On October 28, 1963, after a rancorous and protracted battle between New York City preservationists and the Pennsylvania Railroad, demolition began on McKim, Mead & White’s 1910 Pennsylvania Station. A pink marble structure spanning four city blocks with a cavernous waiting room whose design was based on the Roman Baths of Caracalla, Penn Station was so important to the urban fabric of New York that its destruction was inconceivable even to those who knew the battle to save it could not be won. “Until the first blow fell no one was convinced that . . . New York would permit this monumental act of vandalism against one of the largest and finest landmarks of its age of Roman elegance,”1 stated an October 30, 1963, editorial in the New York Times. The loss of the iconic Penn Station was a rallying call for preservation groups across the country, spawning New York City’s 1965 Landmarks Law and the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act. The event also led to the writing of dozens of impassioned articles in newspapers and architectural journals that decried the loss of the nation’s “architectural nobility” to make way for “commercial structures of no particular distinction or style.”2 Scathing in tone, these articles resonate with a “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone?” type of nostalgia, a point of view defined by songwriter Joni Mitchell in her 1970 hit, Big Yellow Taxi.
2. “Kill Him, but Save the Scalp,” New York Times, 21 March 1962.
The full article is available at Project Muse