BOOSTERS. Silverstein, l. to r., at July 4 WTC ceremony, with N. Y. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Childs, N.Y. Gov. George Pataki, Libeskind, Dan Tishman and N. J. Gov. James McGreevey. (Photo above and bottom courtesy of Tishman Construction Corp. of New York)

Larry Silverstein owes his life to his fair complexion, his wife of 48 years and two simple words that saved his skin. To resolve an argument three years ago, the 73-year-old developer uttered, "Yes, dear," to his wife Klara. "Those are two words that go a long way," says Silverstein.

In the six weeks since he had signed a 99-year commercial lease on the 12-million-sq-ft World Trade Center, Silverstein had been busy meeting with his new tenants. So on Sept. 11, 2001, he told Klara he wanted to break a dermatologist’s appointment she had made for him, for it interfered with his daily 8:30 a.m. breakfast at Windows on the World, atop the WTC’s north tower. She insisted that he go to the doctor. As a consequence, Silverstein dodged the terrorists’ "bullet" that pierced the north tower and the heart of America.

Silverstein’s supporters might wonder whether he was spared death on that day so he could lead the rebuilding of the commercial portion of the 16-acre complex–a job not for the meek. His detractors–"greedy" is about the nicest thing he’s been called–might think he was spared to be punished. But though he has smarted from both stinging criticism, numerous lawsuits and charges he is responsible for the nearly 2,800 deaths and the destruction wreaked by the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Silverstein says his resolve to rebuild never has wavered.

TALL EXPECTATIONS. Towers will conform to city street grid, replacing original super-block. (Rendering courtesy of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill)

With all the "misery, heartache and horror that came with so many lives lost, to me, not to rebuild was and is totally uncontemplatable," Silverstein says.

Sept. 11 was not Silverstein’s closest scrape with death in 2001. On Jan. 21, five days before bids were due for the WTC lease, a drunk driver hit him, smashing his pelvis as he was crossing a midtown street. Pumped up with morphine for the pain, he was back at work on the bid two days later from his hospital bed.

Silverstein offered $3.2 billion for the lease and lost the bid by $50 million. But the high bidder did not succeed in closing with the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, the landowner and original builder. Silverstein was next in line.

The developer long had an attraction for the WTC’s twin 110-story towers, which opened in the early ’70s as the world’s tallest buildings. During the 1987 dedication of the original Seven WTC, which he built across the street, Silverstein recalls looking up at the towers and thinking how wonderful it would be to own them. "Life works in strange and unpredictable ways," he says.

At an age when many of his contemporaries are playing bridge or hitting golf balls, Silverstein is in the midst of his life’s most tempestuous voyage. "Moving the development process forward is challenging, stimulating, inspiring, frustrating, enervating and staggering," he says. "It is the total combination of life’s emotional highs and lows every day."

A man with a reputation as an extremely tough negotiator, Silverstein says he maintains his cool these days by "keeping the faith." Klara, his three adult children–two of whom work with him, and his six grandchildren are his inspiration and support. And then there is his beloved "stink pot" boat. "Being able to get out on our boat is extraordinarily rejuvenative," Silverstein says.

Moving Ahead


Milestones also help. The first was topping out the electric substation at the base of the 47-story replacement for Seven WTC, which also collapsed on 9/11. The second was lifting Seven WTC’s first beam. And the most recent was the July 4 laying of the cornerstone for the 1,776-ft-tall Freedom Tower.

Silverstein also relies a great deal on his design and construction team. For his construction manager, the work is an instance of deja vue with a tragic twist. John Tishman, 79, led both the construction of the original complex and the first Seven WTC.

Tishman, chairman of Tishman Realty & Construction, witnessed the 9/11 debacle with his son Dan, president and CEO of Tishman Construction Corp. of New York, from the windows of their midtown office. "It was horrendous," he says.


The shock did not settle in, however, until three days later when Tishman found himself staring blankly at a computer for two or three hours. After he snapped back, he began to remember things about the first project. He recalls a pivotal moment when the steel bids came in $25 million over the $95-million budget developed earlier with the help of the two bidders. The $120-million number threatened the entire development, says Tishman. To rescue it, the port authority went elsewhere for the steel, breaking the package into 11 pieces.

After 9/11, Tishman says he was surprised and somewhat annoyed that no one called to ask for help with the clean-up. In the end, the firm did a lot of work on buildings that had collateral damage.

Dan Tishman says his father’s recovery from 9/11 began a couple of days after the attacks, when Silverstein called and said, "John, we’re going to rebuild these things."

"To rebuild on that site, to have my son in charge of construction and take us to the next level of the tallest building in the world, is really something," says John.

The unprecedented opportunity, born out of unprecedented tragedy, is not lost on David Childs, partner in charge of design for the Freedom Tower and Seven WTC, at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. Childs watched the events of 9/11 unfold from his...