Two New York Marriott properties — the 500-room Marriott Downtown and the Marriott Marquis in Times Square — played pivotal roles on 9/11.
The Marriott Downtown, formerly the Marriott Financial Center, two blocks south of the World Trade Center, was fully booked on the morning of 9/11.
“Pedestrians on the street in front of the hotel were injured by falling debris when the first plane hit,” said John Magnifico, then the hotel’s general manager and now general manager at the Newark Airport Marriott. “We immediately converted part of the lobby to a triage area to treat them and then notified all guests to get ready to evacuate,” he said. “We set up phones at the front desk so they could contact family members.”
When the second plane crashed into the south tower, guests were steered out of the hotel, to the West Side ferry docks or to boats that would take them to Brooklyn. The 32-story hotel did not suffer much structural damage, but the adjacent building caught fire from burning jet fuel.
“The fire department used stations in our hotel to shoot water cannons onto that building for several days, so we had a lot of water damage,” Magnifico said.
The hotel was used by the Red Cross as a respite center for emergency workers for several weeks. Reclining chairs were brought in so they could rest between shifts.
Meanwhile, management and staff worked behind the scenes to ready the hotel for reopening on Jan. 7, 2002, the first business to do so in lower Manhattan. Michael Bloomberg officiated at the reopening in his first public act as mayor, having been sworn in on Jan. 1.
“We had 30 guests that first night, and in the days that followed, other guests, especially repeat customers, went out of their way to support us,” Magnifico said. “Groups of British tourists came. Midwesterners came. The New York Jets [football team] stayed at the hotel every night before a home game that season.”
Uptown at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square, a crisis plan was activated within hours of the 9/11 disaster.
Mike Stengel, vice president of marketing for the Marriott and Renaissance hotels in New York as well as general manager of the Marquis, was in London on business when he got the news about New York.
“We kept the phone line open for 20 hours between London and New York while we coordinated plans from a crisis room at the Renaissance Heathrow,” Magnifico recalled.
More than 1,000 beds were moved into the ballroom at the Marquis for anyone needing emergency shelter that first night. More than 200 people showed up, many covered in soot and ash.
The Marquis later converted more than 400 guestrooms into 700 offices for several downtown companies whose office buildings had been damaged. When the air lanes reopened several days after 9/11, Stengel and other Marriott executives caught a British Airways flight to Toronto and a second flight to Teterboro Airport in New Jersey on a plane sent by Marriott Chairman Bill Marriott.
“We walked the site the next day,” he recalled recently. “It looked like something from World War II. I looked for the Marriott World Trade Center, but there was nothing there. It had totally disintegrated.”
Piles of crushed cars, buses and burned-out fire trucks lined the streets. Inside tents, first responders sifted through debris.
“It was calm and eerily quiet, except for the buzz from the alarms the firemen carried in their jackets,” he said. “Thousands of people were out there working, but no one talked.”
Stengel was able to locate the Marriott flag that had flown from one of the three flagpoles at the Marriott World Trade Center. A firefighter had spotted the flag and had recovered it.
“It was burned a bit but otherwise OK,” Stengel said. “It’s been on display in the corporate office but will be placed in the lobby of the Marriott Downtown on the 10th anniversary and then donated to the 9/11 Museum [at ground zero] when it opens.”