisted into taking the H&M which they renamed PATH.  They had built a bus terminal in Manhattan (displacing people in the process) but it is clear from the book they did not want to invest in any rail transit projects, despite having tens of millions of surplus funds to do so.  They pushed the car agenda as hard as they could.]

  • Thor Randelson

    Well of course they weren’t being nobel. The Port Authority does little to be noble and pretty much everything to make money, increase political power, or increase its public stature. At that time, no one (not NYC, the State of New York, private investors, New Jersey, or even the Port Authority) wanted to operate a failing rail business, especialy not when the PA had just completed a series of project designed specificaly to ensure the failure of the H&M. Yet, at the end of the day, the Port Authority clearly came to the conlusion that combined the Path and the WTC project could help them achive their over-riding goals (more accuratly that the cost of the Path was worth the benefit of the WTC). No matter how you slice it, the Port Authority and the WTC project seemes to play a big role in preserving the H&M for future use at a time when without the WTC project, the H&M might have just been shut down by the State of New Jersey.

    Besides in all of this talk about the true intentions of the Port Authority, we are loosing sight of the important stories for St. Louis. I for one think the important story is that a well funded transportation/ infastuture supper-regional organization can play a ciritcal role in both developing, maintaining, and expanding transit both through the normal process of building transit lines and through using strategic land purchases and development to increase ridership. Metro, which is strapped for cash right now, could take a few lessons from the Port Authority playbook.

  • Jim Zavist

    1. TMI (but probably necessary to understand).
    2. The WTC and urban renewal reflect the thinking of the day. Not great with 20/20 hindsight, but no different than most other cities.
    3. The “backroom deals” from back then seems to be the way St. Louis still operates today. Unless and until we, as citizens, demand more transparency, why should we expect any different outcomes?
    4. NYC is unique, but this is just one big example of how true urban areas and downtowns continue to reinvent themselves. Go back to the time of the first settlers, and you’ll see any piece of land subdivided several times, going from rural to suburban to urban to high rise.
    5. Some changes are more “successful” and/or “appropriate” than others, but they reflect the demands of the time and place. Planning by govenmental can and should “steer” the direction of change, but private investment will utimately determine the final outcome.

  • http://www.batesline.com Michael Bates

    Thanks so much, Steve, for putting together this timeline. We too often only see the little pieces of the puzzle that are contemporaneous. This big picture you’ve sketched is likely true of many other major urban redevelopment projects.

  • Michelle Rowland

    Thank you so much for doing the research & fact-checking it took to put this piece together. You did a helluva job. Told as a single tale, from stumbling beginning to horrific end, the impact of its chronological whole is so much larger than the sum of its parts.

    As Mr. Bates has said before me, sometimes it is difficult to see the whole and not just the “little pieces of the puzzle.” Many of the facts I already knew about . . . but you made them larger. Thank you.

  • John

    Thank you for all that work i lived through most of it.
    It is interesting about the WTC Building not being safe if a plane hit it. If it had been built like the Empire State building it would have survived.

    The great loss to me and many i know in electronics was Radio Row Cortland street.

  • Luis Alvarez

    These comments could be placed under the “take it for what it’s worth” category. Which may mean that it is not worth much at all. Anyway here goes: In 1978, I was a sophmore at Aviation High School located in the Long Island City section of Queens, NY. I loved airplanes, even today, though I am not involved in that industry. I did graduate and even went back to Aviation for an “extended 12th” program that at the time existed – not sure if it still does. My point is that in 1978, the incredible thought came to me as I was walking in downtown Manhattan – “there is nothing to stop a plane from hitting one of these buildings – nothing!” I thought the idea to be crazy and only a crazy person would even try. I set the thought aside and on Sep 11, 2001, at the time a recruiter for the most powerfull Naval Force the world had ever seen – IT happened. When I heared the news that day in 1978 flashed before me like a TV show. Someone or some group put into action what I had “foreseen” in 1978! I was shocked and deeply angered – as a Navy man I was ready for war with whomever did this horrendous act! Thank you, President Bush for your courageous leadership! The war will be a very long one.
    When the PA under the guise of “eminent domain” took over those properties to build the WTC – one article stated the following: “Over 300 businesses, employing 30,000 people and directly providing the livelihood for as many as 120,000 more, were destroyed.” (http://www.antiqueradio.com/Sep02_RadioRow_Steinhardt.html) Very sad indeed! Thank you for the timeline. It put it in perspective.

  • Nycmoxie

    If anyone is still reading this … Oscar Nadel was my grandfather… the wtc consumed a good portion of our lives when I was young. Many businessmen lost their livelihoods during this time… the day the planes hit the trade center.. my mom reminded us that my grandfather often commented on how many men's lives were taken when the buildings went up… he could not imagine how many they would take when they came down…

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