Just in time for Christmas, 1970: Eight years after the Detroit-based architect Minoru Yamasaki’s contribution to the World’s Fair landed him the job of designing the new World Trade Center—then the tallest buildings in the world—the north tower was topped out. A cloud-shrouded ceremony at 1,368 feet marked the milestone.
The downtown skyline, transformed: “The towers are pure technology, the lobbies are pure schmaltz,” went Ada Louise Huxtable’s unsparing review of the new World Trade Center on April 5, 1973 (
above). Despite this and many other slights—“glass and metal filing cabinets,” “a pair of middle fingers,” “the largest aluminum siding job in the history of the world”—the Twin Towers stood as symbols of innovation and global capitalism until the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks brought them down. Top: the annual Tribute in Light shines in the space the towers once occupied.
Man on wire: Asked by a reporter why he walked between the Twin Towers on August 7, 1974, Philippe Petit replied, “I am a juggler and a high-wire walker. When I see three oranges I must juggle them. When I see two beautiful towers I must walk between them.”
Work in progress: a World Trade Center construction worker, 1970. In all, more than 10,000 people were enlisted to build the Twin Towers, installing 2.2 million square feet of aluminum siding, 43,600 windows, and 40,000 doors—not to mention 425,000 cubic yards of concrete, enough “to build a sidewalk from New York City to Washington, D.C.”
Paradise lost: A Lower Manhattan institution from 1812 to 1962, Washington Market (
top) sat directly beneath what is today’s One World Trade Center. At its peak, more than 500 vendors sold “caviar from Siberia, Gorgonzola cheese from Italy, and hams from Flanders,” among other offerings. To the south was Radio Row, home to the biggest concentration of electronics shops in the world. At the news that both institutions would be bulldozed to make way for the new World Trade Center complex, shop owners led by Oscar Nadel of Oscar’s Radio took to the streets. In one of the more memorable protests—a mock funeral procession ( above)—Nadel was carried up and down Cortlandt Street in a makeshift coffin.
Fishy history: The Fulton Fish Market debuted in 1822 across from the thriving South Street Seaport. It inhabited a hodgepodge of structures over its 183-year history, including an annex (
top) added in 1910, whose pilings buckled after just 26 years. It wasn’t until 2005, though, that the Fulton Fish Market departed Lower Manhattan for good. Above: a dock stevedore with an impressive lobster claw.
The longest day: “The plume of this colossal wreckage just bloomed up and was racing down the street like a freight train,” recalled photographer Joe Woolhead of the collapse of the north tower on 9/11. In all, 2,977 people were killed and more than 6,000 injured that dark day, nearly 30 years after the Twin Towers were built.
“Everything is a symbol at Ground Zero”: Santiago Calatrava’s Oculus (
above), a soaring white structure connecting a dozen city subway lines, opened in the summer of 2018. Originally projected at $2.2 billion, the transportation hub would end up costing twice that—even more than the nearby One World Trade Center ( top), which employed thousands of construction workers as it rose to 1,776 feet at the breakneck pace of a floor-to-ceiling-windowed floor per week.
A new book of photographs chronicles the evolution of New York City’s downtown over a century, from Radio Row to a post-9/11 World Trade Center
January 25, 2020
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