NY WTC: A Living Archive

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Highest Steel

Dear Sir,

I was a member of Ironworkers Local 40 from 1966 until 1975. I worked on some interesting projects like Madison Square Garden, Yankee Stadium, and Giant Stadium, as well as ordinary office buildings like 55 Water Street and the Celanese Building. For a period of over three years, I was employed by Karl Koch Erecting of Carteret, NJ who were the steel erectors of the Twin Towers. After rebuilding Yankee Stadium (for 11/2 years) we went to the Towers to eventually take down the last "Kangaroo" derrick from the South tower. Before it was ready for dismantling, we did some of the work of the lower floors of the Vista Hotel, next door. During this time, the company had us doing minor repairs and adjustments all over the towers. One day, we finished a bit early and my apprentice and I decided to go up to the roof. All other trades stopped at 3:30pm but Ironworkers went until 4:20pm. So, when we got to the 108th floor, it was abandoned of workers. They had taken down the ladder from the roof so we had no way to reach the top floor. Apprentice Jackie Daly (the big bosses son) and I decided to use the little T-braces used to attach the outer skin to the steel and so we made our way up to the roof. That was very cool! But, we had not thought of the return. The top of the building was not straight and so when we were going down the sloped part, you cannot see where your feet are. Since we had no choice, we fished around for foot and hand hods until we reached safety. Whew!!

I have more of these anecdotes if this is of interest to you.

Richard Muller
via email to the L/A site, October 11th, 2001.

Jimmy & Rich

I met Richard Dandrea sometime late in the 1980s through a mutual friend. At the time Rich was a student at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program. After graduating, he got a job on the 55th floor of Tower One, working on the World Trade Centers Association’s teleconferencing and telecommunications links. He was kind enough to help me with my research on the WTC.

Not long after Divided We Stand was published, Rich asked me how I knew a friend of his, Jimmy Haughton, whom I’d mentioned in my book. I said I’d never met Haughton personally, just knew a little about him: that he was an African-American labor organizer and protégé of the legendary A. Philip Randolph. And that he’d spent the better part of his energies during the construction phase of the WTC getting in the face of the Port Authority about their contractors’ racist hiring practices, trying to get union jobs for people of color on the biggest building site New York had ever seen.

"So how do you know James Haughton," I asked.

"Oh, we’ve been friends for years." said Rich. "We met at the schvitz — the Russian baths on East 10th Street."

Of course. This is New York. Why not? (ED)

The Towers Stand

Eric, I'm a friend of Amy H.'s. When I spoke to her this morning and was relating my love for the building and my detailed memories of working there, she suggested that I might want to send you an e-mail to include in all or in part in your archives, if you wish, and as you see fit. My thoughts are somewhat scattered at this moment, and I expect this will be somewhat free-form, but here goes:

From the late 70's through the early 80's I worked for the New York State Department of Labor at Two World Trade Center on the 72nd floor. Many state agencies were re-located into the South Tower of the WTC when it opened, since commercial tenants were in short supply. Most of us in government service were accustomed to working in old undesirable space in "undesirable" neighborhoods. It seemed astonishing to us that we had been re-located to such a new, wondrous place. When we arrived for work the first day, we discovered that the powers-that-be had had our desks placed with our backs to the windows so that we wouldn't be "distracted" from our work by the view. By the end of the day, almost every desk had been turned, some 90 degrees and some 180. I remember our moving from office to office to help each other move the furniture.

When people came to visit me at work, I would immediately take them to the window of my office and encourage them to stand on the heat riser to press against the glass and see the view.  Some climbed right up, and others retreated, somewhat pale, to the doorway and said "Oh, yes, it's very nice, but I can see just fine from here."

The first time the winds rose up, we were astonished at how much the building swayed. If you focused on a fixed point on the horizon, such as a neon roof sign in New Jersey, you could literally see/feel yourself moving toward it and then back.

Using the bathrooms, which were located in the core, was a particularly lively experience. You had to hold on to the toilet seats and keep your feet firmly planted on the floor. We were assured by the building engineers that swaying was "good" and to think of it as akin to being on a ship. We may have felt "seasick" but we didn't feel "unsafe." On foggy, rainy or snowy days, we couldn't see the streets below. If conditions were right, what we would see were the floors above us reflected on top of the clouds at a 90 degree angle. It was an eerie sight and felt like being in Brigadoon. There was much debate as to who had the "better" view. The south offered Battery Park and the harbor and the Statue of Liberty. But north, especially in the wintertime, one could see all the buildings uptown turning pink and crimson and silver and gold as the sun began to set and the building lights began to go on.

The concourse was still under construction and was a "hard-hat area." We walked through plywood tunnels, and the first restaurant open to the public had a construction site motif. Tools and signs were hung from pipes and beams and the ashtrays (one could still smoke in public areas then) were hexagonal rivets. Some of the earliest businesses were Plymouth Shop and East River Savings Bank. Every week brought new enterprises and new delights. It felt like being a first settler of a new city. You could shop for clothes, buy a Mothers' Day card, bring in your dry-cleaning, get new heels put on your shoes, order a dozen roses, deposit your paycheck, get a newspaper or the latest best-seller -- all without stepping outside. It got better and better and better.

