Before the World Trade Center
The western portion of the World Trade Center site was originally under the Hudson River, with the shoreline in the vicinity of Greenwich Street. It was on this shoreline close to the intersection of Greenwich and the former Dey Street that Dutch explorer Adriaen Block's ship, the Tyger, burned to the waterline in November 1613, stranding Block and his crew and forcing them to overwinter on the island. They built the first European settlement in Manhattan. The remains of the ship were buried under landfill when the shoreline was extended starting in 1797, and were discovered during excavation work in 1916. The remains of a second ship from the eighteenth century were discovered in 2010 during excavation work at the site. The ship, believed to be a Hudson River sloop, was found just south of where the Twin Towers stood, about 20 feet (6.1 m) below the surface.
Later, the area became Radio Row. New York City's Radio Row, which existed from 1921 to 1966, was a warehouse district on the Lower West Side in the Financial District. Harry Schneck opened City Radio on Cortlandt Street in 1921, and eventually the area held several blocks of electronics stores, with Cortlandt Street as its central axis. The used radios, war surplus electronics (e.g., ARC-5 radios), junk, and parts often piled so high they would spill out onto the street, attracting collectors and scroungers. According to a business writer, it also was the origin of the electronic component distribution business.
The idea of establishing a World Trade Center in New York City was first proposed in 1943. The New York State Legislature passed a bill authorizing New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey to begin developing plans for the project but the plans were put on hold in 1949. During the late 1940s and 1950s, economic growth in New York City was concentrated in Midtown Manhattan. To help stimulate urban renewal in Lower Manhattan, David Rockefeller suggested that the Port Authority build a World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan.
Plans for the use of eminent domain to remove the shops in Radio Row bounded by Vesey, Church, Liberty, and West Streets began in 1961 when the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was deciding to build the world's first world trade center. They had two choices: the east side of Lower Manhattan, near the South Street Seaport; and the west side, near the H&M station, Hudson Terminal. Initial plans, made public in 1961, identified a site along the East River for the World Trade Center. As a bi-state agency, the Port Authority required approval for new projects from the governors of both New York and New Jersey. New Jersey Governor Robert B. Meyner objected to New York getting a $335 million project. Toward the end of 1961, negotiations with outgoing New Jersey Governor Meyner reached a stalemate.
At the time, ridership on New Jersey's Hudson and Manhattan Railroad (H&M) had declined substantially from a high of 113 million riders in 1927 to 26 million in 1958 after new automobile tunnels and bridges had opened across the Hudson River. In a December 1961 meeting between Port Authority director Austin J. Tobin and newly elected New Jersey Governor Richard J. Hughes, the Port Authority offered to take over the Hudson & Manhattan Railroad. The Port Authority also decided to move the World Trade Center project to the Hudson Terminal building site on the west side of Lower Manhattan, a more convenient location for New Jersey commuters arriving via PATH. With the new location and Port Authority acquisition of the H&M Railroad, New Jersey agreed to support the World Trade Center project. As part of the deal, the Port Authority renamed the H&M "Port Authority Trans-Hudson", or PATH for short.
In compensation for Radio Row business owners' displacement, the PANYNJ gave each business $3,000 each, without regard to how long the business had been there or how prosperous the business was. After the area had been purchased for the World Trade Center in March 1964, Radio Row was demolished starting in March 1965. It was completely demolished by 1966.
Approval was also needed from New York City Mayor John Lindsay and the New York City Council. Disagreements with the city centered on tax issues. On August 3, 1966, an agreement was reached that the Port Authority would make annual payments to the City in lieu of taxes for the portion of the World Trade Center leased to private tenants. In subsequent years, the payments would rise as the real estate tax rate increased.