- H. William Tetlow/Getty Images and Spencer Platt/Getty Images
On August 5, 1966, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey broke ground on a towering complex in Lower Manhattan.
The development replaced Radio Row, a bustling district for buying and selling electronic equipment. But the demolition left merchants without a place of business and just $3,000 apiece in compensation, fueling controversy. In a statement on air, local radio manager Sam Slate said the construction proved that “no home or business is safe from the caprice of government.”
The anger faded as the skyline made way for seven new buildings, including the landmark Twin Towers, which opened in 1973. At more than 1,360 feet tall, the towers were the tallest buildings in the world at the time of their completion. They were also a symbol of New York City, appearing in numerous films and television shows. On an average weekday in the 1990s, they hosted around 50,000 employees and 20,000 visitors.
But the World Trade Center’s size and prominence also made it a target for unwanted attention, and ultimately attacks. Over its decades-long history, the structures endured fires, bombings, and robberies, and fell on September 11, 2001 when terrorists crashed planes into the towers, killing nearly 3,000 people and decimating the structures.
Now, after 16 years of construction, the new, seven-building complex on the World Trade Center site is nearing completion. The development has re-animated the once-sparse Financial District, which is home to more residents than ever before.
The following aerial images trace the World Trade Center’s complicated history, from its groundbreaking in 1996 to the grand opening of 3 World Trade Center on June 11, 2018.
1966: Breaking ground
- H. William Tetlow/Getty Images
In 1966, workers began demolishing 13 square blocks of Radio Row to make way for the World Trade Center. The above photo shows the construction site, with the New York Telephone Company in the background and the West Side Highway to the left.
- A. Vine/Express/Getty Images
By January 1971, construction was in full swing. The year before, the first batch of residents moved into One World Trade Center, otherwise known as the North Tower. The South Tower, 2 World Trade Center, began accepting tenants in 1972.
1993: The bombing
On February 26, 1993, terrorists detonated a truck bomb below the North Tower, leaving six people dead and injuring more than 1,000. The attack was orchestrated by a group of terrorists who received funding from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, one of the principal architects of 9/11.
The image above shows Manhattan’s West Street in the wake of the bombing. To the right is the Vista International Hotel, which later became the Marriott World Trade Center. The building underwent extensive repairs following the bombing, then reopened in November 1994. It was demolished when the towers fell in the 9/11 attacks; around 40 people who were inside at the time died, including firefighters and two hotel employees. It is now the site of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.
2001: 9/11 attacks
On the morning of September 11, 2001, the World Trade Center site met a devastating end when two planes crashed into the Twin Towers, killing nearly 3,000 people. Both buildings fell to the ground after an hour and 42 minutes, while the surrounding buildings were brought down by fire or falling debris.
2001: Recovery and aftermath
The nine days that followed the attack were dedicated to rescue and recovery efforts. Firefighters, police officers, construction workers, and volunteers flew in from across the country to assist with cleanup and the search of bodies.
In the wake of the attack, Wall Street came to a standstill. After being closed for four trading sessions, the stock market reopened on September 17. Within five days of trading, the markets had lost around $1.4 trillion in value.
- Mario Tama/Getty Images
In 2002, the city held a ceremony to mark the end of its cleanup efforts, which had lasted nearly nine months. That same year, Silverstein Properties began constructing the first of the renovated buildings, 7 World Trade Center. The building opened four years later on May 23, 2006.
2008: Delays and hold-up
- Spencer Platt/Getty Images
In 2008, the owners of the World Trade Center released a 70-page report detailing major delays in the rebuilding process.
“This is the most complex construction program in the region’s history and setbacks are inevitable,” Port Authority Executive Director Christopher Ward wrote in a letter to then-governor David Paterson. By the time the report was released, the project had already exceeded its budget by $1 billion.
Michael Bloomberg, who was New York City’s mayor at the time, expressed concern that the national memorial would not be complete by the 10th anniversary of the attack. Two years later, the memorial debuted on schedule, fulfilling the city’s promise to the families of fallen victims.
2014: The unveiling of the Freedom Tower
- Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Seven years after 7 World Trade Center opened to the public, 4 World Trade Center made its grand debut. A year later, One World Trade Center was completed, becoming the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. The above image shows the building the day it was finished: November 3, 2014.
2018: A new era
- Spencer Platt/Getty Images
The latest building to be completed, 3 World Trade Center, officially opened on June 11, 2018. At 1,079 feet tall, it is the fifth tallest building in New York City and features 2.5 million square feet of office space.
The structure towers above the reflecting pools at the September 11 Memorial. Hundreds of white oak trees are scattered around the pools, symbolizing the area’s renewed growth.