I once thought the Rockefellers had owned the WTC and sold it to the Port Authority; I thought this even though years ago, I knew better. But in my
own defense, I wasn’t the only one.
From the book published in 1999 “Twin Towers : The Life of New York City's World Trade Center."
I noticed something very curious as I began my research. As I talked about my project with family, friends, colleagues, and students, I came to
realize that very few had much knowledge about the Towers. Most knew that it was a pair of very tall office buildings, but that was about it. They did
not know who built it or why. Eager to quantify this insight, I devised a short informal questionnaire: (1) Have you ever heard of the World Trade
Center in New York City? (2) Would you recognize it if you saw a picture of it? (3) Have you ever visited it? (4) Do you know who is the
owner-builder-landlord of the complex? I gave this questionnaire to hundreds of students at Rutgers University, most of them New Jersey residents
quite familiar with New York City. Nearly all of them had heard of the World Trade Center, and said that they would recognize a picture. About half
had visited the place, but only very few (a tiny percentage) could identify the owner-builder-landlord. Most people did not have a clue and were
unwilling to venture a guess. Those who did guess were usually wrong. Some said it was the Rockefeller family; others said it was the city of New
York; still others thought it was a group of Japanese investors.
The correct answer, of course, is the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Quite puzzled at the ignorance, I discussed my findings with the
media-relations people at the agency. They told me that they had commissioned a similar, albeit formal and scientific study that had come up with the
same basic conclusions. It wasn't just Rutgers undergraduates who were in the dark. Most people in the region, both young and old from both states,
had no idea that the owner-builder-landlord was the Port Authority.
This demonstrates how little is actually known about the WTC.
They were a mystery, these buildings, and they remain so even in their absence, with people today assuming exactly the same things the locals would
assume as they would walk through them or past them when the towers were still standing like gigantic tombstones blocking the Manhattan sun. It’s
been ten years, yet today we are still standing in their shadows while killing in their names.
Why was the WTC built? The locals apparently didn’t want it, and big business didn’t need it. The City of New York and local residents and
businesses fought and protested against its construction, and not just small timers, but major real estate moguls were up in arms against such a huge
amount of new real estate to be flooding the city. 10 million square feet was a lot of space to add to a city that already had plenty of office space.
The concern was that the impact to the real estate market would severely impact the economy by lowering local commercial value, and casting a chilling
effect on new development.
The plan was exciting and it did stimulate interest among potential tenants, but it also stimulated opposition; the Port Authority was unprepared
for its ferocity. For the first time in its history, the agency was opposed by powerful members of the business community. These challengers were not
the displaced store owners from the site, but major citywide real estate operators. They called upon the Port Authority to scale down its plans. They
said that the proposed World Trade Center would be four times as large as necessary and would undermine the entire market for Manhattan office
“Harold Uris spoke for the whole committee when he declared, ''They say they're going to rent four million square feet to export-import firms.
That's twice the space in the Pan Am Building. I just don't believe they can do it. And when they find they can't, they're going to dump the space on
the open market at reduced rents. With their tax advantages and the low rates they pay for money, they could rent for far less than I can and still
break even. I'm not afraid of losing the tenants I have now. I'm afraid there won't be any tenants for the buildings I put up five years from
So why was
Perhaps we can get a clue from the Executive Director of the Port Authority at the time, Austin Tobin:
…Tobin was fond of quoting Daniel H. Burnham, the Chicago architect who built New York's first great skyscraper, the Flatiron Building, in 1902.
"Make no small plans," said Tobin, quoting Burnham. "For they have no power to stir the blood."
For further insight, here is an exchange between the Architect, Minoru Yamasaki, and the Port Authority’s manager for their new line organization,
the World Trade Office, Guy F. Tozzoli:
Finally, Yamasaki revealed his ideas about two towers surrounded by a plaza and the other buildings. Yamasaki unveiled a drawing.
