The Walk, a film by Robert Zemeckis and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt tells the story of tight rope walker Philippe Petit who gave New Yorkers a 45-minute performance atop a wire between the original World Trade Center towers on the morning of August 7th, 1974. The subject of an impressive Academy Award-wining documentary, Man on Wire, Petit will get the big screen treatment in The Walk, which opens on September 30th. While the story is amazingly true, the promotional poster, featuring star Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Petit, gets one major detail wrong: the location of the Twin Towers. The World Trade Center towers are placed in midtown Manhattan, just next to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, over 3.5 miles from where they belong on the west side of Lower Manhattan. Oops…
In this surreal relocation of the buildings to Midtown Manhattan, the South Tower of the World Trade Center is directly adjacent to 30 Rockefeller Plaza, completely dwarfing it by 40 stories. We can see the enormous former Tobin Low Plaza between the Towers has replaced the plaza and skating rink at Rockefeller Center. Fritz Koenig’s sculpture “The Sphere” can be seen in the middle. In the poster, an entire chunk of Midtown from 30 Rock to Madison Avenue, including The Rockefeller Center International Building, has been replaced with most of the original World Trade Center Complex.
In our zoomed in images, we’ve flipped the poster to give you better orientation. In the poster we see World Trade Center’s superblock plopped smack dab in the middle of 5th Avenue, between East 48th Street and East 52nd Street, squarely in the middle of Rockefeller Center and New York’s most famous shopping district. If you look closely, four blocks north of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in the poster, you’ll see the Sony Tower at 550 Madison Avenue with its famous Chippendale top–built after Petit’s walk in 1982 and the IBM Building at 590 Madison Avenue, built in 1983. Looking further east, behind some photoshopped clouds, you’ll see the 55-story glass skyscraper, 731 Lexington Avenue, a building completed in 2004 (on ground level, it’s home to the Home Depot and Container Store).
One building that might have been there at the time of the walk (though certainly not next to the actual World Trade Center towers) was the New York Palace Hotel (now Lotte New York Palace), located just east of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The Palace received its high-rise extension in the mid-1970s, when the McKim, Meade & White-designed residence, The Villard Houses, was converted into a hotel.
They’ve actually flipped the World Trade Center around in this view – the North tower on the upper left of the poster is actually to the south, while the South Tower in the lower right is north. Framing the plaza we can see the former WTC 5 and the corner of WTC 6. WTC 4 is presumably obscured from view, and WTC 3 and WTC 7 are missing. These two had not yet been built in 1974 when The Walk took place. WTC 3, the hotel, would be where St. Patrick’s Cathedral is shown, and WTC 7 would be in the middle of 5th Avenue, across East 48th Street.
Interestingly, there are strange parallels between this bizarre “alternate universe” and the actual World Trade Center. If the idea of placing the World Trade Center in the middle of major city street in an existing commercial district seems crazy today, it didn’t in the 1960s. The original World Trade center was actually placed directly on top of Greenwich Street in Lower Manhattan, disconnecting the street for four blocks, and demolishing the neighborhood known as Radio Row.
Greenwich Street is only now being reconnected as part of the rebuilding. While it may seem strange to imagine St. Patrick’s Cathedral feet from the Twin Towers, there actually were churches in the shadow of the buildings. St. Paul’s Chapel and Trinity Church were just blocks away, but there was also the tiny St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, which had stood just 250 feet from the South Tower, until it was destroyed with little notice when the buildings collapsed. That church is now being rebuilt overlooking the memorial after a decade-long legal battle over the church’s land.
Then there are the incredible parallels between the World Trade Center and Rockefeller Center – both were ambitious urban renewal projects with sprawling complexes of commercial buildings that transformed New York neighborhoods. In fact, they were planned by the same family. Rockefeller Center was commissioned by John D. Rockefeller Jr. in 1928, and it was his son, David Rockefeller, who spearheaded The World Trade Center in 1960. In fact, the two centers are related as well. After all, the World Trade Center was conceived to revitalize Lower Manhattan at a time when it was struggling because all the economic growth was concentrated far up in Midtown, stimulated in part, by Rockefeller Center. So maybe the World Trade Center built into Rockefeller Center isn’t such a crazy idea after all.
It looks like the graphic designers of the poster took the landscape from modern day Google Earth or similar aerial photography, and we’re guessing it was just supposed to indicate the general New York City landscape, but you can bet we won’t be the last discerning New Yorkers to get up and arms about the discrepancy.
Next, read about the 1974 tight rope walk, known as the “artistic crime of the century,” and discover 10 World Trade Center Artifacts and Memorials in NYC. This article also written by @untappedmich.