Thursday, August 2, 2012

50 years goes by quickly, let's not let history repeat itself.

Penn protesters (David Hirsh) FRanzen, Samton, Saarinen, Johnson, Parkinson (01).jpg

Fifty years ago today, John F. Kennedy was President, the Beatles had not released an album in the U.S., and in New York City, a group of architects, historians and planners gathered under the banner of  the “Action Group for Better Architecture in New York” to protest the demolition of Pennsylvania Station.  Built in 1910 by the firm of McKim, Mead and White, the classically-inspired train station was widely regarded to be “one of the largest and finest landmarks of its age, “consisting of "nine acres of travertine and granite, 84 Doric columns, a vaulted concourse of extravagant, weighty grandeur, classical splendor modeled after royal Roman baths, rich detail in solid stone, and an architectural quality in precious materials that set the stamp of excellence on a city” (“Farewell To Penn Station” NYT, 10/30/63).  Unfortunately, its railroad owners allowed it to deteriorate and by the time its demolition was announced in 1961, the years of deferred maintenance had taken their toll, rendering the glorious public spaces somewhat shabby and dilapidated. AGBANY strove to prevent its destruction but the forces of politics and money doomed the 52-year-old building, despite even the damning words of The New York Times.  As Jane Jacobs, present at the protest, later recalled, “There was no exhilaration to this kind of thing.  It was more like a wake. The city was making everyone's life absurd with its goofy decisions.''

The myth goes that from the rubble of Pennsylvania Station, the Landmarks Preservation Commission sprang fully formed. The reality is more complicated – preservationists had been hard at work for years formulating strategies to defend and preserve New York City’s historic buildings from thoughtless destruction – but the myth serves its purpose. The demolition of Penn Station became a rallying cry and a graspable moment, one where the effects of slow-moving public policy became blindingly obvious.  AGBANY gathered as a wake – but as a hopeful one, praying that Penn Station would be the last masterpiece to fall before the bulldozers of short-sightedness.

The half-century that followed has been good for the appreciation of urban history. Jane Jacobs’ vision of “small plans and big ideas” has found traction with new generations of planners who try to engage affected communities in planning projects.  The adaptive reuse of buildings and neighborhoods have become, at least, accepted options to redevelopment plans. Dozens of cities across America have seen that preservation and urban husbandry can bring old growth neighborhoods back to life and breathe new economic, social and cultural vitality into abandoned city districts. In New York City, we have seen the designation of 108 historic districts and the triumph of preservation projects like the High Line and revitalization projects such as Prospect and Central Parks transform the City in exciting and successful ways.  But the work of saving our city is far from over.

Neighborhoods throughout New York still suffer the blows of sledgehammers to their historic streets and ungainly towers still sprout like pernicious weeds in otherwise well-tended gardens. Worst of all, Jane Jacob’s words still apply – the city is making everyone’s life absurd with its goofy decisions.  For every successful revitalization of a neighborhood, there are plans seeking approval to bury the area in mammoth towers. The historic Chelsea Market building, reinvented as a destination for food lovers and neighborhood shoppers, is being asked to shoulder the burden of over 100 feet of towers. New York University, previously a well-respected commuter school and now the largest private university in the country, has unfortunately developed a voracious appetite for development – development which threatens the scant open space of Greenwich Village. Facing the lower Manhattan waterfront, DUMBO has become a national model of how to redevelop a formerly industrial area by capitalizing on its architecture, but its character is threatened by an over-scaled slab which will block the Brooklyn Bridge. The naturally-developing regeneration of Prospect Heights has been body-shocked by the behemoth Atlantic Yards plan.

Fifty years ago, professionals in ties and white gloves took to the streets to call attention to “an act of civic vandalism”.  They hoped for a time when such actions would not be necessary, when the appreciation of the ideals of our past would guide development and build a better future. Their actions helped move us closer to that worthy goal but we are not there yet. We must remember the lessons of Penn Station, all of them, and strive to not allow them to be repeated.

Thanks to the HDC for posting this to its members.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Responsible Landmarks Coalition

Below is an excerpt from the Responsible Landmarks Coalition, the organization that wants to change the way our NYC buildings are designated and how the ones that are already Landmarked should be treated.

"New York City’s Landmark Law has enhanced New York City by preserving and protecting its most noteworthy historic buildings and neighborhoods over the last 47 years. However, there are many concerns about the manner in which the Law has been implemented, particularly in recent years as the number of properties under the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s jurisdiction has skyrocketed. Among the most important reforms that are needed are:

Provide An Open & Transparent System
The landmark designation process should be open and transparent, particularly to those property owners who will be most impacted by the decision.

