Two other New York Marriott properties — the 500-room Marriott Downtown and the Marriott Marquis in Times Square — also played pivotal roles on 9/11. Read More
The 110-story Twin Towers stood as iconic exclamation points at the tip of lower Manhattan for 28 years until Sept. 11, 2001, when two passenger jets piloted by terrorists brought them down.
The hard-set memories of those aircraft crashing into buildings will never go away.
Emerging from that day of infamy and incalculable personal loss, however, are thousands of stories of survival, resilience, valor, heroism, hope and recovery.
Here are two such stories about a hotel company and two of its properties — one demolished, the other launched — in the aftermath of the attack.
The Marriott World Trade Center
The 22-story Marriott World Trade Center, which had nestled in the shadow of the Twin Towers since 1981, was destroyed. It had opened as the Vista International; had been closed after the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, in 1993; reopened as a Hilton; and became a Marriott in 1995.
Two Marriott employees perished on 9/11, one an executive housekeeper, the other an audiovisual technician. Both were helping to evacuate hotel guests before the south tower collapsed at 9:59 a.m., trapping the two employees and numerous firefighters in the hotel lobby and on the higher floors.
Of the 940 registered guests that day, 11 eventually were “unaccounted for,” according to Cathy Duffy, a Marriott spokeswoman.
The 820-room building (3 World Trade Center on pre-9/11 city maps) sat on the southwest corner of the towers’ site. Although the hotel was dwarfed by the immense structures, in those frightening moments after the planes hit but before the towers crumbled, the Marriott’s pivotal location became the portal of escape for thousands of people fleeing for their lives.
Hotel guests and office workers from the towers streamed into the debris-filled lobby, seeking an exit.
Marriott staff, from management to porters and bellmen, directed them into and through the Tall Ships Bar and Grill to a door that led out to Liberty Street. The hotel’s front doors couldn’t open, blocked by debris and glass.
Vipin Khullar, the director of the hotel’s food and beverage operations at the time, was in his office on the third floor above the Tall Ships Bar when the first jet hit the north tower at 8:46 a.m. “The building shook,” he said. “I saw fireballs and debris.”
By the time he reached the Greenhouse restaurant on the second floor, the overhead sprinklers had come on, parts of the glass ceiling had fallen in and the sirens already were screaming in the streets.
“I ran into the kitchen,” Khullar said. “Sausage was simmering in a frying pan, but there was no chef in sight.”
Back in the lobby, management put the evacuation plan into action.
“We had to get our guests out,” he said. “We had had many fire drills since the ’93 attack. We knew what we had to do.”
Staff grabbed walkie-talkies and started going room to room. Guests emerged half-dressed and made their way to the lobby.
Khullar grabbed a bellman’s cart full of water bottles and put it near the Tall Ships entrance.
The second jet hit the south tower at 9:02 a.m.
“An FBI agent ran in at around 9:30 a.m. He said, ‘We are taking over the building.’ About 30 firemen ran in behind him and started up the stairs,” Khullar said.
Water from the hotel’s swimming pool on the 22nd floor started trickling into the elevator shafts.
The south tower collapsed at 9:59 a.m.
“That was a huge noise, a horrific roar and then there was silence,” Khullar said. “I was near the Tall Ships bar. There were others there and we crawled out, but it was so hazy I couldn’t see more than two feet in front of me.”
Outside, people were literally running for their lives. Cars were on fire, fire trucks were burning.
Khullar passed by the remains of the North Bridge overpass that had connected the World Trade Center complex to the World Financial Center across West Street.
“There was a guy lying there,” Khullar said. “He was half-conscious, but he hugged me. He said he was glad to see someone alive.”
Khullar groped his way two blocks south to the Marriott Downtown, which was then called the Marriott Financial Center.
“There was a cop there,” Khullar said. “He told me to leave. I told him I worked for Marriott, I had escaped, but I really couldn’t open my eyes. There was so much dust. He told me to put my head back, and he rinsed my eyes with a bottle of water.”
The north tower collapsed at 10:28 a.m.
Khullar heard the roar, followed by the swirling dark clouds of ash, dust and debris in its wake. He eventually made his way to Battery Park on the southern tip of Manhattan, which already had become a gathering spot for thousands that day.
“Some cell phones worked, but my battery had died,” he said.
He and the Marriott associates he met up with tried to take a head count of other employees there.
With the tunnels closed and the trains out of service, he knew he could not make it home to Long Island, so he and a hotel associate decided to try a ferry to New Jersey, heading for a Marriott hotel there.
“An FBI agent on the ferry confirmed that it was a terrorist attack,” Khullar said. “He said there was a boat leaving for Brooklyn, so we got on that one instead with about 50 other people. When we got to Brooklyn, we started walking.”
People stared, he recalled: “We looked like aliens, covered in ash and dirt. At a diner, I asked if I could get a cab to Long Island but was told there were no cabs running.”
A man in the diner suddenly stood up and said he would take both men to Long Island. They rode in his construction van on empty streets and highways.
Khullar had not been in touch with his wife since 9:45 that morning when she had called him at the hotel and he told her, “I am OK.” His entire family was waiting for him at home, not knowing until then whether he was alive.
The Good Samaritan would not accept payment for the ride. “I just wanted you to reach home safely,” he told Khullar.
In the days that followed, Khullar and his hotel associates met at the Marriott East Side in Manhattan, where Marriott Chairman and CEO Bill Marriott visited them on Sept. 16 to thank them for their heroic efforts on 9/11.
“I went back to the site two weeks later,” Khullar said. “That’s when reality set in. There was no hotel. There was nothing there. I felt I had lost something in my life.” He wanted to open a new hotel, and he started work at the Bridgewater Marriott in New Jersey in December 2001.
