Windows on the World Remembered

When Governor Clinton invited the owner of the Fraunces Tavern to prepare a dinner in honor of General George Washington on November 25, 1783, the population of New York City was 4,000 people.  Almost all were of European origin.

In 1976, The opening of the World Trade Center changed the economy of downtown Manhattan. By then the population of New York City exceeded eight million, uniting virtually every nation on earth.

The Twin Towers invigorated the economy of the entire region and became a vibrant vertical city so large that it had its own zip code. Fifty thousand people were employed within the walls of these buildings.

Joe Baum and the Windows on the World team, 1976

The Windows on the World restaurant complex occupied the 106th and 107th floors of the North Tower. It employed 1,500 people at every skill level.

Windows on the World was launched on the day the Tall Ships sailed into New York Harbor. Gael Greene, New York Magazine restaurant critic, described it as: “The Most Spectacular Restaurant in the World.”

“It took 54 seconds to ride the elevator to the 107th floor

On a clear day you could see 90 miles in every direction

In a high wind the  Twin Towers had an 11-inch sway.”

On the day Windows on the World opened its doors, this singular restaurant engaged a full-time staff of 30 to handle the 2,500 calls from guests seeking dinner reservations.

It was an extraordinary enterprise, unique in its capacity to handle the complexity of supplying first-rate food to each of its 22 eating spaces, and in its ability to serve 25,000 meals a day. Its construction budget exceeded $26 million. The money was well and wisely spent.

“Windows” as it was affectionately called, became the largest grossing restaurant in the world.

 The First Catastrophe

The restaurant closed after the first terrorist bombing in 1993 which destroyed its subterranean commissary.  It was completely architecturally re-conceived for its reopening on April 15, 1996. It cost another $26 million to rebuild Windows on the World

 The Triumph

4,800 candidates were interviewed for the 500 staff positions.

Just 18 weeks from opening night ( with the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s holidays slowing the work schedule), the creative team completed the following tasks:

  1. Make sure the custom-made tables, chairs, china, glass and knives, forks and spoons got to the restaurant on time (and worry desperately whether six 10-7/8″ plates, six bread and butter plates, 12 forks, 12 knives, six glasses, salt and pepper and flowers would fit on a 27″ table, bearing in mind orders, with hefty non-returnable deposits, had already been made for the china, glassware and tables).
  2. Hire the waiters, and order 600 pairs of custom-made pants, shirts, dresses, jackets, and other articles of clothing for 500 new employees, who had never worked together before and spoke a total of 23 languages. Buy extra jackets and ties for guests who arrive under dressed.
  3. Find four executive chefs who would operate the restaurants day and night.
  4. Create menus for The New Windows on The World Restaurant, Cellar in the Sky, Banquet Rooms and The Greatest Bar on Earth. Plan to change the menu for each location at least twice a day, each season and for all holidays and special events.
  5. Create a wine list. Order the wines, spirits and beer. And 1,000,000 (ONE MILLION!) bottles of champagne — and some tea and coffee.
  6. Hire experts to buy 20,000 pounds of prime beef to be delivered each week. Also 7,000 pounds of bread, pastry and cake flour, 4,000 pounds of fish, 2,250 dozen eggs, 3,000 pounds of poultry, 3,200 pounds of salad greens, 650 pints of strawberries.
  7. Hire the dishwashers, floor polishers, furniture movers and window cleaners. Hire four full-time florists.
  8. Take reservations for parties and banquets though there was not a piece of china or a stick of furniture to show to anyone…because the view is terrific though…
  9. Reassure guests that there are no terrorists within 500 square miles but still build the coat check center on the ground floor as a security precaution.
  10. Install emergency lighting and other security measures that had to be put in place without saying the word “safety” or suggesting that there may be danger of any kind.

And once the lights had been installed, remember to turn them off when the night staff leaves at 3 AM and before day staff arrives at 6 AM.

View from the Windows on the World

 “The new WINDOWS ON THE WORLD is a kind of architectural jazz, full of syncopation, its essence a series
of allusions to design themes that are played out in a lighthearted, yet never too whimsical way. It is
an architectural riff about cities, about urban energy, about the pleasures of texture and
color and light and about recollections of American design from the 1950’s and ‘60’s.”

Paul Goldberger, The New York Times, June 19, 1996

 It was Marcel Proust, who wrote Remembrance of Things Past.