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Thread: Sixties Demolitions

  1. #1

    Default Sixties Demolitions

    SIXTIES DEMOLITIONS


    Pennsylvania Station (1910-64).

    In the early and mid-Sixties, prolonged insanity unleashed onto New York’s great Beaux-Arts monuments an orgy of architectural vandalism. Poster boys for this exhibition of looniness have come to be Penn Station and the Singer Building, both barely over fifty when they bit the dust.


    Singer Building (1906-68).

    Times Square’s Hotel Astor and the New York Times Building’s fanciful skin had also passed the fifty-year mark:


    Times Square: The New York Times Tower (1903-65) and the Hotel Astor beyond (with flag).


    The Hotel Astor (1904-67)


    The Astor was impossibly vast and French: three stories of space in its mansard alone.

    A building’s golden anniversary generally finds owners and public alike with thoughts of demolition; starting really at about age forty, when its style has gone out of vogue, a building’s most in danger of being murdered (or as in the case of the New York Times Building, merely flayed). At that age, a building’s generally dirty, old-fashioned, boring and obsolete (like 2 Columbus Center, also about to be flayed). If it can survive to seventy it becomes “historic,” we scrub it squeaky clean and save it for posterity.

    Because the Sixties’ callous demolitions now so appall us, we assume they occurred amidst vigorous protests such as you’d see today, now that we’ve re-learned to value Beaux-Arts buildings. But truth is, there was only a smattering of complaint over Penn Station, and almost none of it came from architects (in spite of what their revisionist apologists now claim).

    At the time, everybody could see these buildings were obsolete, worn out and ugly; they weren’t shiny, new, functional, clean or modern. They were everything a modern architect hated. The clean, new Seagram Building (1958) and Chase-Manhattan (1960) had just sprung up to point the way; and the public had finally cottoned to the message of International Style Modernism. Progressive and forward-looking, they couldn’t wait to get more.

    There were, however, these grimy, old-fashioned, obsolete buildings in the way, reminders of the benighted past, full of stuffy Victorians and Colonel Blowhards; each one was replaced with something sparkling, simple and modern.

    Penn Station was replaced by a sparkling new Madison Square Garden and an office slab, which together formed a corpulent, squared-up paraphrase of trylon and perisphere:


    Forty years old, they no longer sparkle. Obsolete, worn out and ugly, they’re no longer shiny, new, functional, clean or modern. The owners contemplate their replacement, and the public hopes for it. Will we miss them after they’re gone?

    The Singer Building was replaced by the bronzetone banality of U.S. Steel’s tower, product of the International Style’s premier practitioners, SOM:



    As the Allied Chemical Building, the Times’ tired old tower was reskinned in glitzy marble and billboards:



    And the dowdy old Astor was supplanted by the latest thing: you could tell, because it actually had fins! Like a DeSoto:


    Astor Plaza.

    Right now, we’re hard at work trashing monuments of Modernism, Brutalism and Post-Modernism; 2 Columbus Circle’s an example, and the U.N. Building had better watch out if it wants to keep its Modernist character; Sert’s Roosevelt Island ziggurats have already had their cheerful little bursts of color stripped. In Boston, you can hear daily calls to bulldoze that city’s iconic City Hall, high temple of Brutalism; and suggestions are made here regularly to flatten Madison Square Garden, now just as old, dirty and obsolete as the building it replaced.

    We’re still moaning over the loss of the last two Gardens; if we replace this one with a replica of Old Penn Station, I’m sure we’ll be consoled; but if not, will this make three lost Gardens to bewail?
    Last edited by ablarc; August 15th, 2005 at 03:24 PM.

  2. #2

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    The Savoy-Plaza (1927-64, McKim, Meade and White) bit the dust along with its Beaux-Arts brethren, and it was in many ways their peer. It spoke with an ever-so-faint Deco accent, but because it was at the tail end of a style that had fallen out of fashion it never quite made it to forty.


    The Savoy-Plaza.

    In one respect Savoy-Plaza actually bested its peers, for it made sweet music with its neighbors, Sherry Netherland and the venerable Plaza. As the “Grand” in Grand Army Plaza, cello-like Savoy emitted staunchly rotund tones, while slender Sherry played an agile fiddle, and the Plaza mediated, viola-like. They were all French, this trio, in their jaunty green hats, and they were all hotels. Together in this most European corner of the park, they oozed plutocratic elegance:


    Savoy was the same age as Sherry; they were both born in 1927, but while Savoy died an early death Sherry survived to become historic, and Plaza (born 1909) is not just historic but, at nearly a hundred, well on the way to a comfortable immortality.


    They provided New York with perhaps its finest urban composition not actually conceived entire—as Rockefeller Center was—but piecemeal like the Piazza San Marco. A collaboration by architects over time.

    Here in this stretch of Fifth Avenue, even the supporting cast was French; hovering at the trio’s outskirts in some views, Pierre, also a hotel in a green hat, sometimes joined in to make a quartet:


    Pierre’s the tower at left.

    A 1927 aerial shows roof work on the Plaza, and Savoy and Sherry Netherland unstarted. It also shows the still residential expanse of the Forties and Fifties between Fifth and Sixth, soon to be swept aside for Rockefeller Center. This was the start of the mother of all building booms; it was after all the Roaring Twenties:


    Spot the Sixth Avenue El as it plunges under ground. Mansions lined Fifth Avenue immediately above the Plaza.

