A Tale of Two Towers

I can’t believe the Twin Towers have been gone for twenty years.

Formerly a part of New York’s skyline, the buildings are now considered relics of a bygone era. One before global surveillance, strict airport security, and Internet-ruled lives. An era when children would play outside past the hour of darkness and when TV was in its golden age.

It may sound crazy now, but we believed that the Twin Towers would stand long after our time was over. Strong, aloof, confident, and dominating, they embodied the very ideals of capitalism and globalization.

Sadly, the Towers have now become tragic icons of one of the West’s bloodiest and most harrowing days. Before, however, they were seen as status symbols of worldwide commerce – in fact, they were seen the exclamation point on the most famous city on Earth.

In the 27 years they were standing, the charismatic Twin Towers lived a complicated life. Seen as unwanted behemoths at first, the underdog buildings soon charmed their way into our hearts and became two of the most iconic buildings in the Western hemisphere. Fighting criticism, fire, and tragedy on the way, the Towers were a lot more resilient than people gave them credit for.

It Took Time for the Towers to Grow on us

Described as ”ugly and utilitarian” when they were first constructed, the Twin Towers were considered superfluous and ugly when they first went up. Making matters worse was the fact that the Towers were built on a much-loved area of town called Radio Row – where small buisness thirved and where people weren’t afraid to get their hands dirty.

The idea that a monstrous, 16-acre buisness complex (where industry fat cats and overpaid, arguing bureaucrats would work) rubbed many people they wrong way.

Despite their enormous heights, the Twin Towers were underdogs in their first few years of life. New York wasn’t sold on them yet, and they had a lot to prove before they could even be considered in the same ballpark as the beloved Empire State Building and Chrysler Building.

Philippe Petit Reaches the Clouds

The morning of August 7, 1974, proved to be a turning point in the World Trade Center’s young life.

After six years of planning, 24-year-old Phillipe Petit pulled off his audcaious coup of stringing a high-wire across the two towers (with the help of some buddies of his) and walking across it, unsupported, for 45 minutes. As dazzled spectators looked above, Petit performed his mesmerising routine without a care, or fear, in the world. In the midst of the Watergate scandal, Petit gave the city a brief escape to the childlike wonder that the world had lost in the 1970s.

Petit’s walk got people talking about the Towers. People began to realise that, perhaps, they were more than ”oversized filing cabinets” and that they finally had a place in the City of New York.

February 13, 1975

The Twin Towers’s first brush with danger occured when a three-alarm fire broke out in the North Tower on February 13, 1975.

It was like fighting a blow torch” – a fire chief said. The necks and ears of his men were grazed by the flames as they ascended to the epicenter of the blaze on the 11th floor.

Though the lower area of the North Tower was heavily damaged, the fireproof insulation protected the building from the worst of the heat. Thankfully, nobody died or suffered serious injuries in the blaze.

“I’d sleep a lot better at night if the World Trade Center had sprinklers”– Fire Commissioner John T. O’Hagan proclaimed.

The Towers Slowly Become Accepted

New York was a more optimistic place in the 80s. Crime was down, investment was made, and large corporations indulged in legendary hedonism in Downtown Manhattan. (American Psycho, anyone?)

The construction of the World Financial Center brought some much-needed balance to the Twin Towers’ appearance. Before, the lack of buildings around them made them stick out like a sore thumb, but the new buildings helped give the impression they were a grand crescendo on the orchestra of architecture in Battery Park City.

The World Trade Center Towers began to thrive. The South Tower’s observation deck became one of the most-visited tourist attraction in the United States and offered views for miles. Fifty-thousand people worked in them on any given day. Thousands more shopped in the mall underground. The crown jewel, however, was the Windows on the World Restaurant.

Windows on the World. Photo: User:Raphael.concorde

The intimate Windows on the World became the highest-grossing restaurant in the United States. In 2000, it generated $37 million in revenue and was considered one of the most exclusive spots in the city.

Tragedy Strikes

The Twin Towers were struck by tragedy on February 26, 1993. A van, parked in the basement of the North Tower, exploded after being loaded by explosives. Seven people died in the blast at bedlam erupted on the upper floors of the building.

Ramzi Yousef and Eyad Ismoil were arrested for the attacks and were each sentenced to hundreds of years in prison. Ismoli is scheduled for release in the year 2208.

The bombing left a deep scar on the World Trade Center. Though they were resilient, they were vulnerable to future attacks and special care was made to ensure public safety. Guards were implemented. All incoming vehicles were subject to checks. Surveillance cameras were installed across the complex. A memorial to the victims was later dedicated in the Austin Tobin Plaza.

1993 Memorial Fountain.. Photo: 9/11 Memorial

The wound of the 1993 bombing remained raw but the Twin Towers’ life continued. By the mid 90s, they had become the de facto icons of Manhattan. Almost thirty years after their controversial construction, they were finally reaching their potential as world-famous landmarks.

The sun set on the Twin Towers for the final time on September 10, 2001. A storm rolled into New York Harbour that evening, and the Twin Towers, as they so often did, stood valiantly and unshakeably for one final time. After a life of hardship, derision, and eventual acceptance, their 27-year story was coming to a close.

A storm rips through Lower Manhattan in 1999. Photo: Gregor Smith

3 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Towers

      1. It’s not something I’ve thought about much lately, but I can certainly see why the families would have liked it. In retrospect everything becomes more complicated than it was back then. I heard about a poll yesterday that found that a third of Americans believe that the U.S. government was complicit in the attacks.


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