May 10, 2013 at 6:52 AM ET
A crane lifted the last of a 408-foot tall spire on top of One World Trade Center on Friday, a capstone to an emotional 12-year effort to replace the twin towers destroyed by terrorists.
The 18-piece silver spire will top out the tower at a symbolic 1,776 feet, a nod to the year America signed the Declaration of Independence. The new building is just north of the original towers, now the hallowed ground known as Ground Zero.
"This really is a symbolic moment because this building really represents the resiliency of this country,” Port Authority Vice Chair Scott Rechler told TODAY’s Matt Lauer, who earlier had made his way up the 104 floors to witness the process. “These people, the thousand men and women who have worked here tirelessly, really as a tribute for the people that perished on 9/11 right on this site.”
Lauer called it an “incredibly emotional” moment for him as a New York native.
“There’s a certain sense of personal pride that goes along with it,” he said just as the final pieces were lowered into place.
Applause and a huge cheer then erupted from the crowd below, some of whom had been chanting “U-S-A.”
The moment moved Savannah Guthrie to tears.
“How can you not have a lump in your throat, a tear in your eye, and a smile on your face after everything that has happened on that ground, to see this tower soar once again, and along with it, our hearts?” she said. “Really amazing.”
Lauer sounded the horn that signaled construction crews to begin hoisting the final pieces of the 758-ton spire, a roughly 20-minute trip to the top.
The pinnacle was built with the city’s streets in mind. Its tip holds a beacon with 288 50-watt LED lights that will allow it be seen up to 50 miles away on a clear day. Once operational, the spire will serve as a world-class broadcast antenna.
Watch: Matt Lauer tours One World Trade Center in 2009
The construction of the symbolic structure has raised a range of emotions not only for the crew building it, but the city’s residents, survivors and families of other victims.
Rose Ellen Dowdell’s husband was in the south tower when it collapsed.
“My husband's remains were never found, so this is where he is buried. This is his final resting place,” she said. “The building is a symbol of a coming back.”
Genelle Guzman-McMillan, the last survivor to be pulled from the rubble, called the new tower “a little bittersweet.”
She said her children have asked to visit the site but wants to wait until the building is completely finished.
“They keep asking me, like, ‘We should go back one day even just to walk by the site.’ I want it to be all done, and then I'll take them there,” she said.
The new tower will be the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, surpassing the Willis Tower in Chicago.
It will open for business in 2014. About 55 percent of it has already been leased to tenants including Condé Nast, the U.S. General Services Administration and the Beijing-based Vantone China Center.