Author Karl Koch
Contrary to popular superstition Friday the 13th of June was a lucky day for those fortunate enough to attend the Oyster Bay Historical Society's annual meeting at the Doubleday-Babcock Senior Center. Their guest speaker was Karl W. Koch III, Oyster Bay resident, builder and, with Richard Firstman, author of Men of Steel: The Story of the Family That Built the World Trade Center. The book is a saga of the men of the family, who built Giant Stadium, Robert Moses Bridge and the mourned World Trade Center.
In introducing him, Tom Kuehhas, director of the Oyster Bay Historical Society said the Koch name was probably the most famous and widely recognized in the steel construction industry.
The meeting began as the society's president, Dr. Susan Peterson, conducted a brief business meeting. Ms. Peterson read the financial report, which was accepted, and quickly disposed of several other items.
Mr. Kuehhas read his report which summarized the prior year's activities. These included: the number of school group visitations, research requests, last year's exhibit "Viewing to Doing in Oyster Bay" and donations of books, documents, photographs and artifacts received, etc. This year's exhibit, in conjunction with Oyster Bay's 350th year anniversary celebration, will be "350 Years of History in Oyster Bay Art." Many of the items in the forthcoming exhibit will be auctioned off to provide funds for the construction of a badly needed library building on the grounds of the Earle-Wightman House. Current works in progress are the soon to be published songs of oysters in Oyster Bay and the indexing of the Society's quarterly magazine, the Freeholder.
The Railroad Museum, which is under the auspices of the OBHS is progressing with the movement of locomotive #35 and caboose #12 to Oyster Bay as well as the transfer of the former station building to the town. The society will be working closely with the Friends of Locomotive #35 and the Town of Oyster Bay to ensure successful completion of these projects. For their invaluable help Mr. Kuehhas thanked State Senator Carl Marcellino and the Town of Oyster Bay from the supervisor, John Venditto, on down. Thanks to their efforts the Earle-Wightman House looks so well in spite of its centuryies-old age. The North Country Garden Club was credited with maintaining the attractive appearance of the 18th century garden. Special thanks were given to the board, trustees, volunteers, guides, docents, members and authors of articles to the Freeholder.
With their annual meeting's business concluded, Mr. Kuehhas introduced Karl W. Koch III. He told of the origin of the family business, started in 1882 by his grandfather, who was an iron worker, in Williamsport, PA. When visiting Rochester, NY grandfather Koch met a young lady. The next day he showed up at her door bearing flowers, candy and a proposal of marriage which was accepted! That lady was Mr. Koch's grandmother. After marriage they traveled to New York City where the work was. In 1909 he survived a near fatal fall from the Manhattan Bridge, which was then under construction, into the frigid East River. His wife found him in Bellevue Hospital still in his wet clothes, the nurses having refused to undress such a large man. Commandeering a wheelchair she took him home, put him to bed and nursed him back to health herself.
In 1925 grandfather Koch and his son, the speaker's father, became partners, went to Florida and built the Biscayne Terrace Hotel. They then went to Miami where they built high-rise buildings. In the late '30s they returned to New York and built the Hotel Pierre and the Hotel New Yorker. During the depression his father went to Washington, DC where he undertook several WPA projects such as the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress, the Government Printing Office and several other large scale jobs.
Author Koch said he was assisted in his research by his wife, son and daughter among others.
During the Second World War the firm bid and won several government contracts to build military bases throughout the country. They also built factories, munitions plants and military bases.
Mr. Koch III's, first job was on the hydrogen bomb plant being built in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. This building had one roof covering an expanse of 44 acres. Mr. Koch's uncles and brothers also joined the firm making it a true family business. By war's end grandfather Koch was quite elderly, father Koch, although mentally alert, was suffering from Parkinson's disease and speaker Koch sustained a serious injury when struck by a falling steel beam which resulted in a year's hospitalization. It was during this time that his brother, while visiting, wheeled him to a window and pointed toward southern Manhattan and said "Someday we're going to build the World Trade Center!" It was a case of "the little company that could" fighting the might of industrial giants United States Steel and Bethlehem Steel.
The World Trade Center
Conceived by Nelson Rockefeller of Chase-Manhattan Bank who first approached master planner Robert Moses in 1955, it was to be a financial center located in lower Manhattan. Mr. Moses agreed with the proviso that the center not be for just one banking firm, but many varied companies both financial as well as other commercial endeavors. At that time many firms were deserting lower Manhattan and moving to modern high-rise buildings in Midtown.
The director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Austin Tobin, would provide financing for the project as long as it was moved from the east side to the west side to provide easier access for New Jersey residents.
The Port Authority also agreed to take over the bankrupt Hudson & Manhattan Railroad, popularly known as "the tubes," renaming it "PATH" which stood for Port Authority Trans Hudson. This line would have its sub-surface New York terminal station under the World Trade Center giving direct access for commuters from New Jersey.
The architect chosen was Minoru Yamasaki who had never before designed a high-rise building. He was chosen over all other major architects for his innovative concept. Modern skyscrapers are constructed with a steel frame bearing the load and having the walls only to protect the interior space from the weather. Mr. Yamasaki's plan was to have the walls as the load bearing structure and they would be tied together by the floor elements.
Not being satisfied with the bids offered by the major steel fabricators it was decided to break-up the job into 15 components and parcel these components out to smaller firms. These companies could fabricate the parts but were not experienced in the erection of buildings. Several out-of-town firms, Texas, Chicago, etc., were approached but all declined to bid fearing difficulties with the metropolitan unions. The Koch firm boldly went where the industry giants feared to tread and was successful in getting the contract.
A Brand New Concept
There were many problems to overcome due to the fact that these would be the tallest buildings ever built, the method of construction was brand new, it was being done in the heart of a busy downtown district, and it all had to be accomplished without impacting pedestrian and vehicular traffic or rapid transit operations. New construction equipment, such as cranes, had to be obtained from Australia. Due to the enormous size of some of the structural pieces new methods of transportation had to be implemented. Details may be found in Mr. Koch's book which reads like a thriller with the various challenges that arose and how they were successfully met.
Alas, triumph was followed years later by tragedy when, on September 11, 2001, terrorists flew two jet airliners into the towers. Although the design of the buildings was sound, they both survived the initial impact of the planes, the magnitude of the ensuing fires was more than they could bear and both collapsed with a loss of almost 3,000 lives.
National Commission Proposed
In concluding Mr. Koch proposed a national commission, empowered by congress, consisting of architects builders and engineers to analyze all structures, both old and new, to "terror proof" them. He said that stairwells should be pressurized to prevent the entry of smoke and flames and helicopters should have cages used to carry firefighters to the roofs of buildings and evacuate civilians from the same. He also said that buildings should be compartmented so damage to one area will not affect the entire building. Redundancy must be put into all systems such as electrical and water services and elevators and stairways must be wide enough for all to evacuate safely while elevators should be safe enough to carry firemen to involved floors.
Not only was Mr. Koch an informed and entertaining speaker but he gave all present much food for thought. In conclusion, he said that we cannot assume that terrorists will not attack again but we can do more to mitigate the damage they do. He said that we have the skill and technology but need the will.