The Museum of the City of New York opens a new exhibition, Saving Place: 50 Years of New York City Landmarks, today in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the passage of the New York City Landmarks Law. The exhibition explores the impact of New York’s landmark preservation movement from the 1960s to the present, and features panoramic views of the city shot by renowned architectural photographer Iwan Baan as well as models, building fragments, and a timeline of the preservation movement’s history.
Following the demolition of McKim, Mead & White’s Pennsylvania Station, New Yorkers banded together to voice opposition to the destruction of architectural landmarks. The New York City Landmarks law was enacted on April 19, 1965, in large part due to the efforts of activists who followed rallying cries by notable architectural figures such as Ada Louise Huxtable. Huxtable seemed to take the whole city to task in an Oct. 1963 op-ed piece in the New York Times: “Any city gets what it admires, will pay for, and ultimately, deserves,” she wrote. “Even when we had Penn Station, we couldn’t afford to keep it clean. We want and deserve tin-can architecture in a tin-horn culture. And we will probably be judged not by the monuments we built but by those we have destroyed.”
Saving Place documents preservation failures and triumphs, and highlights juxtapositions of new architecture in historic contexts such as the Hearst Tower by Foster + Partners, which sits atop an Art Deco building. The exhibition also includes drawn renderings of Marcel Breuer’s unrealized proposal for Grand Central Terminal, which would have superimposed a large tower above the existing historic structure.
A 208-page book also titled Saving Place: 50 Years of New York City Landmarks (Monacelli Press, $50), edited by show curators Donald Albrecht and Andrew S. Dolkart, accompanies the exhibition. The book features essays by Robert A.M. Stern, FAIA, Anthony C. Wood, Françoise Astorg Bollack, Claudette Brady, and Adele Chatfield-Taylor, all of which are accompanied by Baan’s photographs. The book and exhibition cover just a fraction of the more than 31,000 landmark properties spread among the five boroughs, but highlight quotidian structures as well as the more well-known icons of New York architecture.
“Much of what we love about New York today we owe to the law and its administering body,” Stern writes in the introduction of the book. “Much of what is contentious about contemporary development and redevelopment can also be laid at the feet of the landmarks law and the Landmarks Preservation Commission.”
“The law has been a success beyond the dreams of its early advocates,” Dolkart said in a release. “Landmarking is about creating a city where old buildings contribute to vibrant neighborhoods and where new construction in historic districts reinforces an area’s special character.”
Saving Place runs through Sept. 13 at the Museum of the City of New York.