The Story of One World Trade Center, What It Was, What It Will Be

Before the World Trade Center, 1950. The blue square became the World Trade Center

When you think of the southern part of Manhattan over by the Hudson River you probably think of the World Trade Center. But for most of the 20th century, it was known for something quite different; it was the place to buy radio electronics. Before the World Trade Center was built, this area was 12 small city blocks, and from 1921 into the 1960’s, it was filled with small store after small store selling radios. It was known to most people as Radio Row, and it contained the largest collection of electronic stores in the country.

Browing Radio Row (sonicmemorial.org)

Like the internet, radio was a great advancement that allowed large numbers of people to communicate at the same time, and like the internet, it had a huge growth boom. The first radio stations were launched around 1919 and 1920, people wanted to listen to them, but didn’t know where they could find radios. That’s when Harry Schneck opened his ‘City Radio’ store at 63 Cortlandt Street, (where Tower Two would one day stand). Word got around quickly about his radios, and he began selling them in droves.  The Consumer Electronics Association estimates that 100,000 radios were sold in 1922 and that it was ten times that in two years. Many of those radios were sold at Radio Row. In later years, as electronic technology advanced, so did the Radio Row offerings, it remained the place to be.

Radio Row, Cortlandt and Washington Streets, 1935

The area had a few restaurants, furniture stores, florists, and even a clothing shop called Merns, run by Seymour Merns, who would later become more well known to us as Sy Syms. But the reason people came to lower Manhattan was to get radio equipment.

“Find what you want, buy it and get out of my store, there are other people waiting” was how one shopper remembered the buying atmosphere. According to the Quarter Century Wireless Association, storefronts were crammed with radio equipment. There were televisions, tape players, short wave radios, tuning fork oscillators, stopwatches, alarm clocks, televisions, washing machines, dryers, and anything else you could dream up. There were boxes of raw materials lying around in case you wanted to make a creation of your own.

What One World Trade Center Looked Like Before 1973

Before One World Trade Cener, 1933

The picture on the right is of Dey Street between West and Washington Streets. This is right in the where the north tower of the World Trade Center would stand. The photo is looking northeast (see map in the lower right hand corner).

The beginning of the end for Radio Row came when Chase Manhattan bank chairman David Rockefeller moved to create a center of trade in lower Manhattan. At first he looked at the east side, near the Fulton Fish Market, but his plans quickly moved west. The area here could more easily be acquired and built to tie in with the many rail lines nearby. This included the Port Authority Trans Hudson (or PATH) line which would go right to the center. David’s brother, New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller helped use the power of eminent domain to take over the area, and 12 city blocks were swallowed up into one single World Trade Center superblock. Radio Row and its businesses put up a valiant protest to stop the project, led by radio shop owner Oscar Nadel. Nadel pursued every legal avenue and organized regular protests to get media attention. He claimed that the city was making it impossible for the small businessman to succeed within its boundaries. By 1966, most of the area had been cleared for the future World Trade Center.

One World Trade Center, The Tower, 1973 – 2001 

One World Trade Center, 1971

Although the building began in 1967 and the towers were deemed completed in 1973, the construction of the World Trade Center never really ended. The Windows on the World restaurant was added at the top of Tower One in 1976. The surrounding buildings of the World Trade Center block–World Trade Centers 3,4, 5, 6, and nearby 7–were added in the 70’s and 80’s. The World Financial Center, a huge complex to the west, was added in the late 80’s and 90’s. The area did in many ways truly grow into being the center of world trade. Financial firms such as Marsh and McLennan, Cantor Fitzgerald, and Bank of America occupied multiple floors in Tower One by the end of the century. Major financial firms and exchanges moved into the many of the new area buildings.

When you look at it in photos, Tower One (or the north tower) can be distinguished from Tower Two (or the south tower) by the 360 foot antenna which stood on its roof. You can use the positioning of the two buildings  to tell where the shot was taken from. If Tower One is behind Tower Two, the shot was taken from the south. If tower one appears closer, the shot is from the north. If Tower One is to the left of Tower Two (as in the above photo) the shot was taken from west, and if its to the right the shot was taken from the east. That antenna was used to broadcast every television station in New York City, as well as most of its radio stations. Although it’s pretty much impossible to tell, Tower One was six feet taller than Tower Two.

Tower One was at the heart of the World Trade Center bustle of traffic. It was close to the World Financial Center and unlike Tower Two, its basement was an open walkway. Only its elevators were blocked off by security. Tens of thousands of people walked right through Tower One every day.

