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Sunday, February 03, 2013
Grand Central at 100
Before Grand Central Terminal was built, steam powered trains came to Grand Central Station, which previously occupied the site, through an open cut that extended the length of what is now Park Avenue. Electrification meant that trains could go underground for long distances; covering the tracks meant that Park Avenue could be developed as an elegant residential and office boulevard. This greatly increased the value of the land around Grand Central, as well as that occupied by the Terminal itself.
During the 1950s and 60s, there were proposals to demolish or alter Grand Central in order to build a much taller office building on its site. This is the fate that befell Penn Station in 1964; its loss started a movement to preserve historic structures in New York City and the establishment of the City's Landmarks Preservation Commission. Grand Central was designated a landmark by the LPC in 1967. Shortly after that, Penn Central, the railroad resulting from the merger of previous archrivals New York Central and Pennsylvania, disclosed a plan to build a gigantic office tower above Grand Central. While this plan would have preserved the Terminal's interior, it would have destroyed the sculptures, the clock, and other beaux arts decorative elements on the exterior. Because of the landmark designation, Penn Central had to submit the plans to the LPC for approval. People who wanted to preserve Grand Central, prominent among them Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, opposed the proposal. The LPC twice denied it. Penn Central appealed to the courts, and the case eventually went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which held that the landmark designation and the LPC's decision did not amount to a "taking" of Penn Central's property without compensation, in violation of the Constitution. This proved to be a "landmark" decision in both the sense in which lawyers use that term and in the sense in which historic preservationists use it.
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