The Hudson River’s shoreline along Manhattan has been in a constant state of flux, being lost to artificial land as the city grows ever outwards. On our recent tour of the 1 WTC and the Calatrava Station, The Port Authority showed us these landfill maps of the World Trade Center site from 1776 to 1999, highlighting the World Trade Center’s location vis-à-vis the waterfront.
The 1776 maps shows that the western portion of the first World Trade Centre would originally have been under the Hudson River shoreline. It was here, close to the intersection of Greenwich and Dey Streets, that Dutch explorer, Adraien Block’s ship, Tjger, burned to its waterline in November 1613. Leaving Block and his crew stranded, they were forced to overwinter on Manhattan Island. The remains of the ship were buried under the landfill when the shore started being extended in 1797. It was later discovered in 1916 during excavation work.
As New York grew commercially through the 1800s, the port began to extend outwards, with piers constructed for trading vessels to dock. Also note the label of “3rd Ward” on the map, which were the older geographical boundaries in Manhattan. When the system was first created in 1827, there were 14 wards. By 1862, there were 22 wards which incorporated the creation and expansion of Central Park. The website here has the locations of the wards. The notorious Five Points was in the 6th ward.
The more developed aerial view of the site in 1965 shows Radio Row, which used to stand on the site of the original World Trade Centre. It was an early electronics district, labelled a “paradise for electronics tinkerers” by the New York Times in 1950. Things changed later that decade when in 1958, the-then Chase Bank President, David Rockefeller, hatched plans for the Trade Center. Originally planned to sit where the Fulton Fish Market used to be, its location later changed so that it could be closer to New Jersey. Despite protests from local businesses, Port Authority began demolitions of Radio Row in early 1966.
With the growing popularity of air transportation by the 1950s, the piers had largely become dilapidated. The local government began considering ways to make better use of the space and in the 1960s, the idea of building a 90-acre planned community there emerged. The architect and designer, Wallace K. Harrison, stressed that its proximity to the city’s financial district was ideal.
In 1972, funding for the project began. Existing piers were buried and more than 900,000 cubic metres of dirt and rocks, excavated during the construction of the World Trade Centre and other smaller projects in the vicinity, were used for the building of Battery Park City.