"It's great. It's a beautiful plan! Does it meet my program?" asked Tozzoli.
"No, it doesn't. It's two million feet short," said Yamasaki.
"Why is that?"
"You can't build buildings taller than eighty floors."
"Why is that?"
"They just don't do it"
"Yama, President Kennedy is going to put a man on the moon. I want you to build me the tallest buildings in the world."
These were big boys showing off their big toys. I wonder if they knew no one was going to be going to the moon any time soon. It is an appropriate
analogy to the World Trade Center though.
The project was mostly driven by the egos of David Rockefeller and those within the Port Authority. What kind of person is David Rockefeller, heir to
the Standard Oil Empire? A wise man once said “nice guys finish last”, but in the world of business, psychos finish first. But if the Rockefellers
were a known quantity; what about the Port Authority?
The Port Authority was founded in the 1920s in an unusual burst of cooperation between two age-old rivals, the states of New York and New Jersey.
From colonial days, there had been boundary disputes between the two states. At one point, things got so bitter that state policemen actually
exchanged shots in the middle of the Hudson River. Early mapmakers chose the Hudson River as an easy-to-find boundary line, but that decision did not
settle things. The two states kept arguing because each wanted to push the line to the other's shore. Finally, in 1834 they did the commonsense thing:
they signed a treaty drawing the line down the middle of the river.
On April 30, 1921, the Port of New York Authority was officially established. It was the first interstate agency ever created under a clause in
the U.S. Constitution that permits compacts between the states, with congressional approval. The Port Authority's area of jurisdiction was called "The
Port District," a seventeen-county bistate region within a twenty-five-mile radius of the Statue of Liberty. The compact between the two states gave
the new agency sweeping potential power: "The port authority shall constitute a body, both corporate and politic, with full power and authority to
purchase, construct, lease and/or operate any terminal or transportation facility within said district.
To understand the World Trade Center, we first have to understand the Port Authority, the organization which built it. It is a complex story of
money and politics, law and engineering, public service and personal pride. To build a monument requires a powerful builder. The scale of the World
Trade Center was so massive that no other entity public or private could have built it. Constructing the Twin Towers involved packaging a unique blend
of political, financial, and human resources that only the Port Authority could muster.
The Port Authority got started in the 1920s as a sleepy bridge-and-tunnel outfit, and it evolved over the following fifty years to become a master
builder. Unrestrained by civil service salary caps, the agency was able to recruit and retain the very best talent. It had real estate specialists to
assemble large parcels of land, top lawyers to draw up airtight contracts, engineers who were master builders, and (most important) accountants to
make sure the bondholders were always paid on time. From this pool of talent, leaders were developed and brought up through the ranks. During this
period through the Great Depression, World War II, and other crises the Port Authority acquired vast wealth and virtually unchecked power in its own
domain. In the process, the Port Authority made both friends who helped to push its projects forward and enemies who put up fierce resistance.
The Port Authority, as it grew, cultivated an institutional "personality" much as people do. It developed an institutional way of doing things that
encouraged people to get results rather than just "operate by the rules." Of course, the organization like other bureaucracies valued hard work,
loyalty, and a sense of duty. In short, the Port Authority developed the personality of a New Yorker not of old Dutch New York or even of moneyed WASP
New York, but of immigrant New York with hustle and ambition. The agency was led by people who were hard driving and fast talking.
This was a new kind of authority, a mega-authority, if you will, which would never go out of business as long as it could keep coming up with new
Reading those paragraphs is like reading a description of organized crime.
They are a quasi-autonomous government group of engineers, industrialists, master builders and lawyers with vast wealth and almost unlimited power
over their local domain…what society does that remind me of? Don’t say it; shouldn’t have to.
The Port Authority was run like a military organization with deeper pockets:
If we accept the notion that institutions have personalities, then we might say that the Port Authority at its best is a paramilitary
engineering agency that thrives on adversity. The agency was full of seasoned military veterans who loved to build things and fix them if
they were only given a chance to do so. Now they had that chance.
