An Urban Archive Was Lost on 9/11. This Agency Is Trying to Rebuild It.

A giant brass mannequin of the tunneling machine that carved out the Holland Tunnel was displayed within the engineering division.

Thick binders with years of detailed reviews on the area’s key infrastructure operations, together with Kennedy and LaGuardia airports and the Midtown Manhattan bus terminal, had been stored within the govt workplace.

And tucked away within the basement had been 1000’s of authentic glass slides displaying the early 1900s rail work that later grew to become a part of the PATH practice system that carries New Jersey commuters below the Hudson River to Manhattan.

All had been items of the wealthy historical past of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the sprawling bistate transportation and infrastructure company that constructed the World Trade Center and was headquartered within the North Tower. All had been destroyed within the Sept. 11 terror assaults.

Now the Port Authority has begun to get better a few of this misplaced historical past twenty years after the devastating World Trade Center assaults that killed 84 of its workers, together with the chief director, cops, engineers, authorized counsels, secretaries, property managers and mailroom clerks.

The Port Authority has collected a whole bunch of outdated pictures, paperwork and artifacts because the assaults. Many objects — together with an enormous bronze plaque of the Port Authority seal and letters written by former workers about day-to-day operations — had been donated by the company’s community of 6,441 retirees and their households.

A Port Authority seal that was as soon as embedded at its former headquarters is now on the company’s new places of work at four World Trade Center. Credit…Holly Pickett for The New York Times

“It was a bad day for everybody,” mentioned Bob Kelly, 79, who spent three many years on the company and donated the seal in addition to outdated photographs of the bus terminal the place he labored within the 1970s. “There was no way you could make up for what was done, and you would just do what you could.”

The Port Authority, which is marking its centennial this yr, has documented its historical past in a pop-up exhibit with archival photographs that has been displayed on the Midtown bus terminal, on the Oculus in Lower Manhattan and at its present headquarters at four World Trade Center. The company plans to publish a commemorative e-book later this yr.

“9/11 is a very important, challenging and somber moment in the life of the Port Authority, but the agency existed for 80 years before that,” mentioned Alfred Doblin, the director of strategic communications, who has been main the centennial efforts. “It’s important to recognize that the Port Authority has a long, long history before 9/11 and will have a long history after 9/11.”

“It’s necessary to acknowledge that the Port Authority has a protracted, lengthy historical past earlier than 9/11,’‘ mentioned Alfred Doblin, an company official who has been main its centennial anniversary efforts. Credit…Holly Pickett for The New York Times

The company — initially known as the Port of New York Authority — was created by a 1921 interstate compact licensed by Congress after a century of disputes between New York and New Jersey over rail freights, boundary traces and management of the very important harbor that sits between them.

“It was a complete lack of cooperation,” mentioned Angus Kress Gillespie, a professor of American Studies at Rutgers University in New Brunswick. “The lack of cooperation resulted in a lack of infrastructure — no bridges, no tunnels, nothing.”

As a outcome, freight was carried to the area on rail traces that led to New Jersey and had to be put onto sluggish barges to attain ships in New York Harbor, leading to delays and a bottleneck.

But the Port Authority modified all that, constructing and working a collection of main crossings, together with the George Washington Bridge and the Lincoln Tunnel, and laying the infrastructure for one of many nation’s busiest ports. The company, which has no taxing energy however is funded via tolls, person charges and rents, expanded to embrace the area’s principal airports.

It was Austin J. Tobin, then the chief director of the Port Authority, who partnered with the banker and philanthropist David Rockefeller within the 1960s to plan the 110-story twin towers in Lower Manhattan. Mr. Tobin needed a constructing sufficiently big to convey collectively the area’s transport and maritime trade below one roof to enhance effectivity, and lots of corporations did come, nevertheless it was not sufficient to refill the World Trade Center, Prof. Gillespie mentioned.

An aerial view in 1956 of New York International Airport, broadly referred to as Idlewild, which later grew to become John F. Kennedy International Airport.Credit…through The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

Prof. Gillespie, 79, researched his 1999 e-book concerning the World Trade Center on the Port Authority headquarters, the place Mr. Tobin’s weekly reviews to the board of commissioners and information clippings had been saved in an elaborate shelving system. Prof. Gillespie would request a binder, and a metallic claw would seize the e-book and produce it to him.

A secretary made copies of the World Trade Center sections for Prof. Gillespie, who later donated them to the Rutgers University library, the place they’re nonetheless utilized by researchers. “It’s a tiny fraction of the whole thing, but at least we have something,” Prof. Gillespie mentioned.

The Port Authority initially took up at the least 20 flooring in the midst of the North Tower, mentioned Peter Rinaldi, an engineer who retired from the company in 2010 after 38 years. The engineering division alone was unfold out over a number of flooring. In later many years, the company lowered its footprint, transferring a few of its workers and operations to New Jersey.

Mr. Rinaldi was not at work on the day of the assaults, having simply began a trip. In his workplace on the 72nd ground, he stored the three-foot-long brass mannequin of the Holland Tunnel machine, which had been handed down by generations of engineers. “It was a conversation piece,” mentioned Mr. Rinaldi, who by no means noticed it once more.

Also misplaced had been numerous blueprints, brochures, monetary data, pictures, movie and video footage, and reference supplies for Port Authority operations that had been stored in submitting cupboards throughout the assorted departments and in secured wire cages in an enormous basement archive.

An statement automobile being examined on the Goethals Bridge in 1952.Credit…through The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

In some circumstances, Port Authority employees had been in a position to substitute destroyed data with copies from exterior contractors who had labored on tasks in addition to from the private recordsdata of retirees and thru on-line searches of used books.

But many objects had been certainly one of a form, like the unique 1921 constitution for the Port Authority and 1000’s of glass slides of the Hudson and Manhattan Railroad, which was later taken over by the Port Authority in a deal to get New Jersey’s approval for the World Trade Center. Then referred to as the Hudson Tubes, it grew to become the PATH.

Mr. Rinaldi, 72, recalled one afternoon a couple of month after the assaults when he was a part of an emergency response and restoration crew that unearthed a number of cardboard bins filled with archival Port Authority photographs. “We started grabbing them and putting them aside,” he mentioned. “We were able to save many of them.”

Many former Port Authority workers have additionally despatched in photographs, books, reviews and letters that that they had saved from their time on the company to assist get better a few of the historic document. “The Port Authority is a pretty tight-knit family,” mentioned Mr. Doblin. “There’s a very special bond that exists.”

Mr. Kelly, who retired because the company’s director of aviation in 1999, shipped a three-foot-wide bronze plaque of the Port Authority seal that was as soon as on the foyer ground of an earlier company headquarters, an enormous terminal in Chelsea, which at this time homes Google. The seal was eliminated when the Port Authority moved to the World Trade Center.

Mr. Kelly, whose father labored as a mechanic for the Port Authority, was offered with the seal at a farewell occasion thrown by co-workers within the late 1970s when he modified jobs on the company. “I guess they knew I was a true-blue Port Authority person,” he mentioned.

Mr. Kelly hung the 75-pound plaque on the wall of his house den, first in New Jersey and later in Georgia. As the company approached its centennial, Mr. Kelly determined to ship the seal again. It is now displayed exterior the company’s boardroom at four World Trade Center.

“I know they lost a lot of treasured goods in that building along with a lot of treasured people,” he mentioned. “I thought they should have this.”