Guy Tozzoli worked for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for over four decades. He started in 1946 as a junior engineer in the engineering department. By February 1962, he was the director in charge of the planning, construction, rental and operation of the World Trade Center. He is currently the president of the World Trade Centers Association. Producer Ric Burns interviewed him during the making of New York: The Center of the World.
Closing the Deal for the Trade Center
In the feasibility studies, there was a woman named Lee Jaffe. She was Director of Public Relations for the Port Authority. Incidentally, Mrs. Jaffe died this year at the age of 100. And so I remember reading through all the papers that I read. She had suggested to this study team, doing a feasibility study, if you're going to build a great project, you should build the tallest building in the world.
I remember, we were negotiating first with Mayor Wagner and then Mayor Lindsey. And I was shaving one morning and I was thinking, "Gee, if I could think of only one more thing that we might be able to do, that might close the deal," if you would. It was a very complicated arrangement. I said, "You know, maybe we could take the dirt out of the bottom of the trade center," and there were only some rotten old piers next to the World Trade Center, and they were not useful for anything. "Why not put the dirt in the river? Because land is a valuable commodity." And so I called Mr. Price and Mr. Lindsey and said, "Listen, I have an idea. I think we could take the dirt out of the bottom of the trade center and give it to the city of New York." And they had two questions first. Number one: "You're going to save money," they said. And "No," I said, "It's going to cost us money because you can't just put dirt in the river. You have to put a wall around it or it'll go floating away." And so it happened to be five, almost $6 million more to do that. And number two, I said, "You know, not only will it cost us more, but think about it." I said that "You will have that land, and you can use it for housing, you could use it for anything that you want." And that was the beginning of the World Financial Center. Battery Park City. And so it -- And it was adjacent to the World Trade Center of New York. So the two things together, the World Financial Center and Battery Park City, housing, but more than that, that had over six million square feet of office space alone. So it was a great partnership, if you would.
The Story of Windows on the World
My office was at 15th Street, the Port Authority building, for many years. And every day I'd go down to the site. It's less than a mile and a half. And when the steel was going up, I -- one day I took the construction elevator to the 13th floor. I remember that. And the construction elevators were in the middle, where they -- where the elevators were, elevator core. As I stepped out of the elevator, I looked and I said, "My God. The columns are so close together," only 19 inches wide, the window, and so deep, because of the strength that you needed, that from the center or unless you were right up against the windows, you really couldn't get a view if you looked to the side.
And I had wanted a great restaurant on one top of one building, and I had wanted an observation deck inside on the other building. And so I came back to the office and I called Mr. Levy. Mal Levy was my deputy for architects. He dealt with Yama all the time. And I said, "Listen, call Yama and tell him that for the two top floors," -- that is, top floors below the mechanical floors, 107 -- "that we need to have windows at least half again as wide, and we need to put higher strength steel so we could make what's called mullions in windows," make them smaller so people could look out.
And Austin Tobin was -- was my boss. He was head of the Port Authority. And he loved architects. And I think maybe he wanted to be one. And he was a great executive and a great lawyer. So there was a box on my table behind my office, and the light went on. Austin Tobin is on the phone, on his box, and he says, "Come up here, Guy, please." I came, went to his office. And he said, "I just had a word from Mr. Yamasaki. He said you're ruining his architecture." I said, "How am I doing that?" He said, "You're going to change the width of the windows." And I said, "Austin, it's a quarter of a mile in the sky. And I'm only increasing them from 19 inches like to 29 inches." And... the mullions -- I said, "Otherwise you can't see out, except by looking straight ahead. And it's okay in offices, but not for a great view restaurant that I hope we'll have there some day." So he said, "I'm sorry, Guy. Can't do that."
So now I go to work. And I had Joe Baum, one of the greatest restauranteurs I've ever known in my life. Joe was my consultant for what would eventually became Windows on the World. And so on the top of the building at 15th Street, we built a model of what I wanted to build and what Yamasaki wanted to build. And the building kept going up
Now, if you stopped the construction of the World Trade Center for standby time, it would cost $1 million a day. So therefore you couldn't stop the construction. And we used to do three floors every two weeks. So going up, and finally we held a meeting. We're on about floor 18 or 19, 20. And I had Mr. Levy, my deputy, build two things, in wood: the outside wall as I conceived it, and then we put tables back, and it was clear that you couldn't see out unless you looked straight ahead. So -- And I thought: Well, okay, that settles that. And we'd have to spend $2 million, incidentally, to change the design and the steel and everything that went with it. So I went back to my office and I waited, and the light went on, and I went up to Austin Tobin's office, and he said, "Guy, we can't change the design." I said, "But Austin, it's a quarter of a mile in the sky. No one can see the difference in width, etc. on the windows. Impossible." I said, "I demonstrated that to you today." He said, "I'm sorry, but Mr. Yamasaki just called me again. He said, if you change the design, he quits." Uh-oh. I said, "That's bad."
