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Tourists and locals alike have a hard time resisting the bird's-eye view a skyscraper observatory affords. But in lower Manhattan, where the World Trade Center towers once stood, views from on high will forever be tinged with mixed emotions.
But starting in May, visitors to the new 1 World Trade Center (near the spot where the two towers fell on Sept. 11, 2001) will be treated to a special kind of history lesson, one that puts the history of the Twin Towers into greater perspective. On the 47-second ride up to 1 WTC's observatory deck, the walls of five special elevators will feature a 3-D time-lapse panorama of 515 years of the city's history.
And that time-lapse will include a brief image of the former towers.
Starting with the verdant, tree-filled island as it was in 1500, the elevator (and the time-lapse) perspective travels skyward as the years progress, revealing churches and low buildings, giving way to taller and taller towers — and then, ever-so-briefly (but proportionate in time), the original 1 WTC comes into view on the right, then vanishes. (There's also a glimpse of the other tower, 2 WTC, where the original observatory once resided.)
While there was some controversy over whether to include the brief image of the fallen towers, David W. Checketts, chairman and chief executive of Legends Hospitality, the company picked to operate the observatory, said it was something that shouldn't be overlooked.
"The event is certainly a key part of history," Checketts, told The New York Times. "We did not think you could ignore it. Having it appear in the year it did and disappear in the year it did was the respectful way of addressing the fact that it was part of the landscape."
The ride down does not take visitors backward in time. Instead, the panoramic view is disengaged from the towers themselves and visitors can virtually fly over lower Manhattan before entering through sliding windows. That choice — flying into a window at the WTC site — also was carefully-considered by Legends.
The elevators travel 2,000 feet per minute (23 MPH) and eventually reach 1,268 feet above ground. That's the third-highest observatory in the Americas (CN Tower in Toronto, Canada and the Willis in Chicago are higher up). Cost? $32 for adults.
One World Observatory opens on May 29, 2015. Tickets are on sale now.