A Brief World Trade Center History
THE TOWERS RISE
The idea of building a “World Trade Center” in New York’s financial district, with the world’s two tallest buildings in the form of Twin Towers, was originally lobbied for by influential players within New York State politics, including the Rockefeller family. Development was carried out by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in the 1960s. As the old promotional films that open Improbable Collapse show, a low-rise neighborhood of retail shops, known to New Yorkers as the place to buy transistors and TV tubes, was demolished to create a pit almost identical in appearance to today’s Ground Zero.
The Towers rose up at the site over six years’ time, as pioneering examples of a new way of constructing buildings that could reach record heights. The interior “steel cage” of a traditional skyscraper was replaced by a tubular design of load-bearing perimeter columns – the exterior walls literally held up the building’s weight – with an additional, interior core still in the form of a grid-and-lattice network. The perimeter and the core constituted two separate and to a degree redundant systems of load-bearing, vertical elements. They were attached to each other and stabilized by extremely long floor trusses of up to 60 feet in length. The trusses in turn held up the concrete floor space.This design freed up a full acre of open space per floor, unhindered by interior columns, and allowed the towers to rise straight up for 110 stories without requiring any of the progressive set-backs that had limited skyscraper height until that time. (Some have said this design ultimately doomed the Towers to collapse. One point that bears emphasis is that as a two-state agency, the Port Authority was never forced to comply with either of the two states’ or New York City’s building codes.)
It took many years before the Towers achieved anything near full occupancy or economic viability. While many admired them as the signature of the New York skyline, they always also had their detractors as outmoded “white elephants,” with closely-spaced and poorly-lit floors and substantial amounts of asbestos still left over from its common use during the era of the WTC’s construction.
A FEW KEY DATES FROM WTC HISTORY
Fire spreads to several floors of the North Tower.
Developer Larry Silverstein builds WTC 7, a new 47-story, private building, on top of an electric substation on the lot to the north of the North Tower. (This lot is visible in the above picture, to the right of the white building behind the rising tower.)
A large bomb, apparently planted in a parked van, goes off in the basement of the North Tower, killing six people including a pregnant woman, and causing a blackout with spreading smoke and panic in the buildings above. The attack is blamed on a cell of Islamic-extremist immigrants in New Jersey and Brooklyn. The alleged sponsors are led by a cleric, Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, a former leader of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and an ally of the CIA during the Afghanistan war. He and others are rounded up in a later sting operation conducted by an FBI informant and former Egyptian agent, Emad Salem. Salem receives $1 million dollars for his efforts from the FBI. Taped conversations between Salem and his FBI controller were introduced in court, in which Salem is heard claiming the FBI could have stopped the WTC attack or replaced the explosives with duds, and chose not do so. The alleged mastermind of the bombing, Ramzi Youssef, leaves the US on the day of the attacks and goes on to hatch the “Bojinka” plot for multiple plane-bombings, hijackings and kamikaze attacks on US targets. According to the US government, his plans gradually morph into the 9/11 plot, which was ultimately masterminded and brought to fruition after Youssef’s capture by his Pakistani-Kuwaiti relative, Khalid Sheikh Mohamed.
Cultural Highlight: The latest in apocalyptic Hollywood visions of what might one day happen to the Twin Towers and to New York City (Independence Day, The Siege, etc.) is presented in the pilot episode to the short-lived Lone Gunmen television series. The episode depicts a rogue-CIA plot to hijack a passenger plane by remote-control technology and crash it into the World Trade Center, with the intent of blaming a third-world country and exploiting the resultant outrage to launch wars and boost arms sales. The show’s heroes manage to foil the plot, just seconds before the plane hits the North Tower.
What is billed as “the largest privatization in US history” goes into effect, as developer Larry Silverstein acquires the entire WTC site on a 99-year lease from the Port Authority.
