City in the Sky

The Rise and Fall of the World Trade Center

James Glanz and Eric Lipton

Times Books

From City in the Sky:

The phone rang at 7 a.m. in the four-story, red-brick townhouse on East 65th Street where David Rockefeller was just finishing up his breakfast before his commute to work. Rockefeller, the youngest grandson of America's first billionaire, took a certain patrician pride in riding the Lexington Avenue subway downtown to his office at Chase National Bank, his newspaper folded lengthwise so that he could read it in the morning crush, just like everyone else. But on this day in February 1955 Rockefeller would make his commute in the back of a gray Cadillac limousine whose license plates read, very simply, WZ. Those were the initials of William Zeckendorf, the eccentric but brilliant real estate mogul and family friend who had phoned to say he had an idea that just couldn't wait. "I'll pick you up," Zeckendorf blurted to Rockefeller.

Rockefeller, who had just been appointed executive vice president for planning and development at the bank, was used to such outbursts from Zeckendorf, a bald, moon-faced man some people liked to call the P. T. Barnum of real estate. Now Zeckendorf was working out a sure-fire deal for building a giant new headquarters for Chase National Bank. His plan was so complicated that he did not want to describe it on the phone. He wanted Rockefeller to himself during the limousine ride downtown. This was going to be one hell of a deal.