So I went back down to my office and I'm steaming in some respects, and I said, "Well, we can't let this happen, because we will be the laughingstock of the world. We're going to have an observation deck but you can't look out if you look to the side. And we're going to have a great restaurant but you can't look out except straight ahead." And so I asked Levy, I said, "Listen, Mal. When is the last time when I can make the decision?" He said floor 63. So I fumed and fretted, and I drew some pictures and simulated from the ground what it looked like a quarter of a mile in the sky.
And then at 4:50 I made up my mind and I went to Austin Tobin's office. I said, "Austin, I'm sorry I have to tell you this, but I've been thinking since we had that meeting. It would be absolute stupidity to build a building the way we're talking about on the 107th floor, each one, because it really doesn't mean anything, that width, as far as the architecture is concerned." And I said, "So I've made up my mind. If you don't change, I quit." And he said, "But Guy, you can't do that." I said, "Yes, I can," because I said that -- "It's just wrong to do what we're doing." And I said, "And by the way, Mr. Yamasaki just had his picture on the cover of Time magazine for having built the two greatest towers in the world." And I said, "I don't think he'll quit the job. But you know, you have to make up your own mind." I went back down to my office. He -- Austin said, "Well, give me a day. I'll have to think about it, talk to some of the board members."
And the next day he said, "Guy, you're correct. So we will change the design. We'll tell Mr. Yamasaki to do that." And two things happened. One, he didn't quit, as I didn't think he would. And number two, at the opening night for Windows on the World, we're having a party, and there were tables back from the windows about 45-50 feet, up in the Windows on the World restaurant. And Yamasaki was sitting up there, and he called me over and I bent down. He said, "You know, Guy, you were right." But I knew that he was still very upset.
So he wrote a book about the architecture of the Trade Center, and I was mentioned one time in the book. It said Guy Tozzoli helped get city approval of this project, period. That was it. So I think that's a good description of our relationship. We respected one another, but he didn't like me to tell him what to do.
The observation deck and Windows on the World were the two things, in my judgment, that turned the city of New York from looking at the Trade Center as some monster downtown to something that was theirs. They began to adopt it. And it was great. I mean, I just -- The greatest joy for me was to watch the foreign visitors come through the lobbies, you know, looking up at Yama's lobbies, which... 73 feet high and those beautiful Venetian chandeliers up there with different colors and -- It was just a fabulous place.
Opposition to Building the World Trade Center
The main objection to this project came from the people who owned the Empire State Building. The Empire State Building was owned by Harry Helmsley and Larry Wiener. Okay? And they, when they heard the announcement of our plan, which was in 1964, they formed a Committee for a Reasonable World Trade Center. So -- And they gave them a budget of $500,000 to prevent the construction of the World Trade Center. Now, there were things that were -- some, not so good. There were some stores on the site that we had to move. And we relocated people. We paid for them to move, etc.
But anyway, I went and met with Mr. Helmsley one day. I said, "Harry," (I knew him.) I said, "Harry, could you tell me what is a reasonable World Trade Center?" And he said, "Yes." I said, "What's that?" He said, "One hundred floors high." And I said, "Well, your Empire State Building's 102." And I said, "I'm sorry, but I think 110 is a better number."
It was Thanksgiving Day, 1966. My mother and father were at my house, and the phone rang. A New York Times reporter. And he had me on the phone for about a half hour. He said, "I hear from the Committee for a Reasonable World Trade Center that your towers will obstruct the television signal from the top of the world -- the Empire State Building." And I said, "Well, I don't think that's quite correct," because -- "How do you know that?" Well, I said, "During World War II, I was a radar expert, and I went to MIT under the Navy, and used it in the Pacific. So I can tell you that it might make a slight shadow but the waves curve around." And he kept insisting that they said no, it would be an obstruction, and blips would appear somewhere in Yonkers. Finally in sort of desperation he said, "Well, what would you do, Guy, if it's really true?" Well, I said, "I can't think of anything else, but I'd put an antenna on the top of this building and move the antennas from the -- back to our place. They would be higher, and it wouldn't be any problem."