When Tobin arrives, he is driven through the whole building right to the nearest door. Advance notice comes in, and the elevator operators put on
white gloves. Tobin gets out of the car and squares his shoulders. His posture is terrific. He is whisked to the executive, offices on the fifteenth
floor. It is practically like the admiral of the fleet has arrived.
The agency unabashedly took a masculine outlook on the world. It favored the functional over the decorative, the vernacular over the genteel. Its
public works projects were created unselfconsciously, with thought only to whether they would work, not on how they would look. Its bridges and
tunnels were all business; they put form after function. The agency developed ladders of promotion that, while taking seniority into account, mainly
rewarded initiative. It favored male recruits with backgrounds in engineering or law. Though it was never made explicit, a tour of duty in the
military especially in the U.S. Navy helped to place a newcomer on the fast track to promotion. Engineers especially found the Port Authority to
be a place that was a manly environment rewarding the brave and the courageous. At the same time, they found it to be intellectually stimulating and
engaging. The best way to be promoted was to get appointed to a challenging project with an element of risk and to make a success of it. Not just an
engineering success, but a financial success as well. As the Port Authority enjoyed success after success, it became a proud organization. Pride
ultimately fueled the ambition to build the world's tallest building
It was in 1956 that a young U.S. Navy lieutenant from the civil engineering corps left the service and came to work for the Port Authority
Though Monti was supposed to begin a two-year tour in the navy, the Port Authority got the navy to postpone the service. Monti spent a year in the
Port Authority junior executive training program serving in each major department for a short rotation.
They don’t have the ability to tax, but they control one of the largest ports in the world. All of their projects are required to pay for
themselves. They put themselves into a “passive” mode, where they are open to private ideas which can also pay for themselves, whether or not the
public wants them. They do this through eminent domain, which is a psycho’s term for “we’re taking your house".
This is the environment that nurtured the construction of the WTC. The Port Authority can secure unlimited credit, seize land, and build structures
designed to make them money. That’s some-kind of power; and power corrupts but more importantly, the corrupt seek power; it is a self-perpetuating
cycle. You and I just want to be left alone; but evidently our leaders have different priorities, and of course, one of them included the media:
Austin Tobin's power grew as he mastered the art of mobilizing the financial community, contractors, labor unions, insurance firms, and the
press to serve his agency
In this atmosphere, where is the incentive to cede power?
David Rockefeller’s motives cannot be understood when viewed with sane eyes. A billionaire does not worry about a roof over his head, or wonder how
he’ll pay for educating his children; or needs to choose whether to buy groceries or to pay the health insurance bill. Speaking for me, I cannot
imagine not having to worry about such things, nor can I imagine what I’d do with my time if I did have that much money. We know billionaires
don’t like to “share”; regardless what tiny fraction of their incomes they donate to charities. Those paltry percentages, when advertised on
their media, transform them from blood-sucking vampires into big-hearted philanthropists, but to me they’ll always be psychos.
There were many personalities involved with the WTC, and to research them all would take an army of investigators, therefore I am merely brushing the
surface, but between the Port Authority and the Rockefellers we’ve covered most of the faces. So finally, let’s look at the Architect, Minoru
Yamasaki. His is a curious story which, like 911, and can be traced back to WWII and earlier, and provides another Japanese connection to our story.
Life’s funny that way.