Apply Consistently High Standards
A consistently high standard should be applied in determining whether an individual structure or district merits landmark protection.

Promote Growth & Success Of New York City
Landmark designations and oversight of landmark properties must be reconciled with other policy considerations that are critical to the growth and success of the City.

Administer The Laws In A Sensible Manner
The Landmarks Law should be administered so that the best examples of City’s architectural and historic heritage continue to adapt and meet the needs of the citizens of the 21st Century."

Defending Preservation Distance Learning Presentation

Below is the link to the Power point presentation show at the HDC meeting.  It describes what the bill is and how it effects us.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

HDC Meeting

As promised here are the videos from the HDC meeting last night. The second part maybe out of sync.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Help Save the Landmarks Law!!

We received this in an E-mail today. If effects not only the HP, but all NYC landmarks as well. The Real Estate Board of New York is calling for extreme reforms of the Landmarks Law. If successful they could change the way Landmark are designated!


June 2012

Public Meeting to Defend the Landmarks Law

Tuesday, June 19th
6pm – 7:30pm
General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen
20 West 44th Street

As you may be aware, the Real Estate Board of New York is heading up a coalition calling for extreme reforms of the Landmarks Law, reforms which HDC believes would cripple the landmark designation process and damage the regulation of existing protected landmarks. HDC believes that preservation nurtures the city, feeds our commerce and enhances our economy. That these reforms are being proposed now, when investment in New York City real estate is on the upswing, makes their concerns about preservation stifling development particularly peculiar. 

HDC is holding an emergency public meeting to discuss community responses to this Vesuvian eruption. We’ll be discussing the concerns raised, the legislation that have been proposed and what community groups and individuals can do.

Please join the HDC for an informative and important meeting. 

Open to all but RSVP requested to

Monday, April 2, 2012

Letter to Elie Hirschfeld

I sent a letter to Elie Hirschfeld (the one responsible for the renovations that covered the buildings original interior) asking to clarify if any of the original lobby is still intact beneath his renovations. If he responds saying that the original lobby is in fact still there, we are going to try to propose a restoration plan to Vornado. Updates to follow.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

New Information

After getting some time to review the 4th quarter results of Vornado I came across this paragraph in the document:

We are evaluating various development and redevelopment opportunities which we estimate could require as much as $1.5 billion
to be expended over the next five years. These opportunities include:
• demolition of a 372,000 square foot office building in Crystal City, to construct a 700,000 square foot office building;
• renovation of the Hotel Pennsylvania;
• construction of a luxury residential condominium at 220 Central Park South, adjacent to Central Park;
• re-tenanting and repositioning of 330 West 34th Street;
• re-tenanting and repositioning of 280 Park Avenue;
• complete renovation of the 1.4 million square foot Springfield Mall; and
• re-tenanting and repositioning a number of our strip shopping centers.
We are also evaluating other development and redevelopment opportunities at certain of our properties in Manhattan, Rosslyn,
Pentagon City and Crystal City, for which plans, budgeted costs and financings have yet to be determined.

What I didn't see was the proposed office town "15 Penn Plaza" but did see the renovation of the Hotel Pennsylvania.  Could this be a sign that Vornado has come to their senses?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Correction in numbers

I inadvertently screwed up the numbers for Vornado's fiscal end, the blog has been corrected to show the proper numbers.  Sorry about that folks.

SUPPLEMENTAL OPERATING AND FINANCIAL DATA For the Quarter and Year Ended December 31, 2011

Vornado published a revised financial earnings report with the SEC today.  According to the document The Hotel Pennsylvania earned  11.753 Million in the 4th quarter of 2011, and a total of 30.135 Million for the year.  This is up 6.372 Million from last years year end results (23.763 Million) and up from the previous quarter earnings of 9.773 Million.  Still not a bad profit for them, with luck they can keep the streak alive.

Sunday, January 29, 2012


I was watching an older episode of Mad Men, they just happen to be discussing the demolition of the old Penn Station, they referenced an article in the NYTIMES, titled ARCHITECTURE: HOW TO KILL A CITY.  I managed to find a copy online.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis on the preservation of the Grand Central Terminal

"Is it not cruel to let our city die by degrees, stripped of all her proud monuments, until there will be nothing left of all her history and beauty to inspire our children? If they are not inspired by the past of our city, where will they find the strength to fight for her future? Americans care about their past, but for short term gain they ignore it and tear down everything that matters. Maybe… this is the time to take a stand, to reverse the tide, so that we won't all end up in a uniform world of steel and glass boxes." -- Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis on the preservation of the Grand Central Terminal