There’s something about seeing normally chaotic New York City silently spread out 1,250 feet below you, a view that has been absent for almost 14 years. When One World Observatory, at the top of One World Trade, opens on Friday, it’ll restore this iconic experience.
To be sure, this is not an extension of the 9/11 Museum — nowhere in the exhibit is the tragedy directly referenced (the airport-style security check is the sole stark reminder). In an oblique nod, visitors enter through a hallway lined with screens showing interviews with everyone from construction workers to executives describing One World Trade as “the most important building in the country” and “the new symbol of hope.”
But then comes a much more elegant reference to the building’s significance. In a cave-like room, the bedrock of 450-million-year-old granite that forms the foundation of Manhattan is left exposed around the pillars of One World Trade. The subtext — strength, permanence — isn’t subtle, but it’s eloquent.
From there, the exhibit fixes its gaze resolutely forward. The elevators whisk you up in an impressive ascent — from the basement to the 102nd floor in 47 seconds — during which New York City is built up around you in an animated panorama on the elevator’s walls.
The doors open not onto the view you’re waiting for but a 3-D wall resembling the city’s skyline, which serves as a screen for a short street montage that no one pays attention to for all the anticipation. As the music rises, so do the individual panels of the wall to reveal the view.
However, this is not your cue to grab your camera. After the film, you’re ushered to an escalator — the 102nd floor is private event space. (This is, perhaps, the most authentic experience tourists will have in NYC.) Down on 101, there are three restaurants: a grab-and-go kiosk with a coffee bar, a casual eatery and an upscale dining spot with a bar, likely to be the most popular seats with their uptown view.
The viewing gallery spans all of the 100th floor, and it is impressive, with the soaring ceiling lending a cathedral-like feel. There are a couple of techie toys, but they’re competing with an incomparable view. On a clear day, you can see for 50 miles. Looking out is an exercise in both nostalgia and surveying progress, the essence of life in NYC.
By the time you descend — this time the animation is a Great Glass Elevator flight — you wonder why the exhibit felt the need to try so hard. This city has always been a showman, and its talents are on grand display here.
One World Observatory
One World Trade Center at West and Vesey streets
$32 adults, $26 kids