It seems as though the battle never ends to save New York City’s historical Buildings. Right now is a time when a tremendous amount of new building is going on. And New York is famously a city which has endured wave after wave of buildings being pulled down and then rebuilt to accommodate the need for more a more places to house people and businesses.
Now it has come to the attention of New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, the body that says whether a building has ‘Landmark’ status or not’ that their decision to consider a building for landmarking are sometimes leaked to developers before any proper consideration has been given and then the building is hastily demolished to forestall any further fight over whether it should stay or go.
Ironically it is not that long since the celebration of the 100th Anniversary of New York’s much loved Grand Central Station. Yet A very similar fight to the ones still taking place today, took place in the late 1960’s over whether this station should be demolished. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was the public face of the campaign, giving it a glamor it would otherwise it not have had, but the fight went right to the U.S. Supreme Court for a decision. It was a very bitter battle and it was a very, very close run thing indeed. Yet looking at the role this beautiful station has played in the resurgence of the area around Grand Central, not to mention its iconic status in the heart of all New Yorkers the idea of it being demolished, now seems preposterous.
There have been many such preservation battles and if those who wanted to demolish had had their way in the past not only would Grand Central Station have been lost but Central Park would be gone, the Flatiron Building, St Patricks Cathedral, the Chrysler building, the Empire State Building, West Village Carriage Houses, the Upper West side Townhouses and Lower East side Tenements would also all be just a memory and the subjects in old photographs.
The moral of this story is it’s great to move ahead but when that is done without taking all factors into account, especially the contribution great buildings make to the city’s social and cultural landscape, irreparable losses can occur.
It’s true that the company which owned Grand Central Station went bust because the station was not sold and demolished. But looking back from the viewpoint of today, the American economy was resilient and new companies took over and prospered. But once a building is demolished there’s no way back. That preservation fight saved Grand Central for us today.
It was the destruction of Penn Station to make way for office buildings and the building of Madison Square Garden which strengthened the will of those who fought to preserve great buildings in New York City. That glorious station was completely lost and buildings were put in its place that have none of the station’s grandeur or uniqueness. The beauty of specific buildings and parks enriches in a way which is intangible but precious. What would New York City be if that roll call of buildings above and Central Park were all missing. Part of the soul of the city would have been lost.