The story of the WTC began in the 1950s, when several visionary New Yorkers planned to make downtown Manhattan the home of world commerce. At the helm was Chase Manhattan Bank Chairman David Rockefeller, who founded the Downtown-Lower Manhattan Development Association with several New York–based chief executives. Together the group created a plan to unify and revitalize downtown, capitalizing on the city’s global economic leadership.
The bi-state Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was an obvious partner for the ambitious Trade Center project. The agency saw the concept of a consolidated site of world trade as an unparalleled opportunity to “stimulate the flow of commerce through the Port.” It was also a chance for the agency to revamp the faltering trans-Hudson commuter rail lines, complete with a thriving new Lower Manhattan business destination to link to.
In 1962 the idea took root in government, with sights set on the west side of Lower Manhattan, known then as “Radio Row” for its many electronics stores. The 13-block area bounded by Vesey and Liberty Streets, and Church and West Streets would be home to the World Trade Center, closing five through streets to form one of the city’s first “superblocks.”
The Port Authority selected Seattle-born architect Minoru Yamasaki to design the project together with a team of top engineers and architects. Less than two years and more than 100 design concepts later, the Port unveiled the $525 million World Trade Center plan to the public.
It was a complex of six buildings comprised of 10 million square feet of office space. At its core were the Twin Towers, which at 110 stories (1,368 and 1,362 feet) each would be the world’s tallest skyscrapers. Public sentiment ran from astonishment at the sheer size of the towers, to both thrill and dismay at their monolithic, modern design.