Thursday, August 2, 2012

The History of Preserving History: Penn Station rally, 50 years later

Protesters in front of Pennsylvania Station on Aug. 2, 1962.
Photo: Eddie Hausner/The New York Times
Fifty years ago today, the preservation movement was effectively born.  On August 2nd, 1962, before Pennsylvania Station, New Yorkers rallied to save a threatened architectural icon.  

Though the the battle was lost (Penn Station was demolished in 1963) the war was not!  The rally to save Penn Station drew attention to the urgent need for a formal regulatory process by which our city's architectural resources would be protected.  

And thus was born the Landmarks Law and the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Today, another McKim, Mead & White-deigned icon is at risk!  The firm is also responsible for the monumental the IRT Powerhouse.  But like Penn Station before, the building's lack of protection means it is constantly at risk of inappropriate modifications and, worse still, demolition.   

TAKE ACTION!  Help us ensure the Powerhouse does not fall victim to the save fate as Penn Station.

The architects Peter Samton and Diana Goldstein can tell you exactly where they were a half century ago, at 5 p.m. on Aug. 2, 1962: out on Seventh Avenue, tilting at windmills. 

Pennsylvania Station, the McKim, Mead & White masterpiece, was doomed. They knew it. But they weren’t going to let it go down undefended. With Norval White, Jordan Gruzen, Elliott Willensky and others, they assembled an impromptu resistance brigade known as Agbany, for Action Group for Better Architecture in New York.

On that 86-degree summer evening 50 years ago, commuters were greeted by the sight of more than 100 buttoned-down and white-gloved protesters marching around the colossal colonnade at the station’s entrance.

“Save Penn Station,” their signs said, in nicely formed letters. (Architects. Of course.) “Don’t Sell Our City Short.” “Save Our Heritage.” “Action Not Apathy.”

Philip Johnson was impeccably present, in the company of the peerless Elizabeth Bliss Parkinson, a trustee of the Museum of Modern Art, who would soon be its president. There was Aline B. Saarinen, the widow of Eero Saarinen, who had been until 1959 an associate art critic at The New York Times. Agbany counted Eleanor Roosevelt, Stewart Alsop, Jane Jacobs and Norman Mailer among its supporters, along with many of the most respected names in architecture and architectural criticism ...

For the full article by David Dunlap, click here.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Innovation Inspiration: "Tate Modern Gets More Raw"

Could the McKim, Mead & White-designed IRT Powerhouse be our own Tate Modern-on-the-Hudson?  The comparisons between these two monumental structures have been numerous, and many have looked to the Tate as inspiration for a possible alternative use for its New York City cousin.  Whatever the future holds for the IRT Powerhouse, the conversion of the Bankside Power Station to the Tate Modern is proof positive of the incredible possibilities.

 The underground former tanks at the Tate Modern, as pictured in the New York Times.

From the New York Times' "Tate Modern Gets More Raw":

When the Tate Modern opened its sleek glass doors in May 2000, its directors and curators expected around two million people in the first year — an ambitious number for a contemporary art museum. 

Five million came.

To date, more than 56 million visitors have passed through the massive industrial spaces of the Tate Modern, transformed by the Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron from a disused power station into a cultural center that has altered the nature and expectation of the museum-going experience, making it as much a tourist attraction as an art destination.

On Wednesday, the Tate Modern will open a new set of doors. They lead off the Turbine Hall into three enormous underground concrete cylinders, former oil tanks that once powered the refinery and held a million gallons of the viscous black gold. Known as the Tanks, they will become the first exhibition spaces in a major museum permanently dedicated to exhibiting performance, installation and experimental film. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Old, Massive, Illustrious and Somehow Overlooked

"Its delicate Renaissance-style exterior could just as well have clothed an opera house, although the five colossal stacks gave it away." 

Photo: New York City Municipal Archives, via NY Times
Preservation groups are circling the deliciously decorated Con Ed powerhouse at 11th Avenue and 59th Street, as the 1904 structure, designed by Stanford White, nudges up for a third time to landmark designation. At the same time, a similar grand structure sits alone without fuss or bother, just working hard in elegant industrial simplicity ...

Click here to read the full article by Christopher Gray, in which he looks both at the West Side's IRT Powerhouse and, across the island, at an East River contemporary.

Monday, April 16, 2012

IRT Powerhouse and six other Empire State heritage sites to be honored; tickets available!

Seven to Save cocktail party
Monday, April 23, 2012 / 6PM to 8PM
The River Club, 447 East 52nd Street
Click here to purchase your tickets

In one week, the Preservation League of New York State will reveal its entire Seven to Save list of endangered sites for 2012-2013. This includes Manhattan's monumental former IRT Powerhouse, located on Eleventh Avenue at 59th Street in Manhattan! Join with preservationists from across the city and the state as we salute these heritage sites and kick-off efforts to secure their futures.

From inside the historic River Club, enjoy views of the James Renwick, Jr.-designed "Hospital Ruin" from 1856 (a Seven to Save selected site!) and the adjacent 2012 Louis Kahn-designed Four Freedoms Park, now under construction at Roosevelt Island. The evening's program will include:

                  6PM to 8PM: Cocktail Reception
                         6:30PM: Presentation of Seven to Save
                                      Remarks by honored guest Ambassador William vanden Heuvel,
                                      Chairman, Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, LLC

We hope to see you there! To read the League's announcement of the former IRT Powerhouse's listing among the Seven to Save, click here.
for action steps and more...

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

New York's "Temple of Power": the 59th Street Powerstation

Article via

Standing on the shore of the Hudson River it seems to declare, “Industry!” “Ambition!” It is a majestic symbol of the City-Beautiful era and modernity.  Its compelling industrial beauty has inspired its most inspired definition yet: 

“The building, a marriage of convenience, a modern metal shed with the face of an aging actress, the utilitarian made beautiful, is our city’s Temple of Power.” 
                                - Mosette Broderick, professor at New York University, 
                                  author of Triumvirate: McKim, Mead & White: Art, Architecture, 
                                  Scandal, and Class in America’s Gilded Age 

For all of these reasons and more the Preservation League of New York State has named Manhattan’s former Interborough Rapid Transit (IRT) Powerhouse to its list of the Empire State’s most threatened historic resources, Seven to Save. The prestigious designation bodes well for the future of the Beaux Arts masterpiece.

Click here to read the full article by Maria Gorshin, via Untapped Cities.

Slicing through the IRT Powerhouse in section, this image shows the interior layout at the time of the
building's planning and construction, according to the Street Railway Journal of Oct. 8, 1904.
Image via 2009 Columbia Univ. studio report