LOWER MANHATTAN — Construction workers removed their hardhats and held them over their hearts Monday morning as a final steel beam rose into place at the top of 4 World Trade Center.
The installation of the 8-ton steel beam was part of an emotional topping-out ceremony for the 977-foot skyscraper, which is scheduled to open in the fall of 2013.
Before a crane lifted the white beam skyward during a break in Monday morning's rain, dozens of construction workers and a handful of local politicians signed their names on the 32-foot-long piece of steel, which was emblazoned with the words "4 World Trade Center."
Then they all stepped back to watch as "America the Beautiful" played and the beam slowly ascended, an American flag trailing in its wake.
"It fills my heart with joy," developer Larry Silverstein said. "It's [a day] of high emotion."
The sleek 72-story tower, designed by architect Fumihiko Maki, will be the first skyscraper since 7 World Trade Center to open at the site of the 9/11 attacks, and many said Monday that the topping out was both a literal and a symbolic victory.
"It's an amazing thing," said Michael Perrone, 41, a steamfitter from Rockland County. "It's showing everyone we're building, we're getting stronger…and we're not going to stop 'til we're done."
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said the tower's topping out was "perfectly symbolic of New York's can-do, never surrender spirit."
While Monday's event was about celebration, Silverstein also alluded to the many challenges he has faced in building 4 World Trade Center, from contentious political negotiations to difficulty in signing tenants.
The city and the Port Authority will lease half of the building's 2.3 million square feet of office space, and Silverstein said Monday he is in negotiations with many potential tenants for the rest of the tower, but he has not yet inked any deals.
Silverstein said that as the beam rose, he was thinking about the future of the World Trade Center site, and specifically Towers 2 and 3 just to the north. Those towers are just beginning to go up but will not get above several stories until Silverstein can find tenants to fill them.
"Now it's on to the next one," Silverstein said of what went through his mind as the beam rose. "We've got Tower 3 and we've got Tower 2."
Before Monday's event, 4 World Trade Center, the simplest of the new skyscrapers at the World Trade Center site, had been overshadowed by progress at 1 World Trade Center, which became the city's tallest building in April and is scheduled to top out this summer.
President Barack Obama visited 1 World Trade Center earlier this month to thank construction workers and signed a steel beam that will soon be hoisted to that skyscraper's peak.