Loved, hated, center's profile was towering

At 10:29 a.m. yesterday, Manhattan's skyline effectively collapsed back in time 30 years. The twin towers of the World Trade Center, the dominant symbol of New York, if not world capitalism itself, were somehow simply gone.

One could always argue about whether the buildings were the tallest in the world -- without their broadcasting antennas they were not; with the antennas they were -- but it seemed beyond dispute that the 110-story towers together loomed largest in the psyche of New York. Who, after all, can form a mental image of the world's tallest building, the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia?

The twin towers were not beautiful, or poetic. They had not the art deco grace of Manhattan's Empire State Building nor the Chrysler Building. The towers were sheer power expressed in steel, concrete, aluminum and glass, bearing in their staggering ascension a certain arrogance, too.

In the 1976 remake of the 1933 classic movie King Kong, the giant ape bypassed the Empire State Building and instead climbed the World Trade Center as he terrorized New York. It seemed the culmination of a symbolic evolution; in the American mind, the World Trade Center ruled as an emblem of the nation's commercial nerve center.

These towers -- part of a seven-building complex -- were two gigantic boxes, forcing themselves upon the quirky rhythms of the Manhattan skyline.

In 1974, a Frenchman brought some human dimension to the high-gloss behemoths by rigging a tightrope between the towers and gingerly walking from one to the other. A year later, an unemployed construction worker parachuted off the North Tower, hoping to draw attention to the plight of the world's poor. In 1977, a man who was called a human fly scaled the South Tower as crowds of New Yorkers looked on from the ground.

When the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey leased the towers in the spring to a Paramus, N.J., real estate firm for $3.25 billion, the biggest such deal ever, the New York Times ran a piece headlined: "Learning to Love the World Trade Center."

It had never been easy.

From the beginning, the towers were considered an unfortunate example of urban renewal, an unsightly answer to the question of how to improve conditions in a shabby section of lower Manhattan. Sixteen acres of neighborhood were sacrificed to the project. According to the Times, the towers disrupted flight patterns of birds, which crashed into the towers by the dozens and fell dead to the pavement.

A lunch-hour car bomb attack in the World Trade Center underground garage Feb. 26, 1993, killed six, injured more than 1,000, but did not substantially damage the building's structure. In the aftermath of the attack, it was tempting enough to see an affirmation of the building's permanent place on the world stage.

Next year would have marked the 30th anniversary of the completion of the North Tower, 2003 the 30th birthday of the South Tower. Enough time, it seems, for these off-putting monoliths to find a place in a city's heart, not to mention a nation's collective consciousness. As a postcard image, it became as ubiquitous as the Statue of Liberty.

Accepted, finally, if not loved. And now gone.

About the World Trade Center's twin towers

1 World Trade Center, North Tower: completed 1972

2 World Trade Center, South Tower: completed 1973

Height with rooftop antennas: 1,728 feet, world's tallest building

Height without antennas: 110 stories, 1,368 feet, world's fourth-tallest

Square feet: 4,716,416

Square feet per floor: 50,000

Percentage of lower Manhattan's office space: 10

Approximate number of tenants: 400

Approximate number of employees: 50,000

Approximate number of daily visitors: 80,000

Windows: 43,600 in both towers combined

Elevators: 95 in each tower carrying passengers, four in each tower carrying freight

Constructed: 1966 to 1973

Construction type: Steel and concrete, with closely spaced steel exterior supporting columns and beams.

Owner: Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

Designed by: Minoru Yamasaki, Yamasaki and Associates, with Emery Roth

Previous terrorist attack: Car bomb explosion, Feb. 26, 1993

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