For Release Thursday, February 7, 2013
New York City has been in high celebratory mode these days, marking the 100th anniversary of that world-class landmark, Grand Central Terminal. And well the city and the country should be celebrating; the incomparable Beaux Arts structure was almost lost.
Save for a vigorous, citizen-led effort to preserve it (“no more bites out of the Big Apple”) – an effort joined and made nationally significant by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis – and save for a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court declaring it the landmark it is, the terminal was doomed.
A 1968 proposal from owner Penn Central Railroad to build a tower over the terminal was rejected by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. So the railroad sued to overturn the station’s landmark status and effectively kill the 1965 landmarks law. Ironically, the law was so weak at that time that it only functioned for six months every three years.
The railroad won the first round in New York’s lowest court, where the landmark designation was overturned and damages of $60 million were awarded. At that time the real estate community wanted even less to do with landmark preservation than it does now, which doesn’t say much. Mayor Abraham Beame, cheered on by that real estate community, was ready to throw in the towel, de-designate the building and let Penn Central do what it wanted.