At first many New Yorkers didn’t like the way the Towers looked–they didn’t seem to fit in with the skyline, some thought they looked boring, others too gaudy. But over the years, the city seemed to warm to them. As nearby buildings went up it seemed to fill them in, and the towers started to look like they were meant to be there.

When The Windows of The World Restaurant opened in ’76 it marked the first time people could really embrace the towers. Between the fine dining there, and the observation deck, and open 110th floor at Tower Two, the buildings offered the best, most spacious most luxurious view in the city.

While nothing can be compared to the 2,751 lives that were tragically lost at the World Trade Center September 11th, 2001, the damage to buildings and infrastructure was enormous. Besides the two towers, at least another ten area buildings had to either be destroyed, condemned, or simply collapsed from the weight of the towers falling on them. Even now, ten years after 911, just as the personal wounds remain, so do the physical ones. The work of rebuilding is far from complete. A new single World Trade Center Tower One is in the process of going up, with other World Trade Center buildings to follow.

One World Trade Center, What Will Be

One World Trade Center, 2013

The new World Trade Center One (also referred to as the Freedom Tower) will be located a little north of where the old Tower One stood. This is because the original footprints of both  towers are sacred ground forever to be memorialized by two new waterfall monuments that will stand where the buildings once did. These are to be initially dedicated on September 11, 2011, so we should be seeing them in use for the first time in a few days. A picture of the new North Tower Waterfall Monument is below.

Nobody would argue the construction of these buildings has been slow, but it does appear progress is being made. The lower Manhattan construction command center currently projects a completion date for the new Tower One of November 2013.

The base of the Freedom Tower will be the same dimensions as the original towers. The observation deck will be at 1,362 feet: the height of the tower, and the roof will be at 1,368 feet: the height of the original Tower One.

I was hoping to do a story on all the buildings in the vicinity but I found this to be enough of a task. I’ll try to get to a look at other area buildings later. 

One World Trade Center Monument, to be dedicated 9/11/11

More Resources

Places No More Fan Page WTC Album

Audio Download Radio Row NPR piece

Radio Row piece by Syd Steinhardt

A look At Arrow Electronics on Radio Row 

My look back at 3 World Trade Center

My look back at 4,5,and 6 WTC

Current WTC construction map

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13 Comments

  1. The New One World Trade Center Tower does NOT have the same dimentions as the old Worlde Trade Tower. The old Towers base was 208 feet square. The New One World Trade Center is 200 feet square. The top of the Tower which will make a 45 degree shift from the base will be 149 feet, six inches. The Port Authority TOTALLY dumped the stupid name freedom tower for many reasons. It is officially One World Trade Center.

    Reply
    • Dave,

      I think I still saw it being referred to on some sites and in some places as the freedom tower, but as you say, the name was officially dropped. I’ll have to go back and see where I found the dimension information, I believe it was from the Port Authority website but I’ll double check.

      Todd

      Reply
  2. I personally know all the TOP people at the Port. They have expressed to me the name is officially “One World Trade Center.”

    Reply
    • I purposely put “also referred to as the Freedom Tower” in parenthesis. I had caught wind of the official change but the word is still slow to get out. Many websites still list it as the freedom tower. I guess the question is, when it gets mentioned 10,000 times next month, what will they call it.

      Reply
  3. Unfortunately some people are stubbon as mules and do not call it One WTC.

    Reply
  4. Dave,

    Someone asked about the word “fictional” in the floor stacking plans I found for the new One World Trade Center. Do you know what “fictional” means?

    Reply
    • That’s a website still calling it the Freedom Tower, so maybe their information needs to be checked in general!

      Reply
  5. I do not know what they are talking about but many people still, unfortunately call it freedom tower. My opinion is when something is new and even if there is a name change within a few months people stick to the original name. Even though it is not correct. Also, there are less syllables in freedom tower so they want to get the name out quickly. I have seen this all the time. I have told people the official name is One World Trade Center (Just like the original tower) but they just ignor the comments.

    Reply
    • ronald rigden

       /  September 11, 2011

      Dave,

      Do you know what the small squares in the middle of the fountains are? Is that where the water drains out?

      Reply
  6. eric

     /  August 26, 2011

    WFC original buildings were built and opened in mid-late ’80s. I worked for Merrill when we moved HQ from One Liberty Plaza (165 Bway) to the WFC in the great year of ’87.

    Reply
  7. I’m gonna change it in the story Eric, but you were the one who pointed it out, thank you!

    Reply
  8. Hey Interesting in making money with your Blog’s? Come check it out Amazon has a pretty rad program that i have been making money with for a while now!

    Reply

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