With the 20th anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001 approaching the coming months will bring many remembrances of the tragic loss of life and destruction of the World Trade Center buildings. Given these somber events, and that these buildings once symbolized New York City in a way few others have, my discovery last summer of four boxes of architectural drawings detailing interior stairwells, and other ironwork of the Twin Towers, took on a special importance. Dating from between 1969 and 1973, many of the drawings include small pencil outlines of the buildings’ relative placement on the site with the towers referred to as simply as ‘A’ and ‘B.’ The find was incredible for obvious reasons, but particularly because the stairwells served an invaluable role on the day of the attacks, saving thousands of lives.

The broader Adler & Neilson Architectural Iron Work Collection contains 56 record carton boxes filled with architectural drawings by the Woodside, Queens-based company incorporated in March 1920 by Mr. Adler and Henry C. Neilson. Later run by sons David H. Neilson and Philip B. Neilson, this prolific firm did work for buildings all over the city and tri-state area, and as far away as Greece and Vietnam. Projects included work on LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy Airports, Brooklyn Army Terminal, The Museum of Modern Art, Rockefeller Center, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, both 1939 and 1963 World’s Fairs, universities, retail and department stores, hospitals, racetracks, theaters, office buildings, private residences, hotels, and more.

As a native New Yorker, I felt especially privileged to create the finding aid for this collection, which describes its contents and facilitates its use in the library’s reading room. So, while a visit is necessary to consult the full collection, here is a selection of details from the World Trade Center drawings.

Drawing A1 title block: “Plans of Stair #1, 2nd to 7th Floor, Tower A.” (Box 6 Folder 2), PR 415, Adler & Neilson Collection, New-York Historical Society

Detail of drawing A1: “Plans of Stair #1, 2nd to 7th Floor, Tower A.” (Box 6, Folder 2), PR 415, Adler & Neilson Collection, New-York Historical Society

Drawing A16 title block: “O.R. Stairs @ 61st & 75th FLS., Tower A.” (Box 6, Folder 2), PR 415, Adler & Neilson Collection, New-York Historical Society

Drawing A18H title block: “Steel Ladders to Elevator Buffers — Service Level.” (Box 6, Folder 2), PR 415, Adler & Neilson Collection, New-York Historical Society

Drawing A2G title block: “Stair No. 2 – 66th to 68th FLS. @ Revised Location.” (Box 6 Folder 3), PR 415, Adler & Neilson Collection, PR 415, New-York Historical Society

Detail of drawing A2G: “Stair No. 2 – 66th to 68th FLS. @ Revised Location.” (Box 6, Folder 3), PR 415, Adler & Neilson Collection, New-York Historical Society

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The post is by Jill Reichenbach, Reference Librarian for the Department of Prints, Photographs and Architectural Collections

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