But the students had the opportunity to gain a better understanding about that fateful day in American history from someone intimately connected to the World Trade Center, Cherrie Nanninga ’66.
The former Director of Real Estate for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Nanninga’s office was on the 88th floor of World Trade Center Tower 1.
Had it not been for a doctor’s appointment and the unavailability of a colleague to meet her for a breakfast meeting at Windows on the World, a restaurant located on the 107th floor of her building, Nanninga could have lost her life that day.
When Nanninga first heard about an explosion happening at the World Trade Center, she thought a transformer might have blown. It was while she was at the doctor’s office that she learned the gravity of the situation. “I was watching TV in the waiting room and saw the second plane hit the building,” she said.
Nanninga talked about her 9/11 experience, as well as the history of the World Trade Center, during a visit to campus on October 12.
The visit provided a wonderful opportunity for students to hear and question a primary participant in a seminal historical event, AP US History teacher Brian Cushing said.
“History came alive and was very personal during our class time with her and now it is a bit easier for them to be cognizant that what they read and what we discuss are accounts of real people with the same kinds of hopes, fears and aspirations as they have,” he said.
Students were fascinated by Nanninga’s recollections of 9/11.
“It was very interesting and heart wrenching to hear an account of someone who witnessed the attacks and played a very large role in the World Trade Center building. It was especially interesting to hear her account of when the second plane hit the Center,” Isaiah Henry ’18 said.
Nishantha Jayasuriya’s understanding of the 9/11 attacks had been an amalgamation of media sound bites, political statements and history lessons. “Ms. Nanninga opened my eyes to a different view, one that was not politicized but human and genuine. Her vivid descriptions of the storied history and vibrant locale of the Trade Center, all of which she was a part of, demonstrated to me that the building meant something past its politicized significance. She showed me that the issue was more human than people have stylized it, a lesson more valuable to me than anything I have ever learned in the recent past,” he said.
The First Attack on the WTC
Created to revitalize lower Manhattan, the World Trade Center was developed by the Port Authority, with construction beginning in 1968. “Almost 50,000 people worked there. It was like a city,” Nanninga said.
The building of the Trade Center eventually encouraged residential development in the area, resulting in a very vibrant district, she added.
Nanninga was working on the 60th floor of World Trade Center Tower 1 in February 1993, when a truck bomb was detonated in the parking garage below the complex. As Nanninga tried to make her way down the dark stairwell to evacuate the building, the smoke became so heavy she couldn’t breathe. So she turned around and went back upstairs where she waited to be rescued.
While several safety improvements were made as a result of the bombing, such as adding lighting in stairwells, emotional healing was more difficult, Nanninga said. “Getting the tenants comfortable with going back into the building was hard,” she said.
Several years later, Nanninga oversaw the Port Authority’s efforts to net lease the building, and negotiated this complex, multi-billion dollar real estate transaction with Larry Silverstein. It was one of the biggest deals in the history of New York real estate.
Silverstein closed on the net lease of the complex in July 2001, and had Port Authority employees – including Nanninga – under contract to work for him for several months.
Later, after leaving the Port Authority, Nanninga served as Chief Operating Officer for CBRE, Inc.’s New York Tri-State Region. CBRE is the world’s leading commercial real estate services firm. She’s currently a partner at RESGroup, a consulting firm that advises public and private sector clients on the development of mixed-use complexes, hotels, convention centers, offices, residential, retail, museums and special uses.