So I went back to the table, dinner table. And remember, we were only a few weeks short of going to the city of New York for the right to close the streets. And I knew we were going to have some difficulties. So my mother, who loved television, she said, "Guy, who was that?" I said, "It's the New York Times," and I told her the story of what they said. And I said, "You know, Mom, I could really build [towers] if I had to, but it'd be terrible. We'd have to redesign the number one tower. And be very expensive." So -- and she had her head down. And finally she looked up, she said, "You know, you're my son and I love you very much, but I must tell you, if you're going to hurt television reception in this area, you better stop that project of yours right now." And I knew I had big problems.
In any case, we did. We actually negotiated a deal with the television people, and they moved down to our place. And it all worked out.
Meeting Philippe Petit
I didn't realize he was planning for six years, as I found out much later. Anyway, I had in my car a radio that connected me to the police desk at the World Trade Center. And on the day in question, and he had been with me quite a few days, and planning this great feat etc., stretching this high wire from one building to the other, it's about 130-some-odd feet, you know, and I had no concept. And the light went on. And the patrolman at the police desk said, "Mr. T" (They call me Mr. T), "there's a problem in the World Trade Center." I said, "What's the problem?" Said, "There's a guy walking on a tightrope between the two towers. What should we do?" And I couldn't think of anything else. I said, "Don't let him fall off," and I hung up. So then I drove a little further. I called back. I said, "By the way, this is incredible. There's somebody walk -- If he doesn't fall off, and he comes out, don't arrest him." Because we had Port Authority police.
Well, as it turned out, he was committing a crime. He was disturbing the peace. So when he finished his walk, I got to the building, and I went up to the deck, and I was watching Philippe lie down, and I thought, "My God, this is really something. It'll be on the front page of every newspaper in the world." And I think to this day some of the commissioners in the Port Authority think that I put Philippe up to this, to get publicity for it. But I didn't.
And when he came off, I said, "Philippe, tell me something. Why did you do it?" And he just looked at me and said, "Guy, I had to." I mean, that was it ... a simple description of what he needed to do. So he and I have remained friends. I helped him get a job at the Barnum & Bailey Circus.
The judge called and said,"By the way, he's a nice young man." And what should he do? I said, "Well, I don't know. Judge, he's such a nice guy." And the judge came up with the -- "Let him do something, you know, that's nice." And the punishment was simple. For the poor kids -- And we brought toys to the poor handicapped kids, and we had them at Central Park, and Philippe walked across Central Park, the lake. And -- great guy. You know, you talk to him, he does have a book. And I love to talk to him.
When he came to see me, I said to him, "Listen. Tell me. Are you ever frightened when you're up on the wire?" And he said, "Well, Guy, tell you the truth. There was once." He said, "I lay down on my back, and I'm staring at the sky, and I was so happy. And all of a sudden a gull came. And the gull and I, eye to eye, looked at one another." And Philippe said, "You know, and I knew that he knew that I was in his territory. And I became frightened," he said, "because what would happen? I couldn't defend myself if he decided to get rid of me or attack me," etc. But he said, "Finally the gull flew away." And so Philippe, I know -- I said one other time, "What's the crucial moment?" He said, "There's that moment when you have one foot on the building and one foot on the wire, and you have to take this foot off the building and put it on the wire." He said, "And then you go transcendentally into another world. And you're out there."
So Philippe said to me, "By the way, Guy," he said to me, "Would you write a short sentence for my book?" He said he would put it on the jacket. And I thought and I said, "Yeah, I'd be happy to do that." So I wrote the following sentence, if I can remember now: "Philippe Petit committed the perfect crime by walking on a high wire between the Twin Towers, and the whole world loved him for doing it." So, and it's true.
Visitors to the World Trade Center
I used to stay at night and walk around the -- and talk to the night people on duty, etc., and find out what was happening. I parked my car all the time -- and I miss that -- where the tenants were. All the other directors had another private parking space. I parked with the tenants. I wanted to hear them say -- tell me what was wrong, or what was right, or what we ought to do. And they never knew who I was. I just -- I walk in, I wait at the elevators to go upstairs, but I listened. And I learned a whole lot. And I miss so much the -- I loved to watch the people walk through the lobbies. I -- It was just beautiful. And you could tell, you know, people from out of state looking up, out of the country, looking at -- And I used to engage in conversations -- I'd love it -- in the elevators. Sometimes I'd ride the elevators to the 107th floor just for the hell of it, because I wanted to hear people talking about it. And you'd hear them getting floor 100, etc. And then I'd say, "Where are you from?" And you'd hear they came from San Francisco, they came from the Midwest, they came from Amsterdam, and -- And I miss all that...
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