Historic preservation is a hot-button issue in most major cities throughout North America. While some are older than others, the same dilemma is presented about needing to preserve the past or embrace the future.
Of course, the issue is more complex than that. A city could both preserve its past while also embracing the future. Old buildings can be maintained while thoughtful modern buildings are constructed. There is a necessary balance.
The historic preservation battles of today did not always exist. In fact, one could make the argument that these battles got their start in 1963 when New York’s original Penn Station was torn down.
It is a bit difficult to say whether in fact the demolition of Penn Station is solely to thank for the creation of New York City’s Landmarks Law, or whether the law even had much power, but it was most certainly the start of a movement. In Cincinnati this movement found a common story line when Union Terminal was threatened with demolition in 1973, but was prevented thanks to a ruling from City Hall, along with public demonstrations in support of preserving the building.
Interestingly enough, even after that initial battle Cincinnati’s Union Terminal faced an uncertain fate as recently as 2014 when Hamilton County Commissioners voted on a proposed temporary sales tax to pay for the restoration of the historic landmark. The vote did end up passing in support of Union Terminal – once again showing the public’s affinity for grand train stations.
Majestic structures like Cincinnati’s Union Terminal and New York’s lost Penn Station do not, however, define most historic preservation battles. But since they grab the headlines, they often make for the critical moments in time where the public at-large makes a statement about their stance on preserving historic buildings.
To learn more about the start of this movement, listen to Episode 147 of 99% Invisible where the history of Penn Station is discussed in detail.