WTC 7 TENANTS AS OF AUGUST 2001
Courtesy of the FEMA report on WTC 7, as archived at wtc7.net
- Mortgage Holder: Blackstone Group
- Floors 46-47: Mechanical floors
- 28-45: Salomon Smith Barney (SSB)
- 26-27: Standard Chartered Bank
- 25: Inland Revenue Service (IRS)
- 25: Department of Defense (DOD)
- 25: Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
- 24: Inland Revenue Service (IRS)
- 23: Office of Emergency Management (OEM)
- 22: Federal Home Loan Bank of New York
- 21: First State Management Group
- 19-21: ITT Hartford Insurance Group
- 19: National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC)
- 18: Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
- 14-17: Vacant
- 13: Provident Financial Management
- 11-13: Securities and Exchange Commission
- 9-10: US Secret Service
- 7-8: American Express Bank International
- 7: OEM generators and day tank
- 1-6: Con Edison substation, mechanical floors, lobby and conference areas
NOTES ON THE DEMISE OF WTC 7
– The mortgage on WTC 7 was purchased in 2000 by the Blackstone Group, a private equity fund managed by Steven Schwarzman and chaired by banker Peter Petersen (who at the time was also chairman of the New York Federal Reserve Bank and the Council on Foreign Relations). Blackstone Group is heavily invested in the military sector, perhaps appropriate given some of the building’s many government tenants.
– The CIA announced in 2002 that it had lost secret offices located in WTC 7, which it described as its largest station in the United States outside of the Washington DC area.
– The SEC’s most important offices in New York City held the irreplaceable paper records on hundreds of ongoing securities fraud investigations, just at the height of a stock market bubble and on the cusp of a series of large-scale corporate accounting scandals and bankruptcies. The SEC has never released an accounting as to the evidence lost in the destruction of its offices, the effect on investigations, or the impact on the SEC’s subsequent probes of alleged insider trading based on foreknowledge of 9/11.
– The blast-reinforced OEM complex on Floor 23 was built in 2000 as the Mayor’s secure bunker for emergency management, and had its own air supply. It was the subject of a dispute with the Fire Department, due to its generators and large diesel fuel-tanks, which were placed on Floor 7 in violation of the New York City Fire Code. OEM was abandoned as a command center soon after the September 11th attacks began. WTC 7 was ordered evacuated just before the collapse of the Twin Towers.
– Fires at WTC 7 were reported on the afternoon of September 11th. A warning circulated to people at the site that the building was about to collapse, a few minutes before it did so at 5:20 pm.
– Click here to see a sampling of videos of the collapse.
– We are unable to confirm reports of anyone being killed in the collapse of WTC 7.
SILVERSTEIN INSURANCE BATTLE
After September 11th, Larry Silverstein claimed a double payout from the consortium of insurance companies covering the WTC, saying the two plane crashes were actually two separate occurrences under New York law. By 2006, after a complicated legal battle involving 30 different companies, Silverstein was set to get two payoffs, if at a lower rate. A fight about how to develop the Ground Zero site now rages between the state and city of New York, the Port Authority, and Silverstein. Under an agreement of April 2006, Silverstein is to build the new site using money raised by selling New York State Liberty Bonds. He will hand over the completed “Freedom Tower,” once again the world’s largest building at a nominal height of 1776 feet, to the Port Authority, and keep for himself a couple of the smaller, more lucrative buildings surrounding the tower. In addition, odds are excellent that Silverstein will walk off with almost the entire insurance payoff of 2.2 billion to 6 billion dollars – compared to a total of less than $1 billion in investments and rent paid out by his limited partnership as of today.
Meanwhile, the insurance money for WTC 7 was paid, allowing Silverstein to buy out the Blackstone Group’s interest and build the new WTC 7. The building was topped out in 2006, to fanfare and awards for ecological design. A glossy brochure ran in the New York Times, addressed “To Those Who Make Their Own Opportunities” and announcing, “Your Office is Ready.” The first tenant to rent space in the New 7 was the Chinese government. The building is far more prominent than its predecessor, and still today, relatively few people have ever seen footage from the moments when the old WTC 7 met its end.
The New WTC 7 Rises