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The Lessons of Penn Station

save penn station jacobs protest

August 2nd is the 50th anniversary of the rally to save the former Pennsylvania Station.  On that day prominent architects and noted New Yorkers marched to bring attention to the unthinkable—the destruction of a beautiful building, a critical piece of infrastructure, and an important part of the city’s identity.  The story of Penn Station is a tragic one but an essential turning point for New York City and cities everywhere,  serving as an illustration of short sighted thinking and a critical catalyst for the historic preservation movement.

Thanks to the work of the 1962 protestors fighting for the creation of a strong landmarks law, signature works of the past, such as Beaux-Arts mansions, streamlined art deco skyscrapers, 19th century carriage houses, and houses of worship still contribute to the visual diversity of New York City’s neighborhoods.  Thankfully, over the last several decades we have come to a much richer understanding of the value of the preservation and its critical role in supporting vibrant cities.

Historic preservation itself is now at a turning point. As an early preservation advocacy organization, MAS sees the city’s current proposal to rezone East Midtown as an opportunity to bring historic preservation into 21st century New York.  To do so, we must collaborate to create a balanced framework preserving essential buildings while allowing new ones to emerge, discovering new techniques to reuse existing buildings and creating a stronger more successful neighborhood as a result.  This work–along with many other issues critical to city-builders in New York and around the world, will be the focus of this year’s MAS Summit for New York City and a conversation that New Yorkers will be having for decades to come.