Lou Grasmick’s Unrecognized “Labor of Love” for One World Trade Center

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Photo via Wikimedia Commons
Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Baltimore lumber czar Louis Grasmick, who died last week at age 91, was known for working on some of the most high-profile construction projects in the mid-Atlantic, from Oriole Park and the National Aquarium to the U. S Capitol, the Pentagon and the White House.

Louis Grasmick. Photo via grasmicklumber.com
Louis Grasmick. Photo via grasmicklumber.com

He built his business, the Louis J. Grasmick Lumber Company, into one of the leading suppliers of industrial lumber on the East Coast.

But there is one large project for which the company never received widespread recognition before Grasmick passed away.

His firm was the only company in Maryland that worked as a contractor on One World Trade Center, the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, constructed at “Ground Zero” in lower Manhattan after the twin towers were destroyed in the terror attacks of 9-11-2001.

The tower cost $3.9 billion and drew thousands of workers between 2006 and 2013 when construction was substantially completed.

It was Grasmick’s first project in New York City and one of the largest and most high profile commercial projects it ever took on. In many ways, it was a capstone to Grasmick’s long career.

And yet the company founder never got any public recognition for his contribution.

Grasmick provided the lumber that was used to build the forms needed to create the concrete foundations and some of the walls of the tower, which rises 1,776 feet. It also supplied the crane mats used to move building materials throughout the construction site.

For the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, that was a lot of wood – and a lot of responsibility.

Although One World Trade Center had a steel skeleton and a glass skin, concrete was used for the foundation and the walls around the elevators. According to International Science Times, “blast walls” at the base fortify the building against truck bombs and concrete walls in the core are extra thick to help it withstand future terror attacks. Wood is used to build the forms into which the concrete is poured so it can harden.

“A concrete wall measuring one meter thick is located within the steel frame and encases the elevators,” the publication said. “All in all, One World Trade Center features 150,000 cubic meters of concrete. “What we’re doing with this concrete core is so different,” says …program director Lynda Tollner. “It’s almost like we’re building a nuclear power plant or something. It’s not like building a regular office building.”

Because of the security precautions, Grasmick played a key role in the tower’s construction. But Grasmick was never recognized for its participation.

In fact, the company didn’t want publicity.

I learned about Grasmick’s role when I was a reporter at The Baltimore Sun. One of Grasmick’s executives, vice president for sales Dee Dee Lancelotta, emailed a series of photos that she took from the 83rd floor of the World Trade Center while it was under construction in 2012. She said in her message that she was in New York visiting a job site and wanted to share the view from the 83rd floor She sent the photos to my email address at the newspaper.

I thought the fact that a Maryland company was working on the country’s tallest building, the first to rise in place of the twin towers, was newsworthy. As a business story, it was a sizable commission for Grasmick Lumber and represented a foray into a new market. Because the World Trade Center was the premier symbol of American rebuilding from the terror attacks, it was a project in which any Maryland company could take pride.

When I called Grasmick for more information (325-WOOD), he put me in touch with Lancelotta. She said she sent the photos as a private message and wasn’t seeking a story. In fact, she said, she didn’t want any press coverage at all. She said Grasmick was hoping to get contracts to work on more of the World Trade Center towers planned for the area (there are half a dozen in all) and didn’t want competitors to know it was working on this first one.

There was another issue as well. According to The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which was overseeing the project, it was a violation of construction rules to take photos of the site and make them public. Contractors could document their work for insurance and other business purposes, but they couldn’t make photographs available for public consumption.

Given the nature of the project, there was concern that any photographs showing the building under construction could give terrorists ideas about where to plant a bomb or otherwise compromise the building’s structural systems. An intruder recently had broken into the site and gone up to the top of the tower, just to show he could get past the security guards. The last thing Grasmick needed was to have cell phone photos taken by one of its employees appearing in the newspaper. They could have been thrown off the job.

After talking with Lancelotta, I called Grasmick back. He confirmed that his company was working on One World Trade Center, which he called the Freedom Tower. (The name was officially changed in 2009.) But he said he didn’t want a story to run if Lancelotta didn’t. He said he would be happy to talk about another project he cared about, raising funds for the Wounded Warriors program.

I still thought it was a significant story that a Maryland firm was working at Ground Zero. I didn’t need to use photos taken from the 83rd floor since the building could be photographed from the street. I had Mr. Grasmick’s confirmation.

As I was writing the story, a Sun editor said he got a call from Grasmick Lumber and the company didn’t want a story about its work in New York City.

I said I thought it was an important project for a Maryland company and would be of interest to readers. I said Grasmick was a public figure and his other projects have been the subject of numerous articles. I said writing about a Maryland company would be a good way to localize the story of rebuilding lower Manhattan.

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The story never ran. As a staff member of the Sun, I wasn’t permitted to write about it for others, without the editors’ permission. So Lancelotta got her way, and Mr. Grasmick never got timely public recognition for one of the company’s most visible projects.

Now that the tower is complete, Grasmick Lumber isn’t so secretive about its role in its construction. On one of its websites, grasmicklumber.com, it lists the building as one of its “Notable Projects,” along with the White House, the Pentagon, and the U. S. Capitol.

“Freedom Tower (at the site of the former Twin Towers) – NYC,” the listing states.

For a while, another company website, grazmats.com, had a longer message about the company’s role in building the Freedom Tower and the significance it had for employees. The message is not currently on the site, but it can still be found online.

“Over six decades, it is nearly impossible to list all of the highly acclaimed projects in which we have participated,” the message states. “Suffice it to say that such jobs as the refurbishment of The White House, The Old Executive Office Building, The Smithsonian, Camp David and The U.S. Capitol have been among our favorites. We have also been honored to supply all of the forming materials for the reconstruction of The Pentagon (post 9-11) as well as for the new construction of The Freedom Tower in New York City. Our participation at the former “Ground Zero” site has been an exciting labor of love over the past several years and we have a special affinity in our hearts for this new, 105 story American landmark.”

The message was posted before Grasmick passed away, so one might argue he got recognition for his work in building the country’s tallest building. But the company website is seen by a limited group of potential customers and suppliers. It would have been fitting if he had received more widespread recognition for his “labor of love” while he was still alive.

Ed Gunts

Ed Gunts

Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.
Ed Gunts


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1 COMMENT

  1. As the quality of the Baltimore Sun declines, Baltimore has a knowledgeable and indefatigable reporter in Ed Gunts. Too many editors shy away from controversial or complicated stories. This is a story that should have had prominence in a major daily. Were it not for this Fishbowl fully-reported article, this might have gone unnoticed. Michal, Hampden.

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