A few interesting facts about the Minoru Yamasaki:
Minoru Yamasaki will forever be remembered alongside America’s most profound architectural disaster. Whatever he was before 2001—which was
dead, maligned, and mainly sliding away into obscurity—he is forever after the designer of the most ambitious modern structure ever to end up as a
The first building was imploded on July 15, 1972. The following year the site was fenced off and then torn down, the remaining inhabitants
relocated to other (comparable, if less infamous) projects. The Pruitt-Igoe site today at 34 vacant acres remains one of the largest development sites
in St. Louis
We might expect to find reason for these professional failures in the misfortune of Yamasaki’s private life. Not surprisingly, the architect’s
personal history was punctuated by its own string of disasters. He faced the harsh reality of being a nisei during World War II (relocated to the East
Coast, Yamasaki escaped internment) and barely escaped death from a bleeding ulcer (just before completion of the Records Center and Pruitt-Igoe). He
left his wife and three children, remarried, married again (a Japanese mail-order bride), and then finally remarried his first wife. Somewhere in
between was a period of dismal health involving four operations in five months which left Yamasaki addicted to synthetic morphine.
A Japanese American from Seattle was able to escape internment in the American version of the German concentration camps while thousands of other
Japanese Americans were rounded up and put in cages; Yamasaki “escaped” and became addicted to drugs. I’d take the drugs over the cage too, but
something’s not right about that story.
Six years after the war, he was creating buildings and excuses for the military:
A building commissioned in 1951 by the Department of Defense was built without a sprinkler system, and then burned in a spectacular fire. That
building, the U.S. Military Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri, housed 38 million individual service records and 4,000 employees. When it
was completed in 1956, the six-story concrete and aluminum behemoth was one of the twenty largest buildings in the world.
Less than twenty years later, in July 1973, a fire tore through the building, burning out of control for more than two days. It was the weekend of the
official end of the draft, and the news was all bombs and impeachment. Over the previous two years, the Records Center had reported a dozen small
fires, all started intentionally. This one, set shortly after midnight on July 12, appeared to be another case of arson. No one died in the blaze, set
when only 50 employees were on duty, but sixteen to eighteen million military personnel files, many of them irreplaceable, were lost. Today, the
Personnel Records Center informs those seeking information that, as a result of the fire, it cannot provide access to 80 percent of army files on
personnel discharged between 1912 and 1960, as well as 75 percent of air force personnel discharged between 1947 and 1964. Information about hundreds
of thousands of veterans vanished from the face of the earth. The building survived
So…the WTC wasn’t the first structure of his that was involved in a massive destruction of official records, nor the first to be demolished with
explosives. Coincidence? The author labels Yamsaki’s actions as “unwitting”, but I’m not so sure.
If Yamasaki sometimes seemed a divining rod for the unlucky collision of history and architecture, it is because he unwittingly channeled weighty
corporate and political forces through his choice of projects—the uneventful as much as the disastrous. For instance, Yamasaki’s authorship of two
Saudi Arabian airports and one Saudi Monetary Agency Head Office is long forgotten. In the mid-1970s, the Saudis waited three whole years for Yamasaki
to wrap up work in lower Manhattan so that he could come and attend to their architectural needs. While the prestigious commission for the central
bank and new airports might have gone to any number of architects, the Saudi government insisted on Yamasaki’s team. The Dhahran airport terminal he
had built for them way back in 1961 was, as the architect told it, “one of the few foreign-designed buildings that the Saudis felt reflected their
history and culture.” The US and Saudi Arabia, two countries which we’ve recently come to misconstrue as polar opposites, both saw their values
embodied in Yamasaki’s work—so much for a clash of civilizations
Yamasaki was the go-to guy to build modern castles for today’s royalty, not because he was good, but because he was compliant and discreet.
Yamasaki’s designs, a sort of corporate gothic, articulated the will of the institutions that commissioned them. It was an honor to have IBM,
Consolidated Gas, the Defense Department, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey as his clients, even if they wanted their buildings with
no fire sprinklers, or in a no man’s land, or too tall. “Since they were the client,” he said of the Records Building in St. Louis, “we went
along with their option.” Yamasaki’s firm was selected for the design of the World Trade Center precisely because he could be counted on to be
agreeable, to accommodate the developer’s demands
In the case of the WTC the developers demanded a completely innovative building, which I suspect was more innovative than most people knew.
(to be cont.)
edit on 30-8-2011 by Yankee451 because: (no reason given)