The World Trade Center: what was it like – Years before the attack

By Gideon

This article is posted every year on the anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001 – We will never forget. 

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There is a large Jewish and Israeli community in New York, the largest outside of Israel.

I remember the first time I arrived in America. It was in the 80’s, toward the end of the Cold War. America was as strong and beautiful as it could be, at a time when no one was worried about terrorist attacks or expansion of extreme Islamic organizations around the world.

I arrived on a direct flight from Tel  Aviv to New York in the early night hours. The plane circled JFK few times before landing. I sat by the window and held my breath; there was a sea of city lights as far as I could see in every direction. It was an amazing and intimidating view at the same time. I never seen anything like that before. I wondered how would I find my way around the city once we landed.

As big as it was, New York was a welcoming city. It didn’t take long before I felt a New Yorker. I lived in Queens with my family and worked in New York City as a construction project manager of HVAC systems. One of the places I enjoyed working the most was the World Trade Center. It was such a great place to visit. I used to park my pickup truck few streets away and walk to the building. I loved mingling with the large crowd that was always there, especially on sunny summer days. Business people in their suites were surrounded by many tourists with their cameras and carefree spirits. It gave the place a feeling of a vacation resort, right at the center of the world’s largest financial district. With tourists from so many countries, it was a truly a world center.

Then, one day it was all gone, disappearing in a wave of dust, fire, shock, and destruction. At that time I was already living in Florida. Like most of the world, I watched it on TV with disbelief. I wondered if someone I knew from my days in New York was in the building when it happened. Regardless, for me it was personal; a place that I knew and loved was gone. More than the buildings, I felt pain for the people and families who were directly affected by it. This pain will never go away.

In 2009 a memorial was dedicated in Jerusalem to the victims of the World Center. As a person who is equally American and Israeli, I feel grateful to the people who built the memorial. It symbolizes the strong bond between the American people and the Israeli people. We, the free people of the world from every country, feel each other pain and we fight evil together.

The memorial plaza in Jerusalem is the only monument outside of the United States, which lists the nearly 3,000 victims. It  is made of granite, bronze and aluminum. It takes the form of an American flag, waving and transforming into a flame at the tip. A piece of melted metal from the ruins of the Twin Towers forms part of the base on which the monument rests. A glass pane over the metal facilitates viewing. The names of the victims are embedded on the metal plate and placed on the circular wall. The folded part of the flag is reminiscent of the collapse of the towers in a cloud of dust.

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I worked in Manhattan as a project manager between 1988 and 1991. I had few projects in the World Trade Center during that period. This is how I remember that impressive complex: 

I worked in Manhattan in the late 80th, long before any terrorist attack on the complex. At that time I was a project manager of a sheet metal company that installed ductwork for air-conditioning systems in commercial buildings in New York City. My job was to drive between the different job sites and supervise the installations.

We had a project in the underground parking garage of one of the two towers so I went to check on the crew. This was before terrorists detonated a bomb truck in the underground garage so access was simple. I basically drove the pickup truck into the underground garage, parked it, and walked around looking for my crew. The parking garage was huge. I didn’t know where exactly the crew was so I wondered around for a while until I reached a service door. I pulled on the handle and the door opened. I walked into the space. It was dark; I looked for the light switch. The door closed behind me; I couldn’t find the light switch so I began looking in the dark for the exit door. The room was noisy but I didn’t know what it was. I couldn’t see anything. I finally reached the door. I held my breath hopping that the door will open. These were the pre cell phone days; no one knew that I was there. If the door didn’t open there was a little chance that anyone would find me for weeks or months. I pushed on the handle and the door opened. With the door open, and light coming from the garage, I looked back to see what the noise was, just to learn that I was inside one of the elevator shafts. Yes, those elevators that moved the length of the building in a lightning speed. I can only say that I was lucky to stay next to the perimeter wall and thank the building codes that ensured that this door didn’t lock behind me.

Few months later we had a project on one of the top floors of the south tower. I don’t remember if it was the 99th or the 100th floor. Air conditioning ductwork is installed before the interior walls are constructed so the entire floor was open. There was nothing on that floor except for the exterior glass walls. It was like an observation deck. I was the only person there. It was a huge open space and I could see for miles in every direction. It was spring time and the weather was perfect. I used to plan my route so I’ll get there during my lunch time. I would sit on the floor next to the south side glass wall and watch the New York – New Jersey shoreline. The huge oceangoing cargo ships looked like small toys from that height. I will never forget the unbelievable view from that floor. I came back to this floor one time on a service call after the project was completed. I didn’t recognize the space; there were offices and work stations everywhere, the floor was full of people busy with their daily work. The breathtaking view was broken to tiny bits, separated by walls. It wasn’t the same.

I have many memories from that time, but there is one event that I forgot for many years and then few months ago it came back to me. I’m not sure why. The world Trade Center complex had several buildings around the two towers. We had a project in the lobby of one of the surrounding buildings. I remember watching a massive suspended metal ceiling structure that was installed in the lobby. I was wondering if the cables could hold the weight of this massive structure. I hoped that the structural engineers calculated the weight correctly. They did a good job; the structure lasted for a long time. I think that this building was damaged during the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack, which most likely caused this suspended ceiling to crash down to the floor.

I was already living and working in Florida when the towers were attacked. I didn’t keep in touch with the people I knew when I worked there. I don’t know if anyone of them was personally affected by the attack, but I can’t stop thinking about those facility people who were at the building at that time, perhaps sitting by a window on their coffee break, watching the ships go by when suddenly a huge airliner heading their way blocked their view.

 

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