Without Landmarks commission, Penn Station protestors were powerless

Fifty years ago tomorrow, when Penn Station was heralded as an architectural masterpiece, a group of protestors who went by Agbany, or the Action Group for Better Architecture in New York, gathered outside the station’s entrance to protest plans for the new station, which New Yorkers use to this day. Both developer Irving Mitchell Felt and the Pennsylvania Railroad razed the structure the following year to replace it with Madison Square Garden, a hotel and an office tower.

The protest clearly proved to be unsuccessful, but one of the demonstrators, architect Diana Goldstein, told the New York Times “We knew we wouldn’t win, but we did hope to change the climate.”

Only when the demolition reached completion, the Times said, did the Landmarks Preservation Commission gain regulatory power. Many believe that the Penn Station episode helped save the Grand Central Terminal and other city landmarks from destruction.

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But today, many developers believe the landmarking process has swung too far in favor of preservation. As previously reported, current LPC Chairman Robert Tierney has designated more city historic districts than any other administration.

Developers have indicated these designations bring them more expenses, which get passed on to city residents. The City Council met for a hearing earlier this year to discuss a bill requiring the LPC to weigh potential lost costs from new developments before landmarking them. A separate bill would require City Council approval for designations. [NYT] — Zachary Kussin