    By the early Sixties, the Savoy Plaza had grown long in the tooth. It was replaced by the banal bulk of General Motors, Edward Durrell Stone’s white marble paraphrase of Hood’s Daily News grafted to a tepid rendition of Seagram’s massing. The music stopped. No one could harmonize with the new big guy; he was playing the kazoo.


    1987 photo. GM presently belongs to Donald Trump, and is about to get an Apple store.

    Some members of that old French gang still loiter around la Grande Armee’s Place, but they’re completely cowed by GM; Sherry hovers wraith-like in the shadow, barely visible:



    There’s another, roughly contemporary but much smaller white marble building by Stone at the Park’s opposite, Southern corner; that’s the one to keep and this is the one to lose.

    .
    Last edited by ablarc; August 15th, 2005 at 05:35 PM.

  3. #3
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    Those old photos showing NYC as she was (before so many mediocre boxes replaced some incredible gems) really make me want to cry.

  4. #4

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    "In the early and mid-Sixties, prolonged insanity unleashed onto New York’s great Beaux-Arts monuments an orgy of architectural vandalism. Poster boys for this exhibition of looniness...."

    "Because the Sixties’ callous demolitions now so appall us, we assume they occurred amidst vigorous protests such as you’d see today, now that we’ve re-learned to value Beaux-Arts buildings. But truth is, there was only a smattering of complaint over Penn Station, and almost none of it came from architects (in spite of what their revisionist apologists now claim)."

    The trashing is still going on.

    It might not be happening with big showy "important" buildings like Penn Station, the Singer, the Astor, or the Savoy Plaza, but developers are still indeed chipping away at beautiful old New York. It might be a brownstone in Chelsea, it might be the ambience that a row of old tennement buildings provide, or maybe just a non descript brick office building in mid-town.... they´re being town down, reclad, or "renovated" with innapropriate, ugly additions. Just as people in the 60´s were unable to see the worth of certain buildings... it is the same today.

    "Right now, we’re hard at work trashing monuments of Modernism, Brutalism and Post-Modernism..."

    I doubt that people will ever be crying over the loss of the NYColiseum at Columbus Circle, or the loss of a Madison Square Garden. These buildings were built with one thing in mind: efficiency and cost ...and that can always be duplicated. There is no art there. The Seagrams, the CBS building, Lever House, The Ford Foundation building, 510 5th, the UN building, even the (former) Pan Am etc. are a different story.... if any of those should be threatened, there will most certainly be a debate.... as is happening with 2 Columbus Circle.

  5. #5

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    Oh, and if you really want to weep, you should see the row of buildings that made up West 45th Street: the Helen-Hayes, the Morrosco, and the Bijou theatres (along with a small, beautiful, art-deco hotel whose name I can´t remember) all torn down and basically replaced with blank concrete walls for the hideously ugly Marriot Hotel.... and this was the 1980´s folks...

    I was one of the crazies out there in the snow protesting BTW.

  6. #6
    Moderator NYatKNIGHT's Avatar
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    Cool pictures ablarc, I could stare at those old ones for hours.

  7. #7

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    This gallery makes me realize how much we've lost over the last four decades. Penn Station and the Singer Building especially.

  8. #8

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    Thank God there is a landmarks commission

  9. #9
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    One Liberty Plaza.

  10. #10

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    Some people say things happen for a reason. When people saw penn station get destroyed people were appauled and angry. Sadly somethings that were so historic and beautiful got destroyed and that's when the landmarks commission was created. So some good came out of it in ( Im not saying it was good to destroy those buildings) which these buildings got destroyed but so many buildings now are being saved and preserved. They are an example which mistakes were made and how we must never make those mistakes again in the future. Like Grand Central for example. It was saved

  11. #11

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    We could make a nice list of treasures that were lost long after the Landmarks Commission was formed. The Landmarks Commission is great but no guarantee...

    For the younger members of the forum who might not have known these beautiful buildings:

    http://www.ibdb.com/VenueImages.asp?Id=1154

    http://www.ibdb.com/VenueImages.asp?Id=1278

    http://www.ibdb.com/VenueImages.asp?Id=1065

    http://www.ibdb.com/VenueImages.asp?Id=1164

    Be sure to click on the thumbnails.

    These were all demolished en masse in 1982. Unbelievable but true.

    Also during the 80´s: the awful recladding of the Broadway and the Palace theatres. The tearing down of the Rivoli. And even this year: the tearing down of the Studebaker building.

    And this is just the theatre district.

  12. #12

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    There is a super Internet site, specifically on "A PHOTOGRAPHIC ESSAY OF 19th CENTURY BUILDINGS DESTROYED IN THE 1970' S"

    http://www.lostnewyorkcity.com/

  13. #13
    Forum Veteran krulltime's Avatar
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    Wow... so many nice old buildings destroy by those big boxes... I mean maybe todays newer buildings have a better character than the sixtees big boxes.

    But I guess some unwanted sacrifices have to be made... to make our wonderful skyline.

  14. #14

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    I wish I had paid more attention.

    I have a vague memory of the last time I was in Penn Station, a trip with the family to vist relatives in Pittsburgh.

    It was during the demolition, and what I remember most was canvas tarps draped all over the interior and pigeons.

  15. #15

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    Superb thread.
    "an orgy of architectural vandalism"; you said it! People really went crazy for a while. (there are still some crazies left out there!)

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