“I commuted 90 miles each way to that hotel while it was under construction until it opened in April 2002,” he recalled. “Every day, I passed the site on Staten Island where all the debris and remains from the site were brought by barges and trucks for months.”
Khullar moved on from there to the Marriott Downtown in Philadelphia and five years ago to the JW Marriott Desert Ridge in Phoenix, where he is director of food and beverage operations.
When he returned to New York in June on a business trip with an associate, he recalled, “When we drove to the site where the Marriott once stood and I saw it, I lost it. It will always be with me.”
Ritz-Carlton New York, Battery Park
Several blocks south of the World Trade Center complex, another scene at another hotel unfolded on 9/11.
The Ritz-Carlton New York, Battery Park, was three weeks away from its debut, an opening that was to mark the return of the luxury brand to the New York hotel scene after a four-year absence.
In the days leading up to 9/11, the 29-story hotel had been consumed by the pre-opening frenzy of installing furniture, fixtures and lighting.
Half of the 298 guestrooms were completed, the lobby was a work in progress, staff training had begun and the opening team, including General Manager Manfred Timmel, was in place.
One member of that team was David Spivac, an engineer reporting for his second day of work. He had just stepped off the PATH commuter train underneath the Twin Towers when the first plane hit the north tower. He checked in with his superiors at the Ritz and minutes later saw the second plane roar overhead.
Construction workers on the roof of the Ritz-Carlton immediately fled.
Greg Merrick, the hotel’s director of human resources at the time, gathered all hotel staff at a rally point in Battery Park to take a head count and figure out how everyone could get home.
With the PATH station shut down, Spivac boarded one of the 28 ferries pressed into operation that day and made his way across the Hudson River to New Jersey and his family.
Leo Fernandez, a bellman, was three subway stops from the World Trade Center station when the train suddenly stopped and an announcement was made that the train was being rerouted. He exited on Christopher Street, saw smoke billowing from the towers and witnessed the collapse of the second tower.
Fernandez made his way to his brother’s apartment in the SoHo neighborhood just north of the Trade Center site and eventually was able to contact his family in New Jersey and his manager at the Ritz-Carlton.
Several days later, after the hotel had joined forces with New York’s City Harvest organization, Fernandez volunteered to serve meals to the rescue workers at ground zero.
A month after that, he returned to the hotel to assist with cleanup and setup in anticipation of opening day.
Dennis Mooney, another engineer at the hotel, had worked as a plumber at the World Trade Center when it was being built in the late 1960s and early 1970s (it opened in 1973).
On the morning of 9/11, Mooney was at the employee entrance of the hotel with Mike Cuppolo, director of engineering, when the first plane hit the north tower.
He was still outside when, 16 minutes later, he saw the second plane fly past the Statue of Liberty, over the roof of the hotel and into the south tower. The plane was so low that he could read the numbers on its tail, he later recalled.
Mooney ran into the hotel and relayed the terrifying news to staff and construction workers.
All employees were told to evacuate and to meet in Battery Park. Mooney and other hotel staff jumped in to assist people on the street, securing plastic tarps from the construction supplies to help mothers cover their children’s strollers and carriages as the dust clouds from the fallen towers enveloped lower Manhattan.
With communication lines down, Mooney later walked to 42nd Street and finally caught a bus home to the Bronx.
In the days and weeks that followed, Ritz-Carlton employees volunteered at City Harvest locations while recovery efforts at the site continued day and night.
“It wasn’t about operating a hotel,” a spokesman said. “The scale of the tragedy precluded that. Roads were closed and blocked by government agencies, city relief agencies, the Red Cross, police, fire companies and the military. Massive trucks hauled debris nonstop. The noise never ceased.”
The Ritz-Carlton was in an area designated as the Red Zone, adjacent to an Army security base.
Employees reported to the pre-opening offices in SoHo until December, but once management had assessed the progress of the hotel and collectively decided to move ahead with a January opening, all action shifted back to the hotel. Construction and furniture crews reoccupied the Ritz, and work resumed.
Deliveries of materials were a challenge, given the blocked streets outside the hotel, and employees discovered in one such shipment that the fitness equipment for the hotel gym had been manufactured by a company called Ground Zero.
Collateral material had to be redesigned to remove all references to and photographs of the Twin Towers. A cocktail on the bar menu originally named Twin Towers also was removed.
Employees had to find alternate subway routes since the PATH trains no longer stopped at the World Trade Center station. Taxi drivers feared driving in the area, telling passengers that lower Manhattan was closed and not safe.
But the Ritz-Carlton New York, Battery Park nevertheless managed to open on Jan. 29, 2002, the first major new business to open in lower Manhattan after 9/11. The Marriott Downtown, the former Marriott Financial Center, had reopened on Jan. 7, 2002, and was the first business in the area to resume operations.
The launch of the Ritz-Carlton, marked by a ribbon-cutting ceremony headed by newly sworn-in Mayor Michael Bloomberg and a guest list that included New York Yankees Manager Joe Torre and artist Peter Max, sent a powerful statement of survival that provided an economic and psychological boost to the downtown area.
“Critics predicted the Ritz-Carlton would fail,” Vivian Deuschl, corporate vice president of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co., said at the time. “They said Battery Park would never recover. The Ritz-Carlton opening was like the phoenix rising from the ashes.”
Ritz-Carlton hosted a Taxi Appreciation Day; invited the New York City Police Department and the National Guard to another event; and opened the hotel dining room to first responders, giving them a place to eat, relax and recharge in those months following 9/11.
And guests began to fill the hotel, some requesting rooms overlooking ground zero. “We didn’t promote the view, but if they asked for it, we accommodated them,” a spokesman said.
This year’s 10th anniversary observance will include, as always, a moment of silence for the two associates lost at the Marriott World Trade Center on 9/11.