Thursday, February 7, 2013

Save Grand Central

As we celebrate Grand Central Terminal’s centennial this week, I think about what I can’t help myself from doing whenever I’m there, which is to tilt my head back in surrender to that heavenly ceiling. Then, when my head returns to its straight-ahead position, I inevitably shake it in disbelief knowing that a mere 41 years after the building’s completion, greedy minds were already scheming to tear it down.

In 1954, a plan to replace the structure with an 80-story skyscraper was successfully thwarted, as was a plan proposed in 1960 for “Grand Central Bowl,” a three-story bowling alley above the waiting room. Within the next few years, Penn Station would be torn down and the Landmarks Preservation Law would be enacted. GCT was now protected--end of story, right? Well, no because we are dealing with prime New York real estate, during a development boom.

In 1969, Penn Central presented a plan for a Marcel Breuer-designed building that would effectively block out the terminal (right). Of course the plan was turned down by the City, but the railroad was not about to take no for an 
answer. Penn Central sued the City of New York claiming that landmark protection violated the part of the 5th amendment which states that “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” The State Supreme Court of New York ruled in favor of the railroad, and GCT’s landmark status was overturned.

Breuer proposal

Enter Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis who had already demonstrated a passion for preservation while she lived in the White House. It was now 1975 (as the design of the above button clearly indicates) and thanks to her involvement with the Municipal Art Society, the situation would finally command the public attention and outrage it deserved. The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the landmarks law was upheld, confirming that the protection of historic buildings for the public good was indeed, constitutional. Read more details here and here.

The “Save Grand Central” button along with “Save the Bandshell” and “Save the Beacon,” are from the collection of the New York Historical Society.



These next two are from my personal collection. New Yorkers might remember them. In 1991 the City threatened to close the Central Park Zoo due to a fiscal crisis. The "radio" in need of salvation was WRVR, the only all-jazz radio station in the city, which turned out to not be as lucky as the polar bear. And can you guess where the big fundraiser-concert for the station was held? Why the Beacon Theatre, of course.

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