Exactly five years ago today, almost 3,000 people died in the worst terrorist attack in America’s history. People around the world today will remember where they were and how profoundly affected they were when they heard the news that the U.S. had been attacked by such a magnitude. The ramifications of 9/11 have without a doubt changed the way the the United States and the world thinks and interacts.
We also understand the importance of 9/11, but that’s not our focus here. The events of 9/11 not only dramatically changed politics and policies, but it forever changed the landscape of lower Manhattan. Specific for our purpose here, the attack destroyed The Mall at the World Trade Center, a 427,000 square foot underground enclosed mall which was lower Manhattan’s largest retail center.
Built in 1970 and 1972, respectively, the majestic twin towers of the World Trade Center were iconic of America’s might and force. Over 50,000 people worked in the buildings, and over 200,000 passed through the Center each day. The complex even had its own zip code, 10048. Therefore, it isn’t surprising this mecca of human interaction would also contain a large portion of retail.
The Mall at the World Trade Center existed mostly underneath the eastern half of the block the WTC occupied, under WTC buildings 4 and 5, and also underneath the open-air World Trade Center Plaza. The WTC Plaza, also known as the Austin Tobin Plaza, which featured the now-infamous sculpture “Sphere” by artist Fritz Koenig. The damaged sculpture now sits in Battery Park and will be integrated into the site design of the new World Trade Center. WTC 4 and 5 were both low-level 9-story office buildings which housed clients such as Deutsche Bank, Morgan Stanley, and the New York Board of Trade. Standing immediately adjacent to the east of WTC 1 and 2, WTC 4 and 5 sustained major damage on mostly upper floors and were subsequently removed as part of the WTC removal project.
The Mall was also the point of access or transfer to the Chambers Street (served by A and C trains) and World Trade Center (served by E trains) Metropolitan Transportation Authority Subway lines and at the PATH (Port Authority Trans-Hudson Railroad) rapid transit line to New Jersey. Both stations reopened with temporary yet fully operational facilities in November 2003.
The design of The Mall at the World Trade Center was essentially an underground figure eight, spanning most of the subterranean level beneath WTC buildings 4, 5, and the WTC Plaza. At the edges of the ‘figure 8′, different spokes radiated out: into the WTC complex to the west, onto the streets, or into the PATH and Subway stations directly connected to the mall. Decor was modern yet decidedly dated. This mall didn’t need to sell shoppers with fanciness – they were going to shop there regardless.
With an impressive roster of about 80 stores, The Mall was made up of many popular typical mall retailers, including Sam Goody, The Limited, Express, Structure, Warner Bros. Studio Store, J Crew, Banana Republic, Ann Taylor Loft, and the list went on. The Mall also had service-oriented and convenience retailers such as Duane Reade drug store, and several fast food establishments. Popular sit-down or fast-casual restaurants were in the works when the mall was destroyed.
Also just prior to its destruction, The Mall at the World Trade center was leased by its owner, The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, for 99 years (with the surrounding office space of the entire World Trade Center included) in a joint agreement between Westfield America and Silverstein Properties. Under the agreement, Westfield would manage the retail space and Silverstein would manage the office space. Based in Los Angeles, Westfield currently owns an impressive roster of enclosed, regional malls across the country, and was excited in the Summer of 2001 to have nabbed this one. And that’s not surprising, since retail sales in the mall were expected to be over $900 per square foot by the end of 2001. In addition to more restaurants, Westfield also planned to increase the center’s retail capacity by over 50% and add a new impressive entryway. The cost of the lease was valued at $3.2 billion. Westfield was also planning on re-branding the mall as Westfield Shoppingtown World Trade Center, like many of its other malls across the country.
I visited the World Trade Center and its Mall on August 21, 2001, three weeks to the day before it was destroyed, and took the pictures associated with this post except for the mall map which was done by the National Institute of Standards and Technology after the collapse. I had only been to the site briefly in 1998 and in the aftermath of the disaster I was really glad I got to fully experience the World Trade Center before its demise. Finally, it should be noted that all of the employees of the mall were able to make it to safety. Take a look at the pictures and let them be a part of your remembrance of 9/11 and the World Trade Center.
Update 9/22/06: I was recently contacted by reader Marc, who offered up some photos and information concerning the World Trade Center’s mall and concourse from the early 1980s, and also a scanned mall map from 1999 or 2000. The mall was decidedly downmarket then as compared to when it was destroyed in 2001, and anchored by Alexander’s and Lamston’s (kind of like Woolworth’s).
The rest of his very interesting photo set featuring photos taken all over Manhattan (including more of the World Trade Center) from the 1980s can be seen here. Thanks a lot for the submissions!