NEW YORK - In a ceremony filled with pride and painful memories, New York officials laid a 20-ton slab of granite yesterday as the cornerstone of a new tower at the site of the World Trade Center.
As jets soared overhead on a sunny morning, political leaders pledged that construction of the Freedom Tower - which at 1,776 feet would be the world's tallest building - will be finished on schedule by the end of 2008.
"The terrorists who attacked us hoped to break our spirit, but instead they broke our hearts," said New York Gov. George E. Pataki, who along with other officials dismissed doubts that financing problems might delay completion of the tower.
"How badly they underestimated the resiliency of this city and the resolve of these United States," he said. "In less than three years, we have more than just plans on paper - we place here today the cornerstone, the foundation of a new tower."
Pataki - joined by New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, New Jersey Gov. James E. McGreevey and other leaders - held the invitation-only ceremony before several hundred people in the vast concrete pit of Ground Zero. They entered the site behind a bagpipe procession playing "God Bless America," "I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy" and other patriotic songs.
Yet others felt mixed emotions.
"I haven't been here since the first anniversary [of the Sept. 11 attacks], and this still causes a lot of anxiety," said Charles Wolf, who lost his wife, Katherine, in the attacks. "I have to keep it under control this morning, and this walk down here is not an easy walk."
Indeed, some people have opposed construction of the Freedom Tower, arguing that development plans were drawn up too hastily and that the site - which is all that remains of the former twin towers - is sacred, historic ground that should never be dominated by concrete and new office construction.
Yesterday, a cloth draping the cornerstone was pulled away to reveal a simple inscription: "To honor and remember those who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001, and as a tribute to the enduring spirit of freedom. - July Fourth, 2004."
Bloomberg acknowledged the pain and suffering that Ground Zero continues to evoke, but he also said the construction of a new tower sent a signal to the world that New York - and America - could be not be defeated by terrorism.
There is also hope that the Freedom Tower will help spur an economic revival in the area, which was hit hard by the terrorist attacks. The sleek, soaring structure - which features a spire that is reminiscent of the Statue of Liberty's torch - is planned as the anchor of the rebuilding effort on the 16-acre site.
When completed, the tower will feature 60,000 square feet of commercial space on ground levels, plus 2.6 million square feet of office space filling 70 stories overhead. Above those offices will be restaurants and an observation deck.
Construction of the building is expected to cost $1.3 billion, according to officials with the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., which has guided the development plan and approved the final blueprint for the site.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.