There were jazz concerts at lunchtime on the plaza and after-work drinks at Windows On The World, because it was someone's birthday, or just because. If we wanted to stay "in" we could eat lunch at the State Employees cafeteria on the 43rd floor or the Custom House cafeteria in Building 5 or the Restaurant on the 44th floor in Building One. Or go out to Popeye's Chicken out the "back door" or walk a few blocks to Rosie O'Grady's or the Japanese dumpling place. It was our place of work and it was our playground. Movies were made there -- Three Days of the Condor and The Wiz, which transformed the WTC plaza into the Emerald City of Oz. (I hope some filmographer will provide a full list sometime soon.)

Philippe Petit walked the tightrope, and even if/because it was forbidden, we loved it. Years passed, the WTC became a sought-after address, and the state agencies were all designated to move out, to be replaced by commercial tenants paying commercial rental rates. On the night we were scheduled to be moved, a colleague and I volunteered to stay with our department's furniture and belongings to be sure that the movers got it all. Several floors of offices were to be moved that night and we were given a schedule which indicated that the movers would reach us at 7:00 P.M. They arrived at 4:00 the next morning. We spent the night sitting in our packed-up office, looking out at the city by night, reminiscing about all the days and places and talking about how "lucky" we had been to work in the WTC. As those hours of waiting passed, we were impatient to get going; now I think how wonderful it was to have had that last long night for a long goodbye. In my mind and in my heart, the towers stand.

-- Jane Ellen Rubin, via email to the Living Archive,September 15, 2001


when i was ten years old

me and my best friend slipped up to the 80th floor of tower two in a construction elevator. this was when the tower was still unfinished. It was all red steel girders and fresh concrete. no windows or walls. there was only a thin safety line strung around the perimeter to protect us and the iron workers from falling.

we watched the iron men work, sparks flying as they moved huge beams like supermen. we scratched our initials in the still damp cement floor. sure in our belief that our initials scratched in this giant would insure our immortality.

a cold clean wind blew through the open steel. we walked cautiously on plywood planks to the edge, grabbed hold of the safety wire and leaned out. we gazed in wonder at a world seen as if from the edge of space itself.

-- jerrold mayer, via email to the Living Archive, September 12, 2001


Richmond Theater


Thanks for your reply. A writer friend of mine sent me that chilling Auden poem concerning the eruption of World War II, actually, the German invasion of Poland and how the U.S. at the time was professedly neutral. But Auden could see the great convulsion coming with a poet's prescience.

I am interested to hear now of the various ideas gettiing bandied about concerning a WTC monument, or rebuilding on the site. In Richmond, back in 1813, we had a vaguely similar situation though with incredibly less loss of life. Here, the Richmond Theater burned when a careless stagehand swung a lit chandelier against painted canvas scenery. The theater, packed on the day after Christmas with nearly 600 people, had just one main exit (and a balcony door for slaves and the poor).

Some 78 people died, either burned or crushed. The dead included the Governor of Virginia, prominent business people, women, children, free blacks and slaves.

Genuine heroes were minted. A blacksmith slave, Gilbert Hunt, was summoned to the theater to help and a well-known physician, Dr. McCall, stood in a second floor window and threw women to Hunt's large black arms. Dr. McCall tried then to jump but caught a gaiter on the window jam and hung, like a clock plendulum, against the side of the burning building. After what must've seemed an enormously long time, the strap broke and he too was dragged away by Hunt to the opposite side of the street. Just then, the building collapsed.

Strangely, Hunt wasn't granted his freedom after performing his life-saving duty. He lived many years, finally purchasing his liberty and working in his own smithy. At about 50, he went to Liberia to see if that was anything better and he found it the opposite. He returned to Richmond and complained to anybody who'd listen, white or black, that the solution to the race problem wasn't sending black folk back to Africa. He later purchased slaves of his own--his children. Laws of the time stated that free slaves could only have family members as slaves, and he did this probably to prevent them from being sold away.

The city went through months of mourning and donations to a charity were sent from numerous East Coast cities. All entertainment was banned and ministers fulminated against the evils of play-going (but not poorly designed theaters). If anybody was caught producing a frivolous exhibition, he'd be fined $6.66. Meanwhile, South Carolina architect Robert Mills was charged by the Richmond Theatre memorial commission, headed by Chief Justice John Marshall (a Richmond resident, our first most famous Richmond to D.C. commuter, and a supporter incidentally of sending free blacks to Liberia, though he recognized the evils of slavery and said so).

Mills was the U.S.'s first native-born architect and had studied with Jefferson. One of his later designs was the Washington Monument in D.C. and the Treasurery Building. His architectural vocabulary was of the Greek Revival. We have a few of the houses he designed here still standing, one of which was the Brockenbrough Mansion which becaome the White House of the Confederacy.

Mills also designed several domed, Greek Revival churches, in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Boston. Richmond's is the only one remaining. A sculpture was placed on the portico. It was an urn that in ancient times supposedly caught the tears of the bereaved, with its pedestal incised with the names of the dead. This solemn piece stood unmolested for more than a century, was severely damaged two years ago and has to be restored.

The building recently underwent a $1 million and a half dollar renovation, including installing a new fire suppression system. The church is elegant, simple, classic and gorgeous. The dome gives the sanctuary a kind of holy echo effect.

You should visit it, if you get the chance.


except that I noticed I may have said the fire was in 1813 -- the building was finished then, the fire was Dec. 26, 1811. The church, by the way, became the place of occasional worship for John Marshall, John Allan and his little non-adopted un-son, Edgar, among other notables.

My address in Richmond is in a the three-story, block-sized building which was once a school text book printing and binding plant and, thankfully, we are on the first floor.

-- Harry Kollatz, via email to the Living Archive, September 24, 2001.

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Last Updated October 12, 2002