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.

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