Philip Cottone '61: In on the Ground Floor of the
World Trade Center
By Shira J. Boss
Philip Cottone ’61 started his career in real
estate with the very beginnings of the World Trade Center.
Although his initial career plan was to get a master’s
degree in English and become a teacher, the birth of three children
while he was an undergraduate — first Anthony ’80, born
freshman year, followed by twins his junior year — meant
Cottone’s first priority was to make a stable living. After
graduation, he took a job with what is now the Port Authority of
New York and New Jersey, and settled into the real estate section,
then headed by Bob Curtiss ’27.
The Port Authority operated about 25 facilities in the port
district, and the idea emerged to consolidate international trade
facilities, which were spread around town, into one headquarters
building in lower Manhattan, on the east side. The proposed budget
was $350 million.
Cottone’s job — for the World Trade Center and on
other projects — initially involved researching property
ownership and negotiating property rights. He started N.Y.U. Law
School at night in 1962 to help him deal with the lawyers and legal
issues in real estate, and graduated four years later.
The initial project was stalled because of opposition from New
Jersey politicians, who didn’t agree with all of that money
being spent by the Authority with no direct benefit to New Jersey.
Then a Port Authority staffer proposed that the center be located
on the western side of lower Manhattan and combined with the
purchase and rehabilitation of the railroad that connected New York
and New Jersey — “the Tubes,” as it was called.
The project not only went forward, but turned into a more ambitious
plan for the massive twin towers.
Cottone began title searches for the 13 square-block area where
the towers were to be located. “Initially, I was part of a
top secret group that was developing the information quietly,
without letting anyone in the city administration or the
neighborhood know what we were doing,” he says.
(left) and Robert Cottone, twin sons of Philip Cottone '61, sit on
a large scale model of the World Trade Center in 1969, when it was
When the project was unveiled, it was more controversial than
usual for a development, because of its size and because the Port
Authority was criticized for going into the real estate business.
“At the time, it seemed like an outrageously elaborate
project for a relatively simple task,” Cottone says. So about
once a month he was dispatched to give a talk at a lunch or dinner
with a slide projector and images of the future World Trade
“I was dealing with a lot of angry folks — the
property owners and the tenants,” Cottone remembers.
A lead opponent was Lawrence Wien ’25, who owned
the Empire State Building. He formed “The Committee for a
Reasonable World Trade Center” and brought one of the many
lawsuits against the Port Authority.
The suits failed. Within a couple of years, Cottone became head
of the acquisition, management and relocation program that cleared
the way for construction.
In 1972, the Twin Towers opened, at a final cost of more than $1
billion, and Cottone left the Port Authority. “I’d done
what there was to do from a real estate point of view, and it was
time to move on,” Cottone says. He has stayed in real estate,
heading his own investment and development company headquartered in
Philadelphia since the early 1980s. But the World Trade Center,
even though he hadn’t liked the architecture or even the idea
of it at first, remained a point of pride for him.
“It was always a part of my growing up,” he says.
“It was something I could point to and tell my children and
grandchildren I was a part of.”
Which is why the events of September 11, 2001, hit so close to
home for Cottone. He wrote about his feelings in a cover story for
Right of Way, a trade magazine:
“Those quirky towers were, perhaps, the wrong buildings in
the wrong place at the wrong time, built by the wrong folks, but
they became everything they were designed to be, and more. They
rejuvenated lower Manhattan and helped revive the City of New York
economically and spiritually. They did take on a larger mantle over
the years, and came to represent the financial strength, vitality
and, yes, audacity of New York, and America. Alas, they now have
become a permanent symbol of so much that is both good and evil
about our world, and all of our thoughts about them, even mine,
relate to both unspeakable horrors and unceasing bravery; in short,
a national tragedy, the implications of which are still being
played out on the world stage.”