More than 50 million people from all parts of the globe visit New York City each year to get a glimpse at some of the city’s thousands of icons and landmarks, from the Empire State Building to Carnegie Hall.
But in a city that revolves around constant structural renewal and architectural innovation, how is it possible to preserve the historic while still making it new?
It’s something New York has grappled with since at least the 19th century, when Walt Whitman famously lamented the “pull-down-and-build-it-over-again spirit” of his hometown. The threat of demolishing the then-century-old City Hall in the 1890s brought about public uproar, as well.
Yet it wasn’t until the original Pennsylvania Station — a majestic, ornate and elegant building with huge historical significance — was demolished in 1963 that the movement to protect New York’s landmarks really began to gain momentum. The local preservationist movement led then-Mayor Robert F. Wagner to sign the Landmarks Law into place in 1965.
This month, New York is celebrating 50 years of its landmarks law, which protects historically significant buildings, districts and interiors, through a new exhibition entitled “Saving Place: 50 Years of New York City Landmarks.”
According to the New York Times, “Saving Place,” designed by Studio Joseph and on display at the Museum of the City of New York, celebrates the juxtaposition between New York’s rich historical legacy and its status as a global hub of culture and modernity.
“New York’s future is based on a mix of old and new,” said Donald Albrecht, the museum’s curator of architecture and design.
The exhibition is set up as a timeline and includes photos, videos, architectural elements, quotes from major figures in the preservationist movement, old blueprints, drawings and countless other ephemera to encapsulate the city’s architectural legacy, according to The Atlantic.
“Saving Place” also features displays on restoring and retrofitting historic buildings, and how landmarks can sometimes be adapted to modern uses.
“The exhibition shows that landmarking and preservation are not about antiquarianism or freezing the past,” said Prof. Andrew S. Dolkart, co-curator of “Saving Place” and director of the historic preservation program at Columbia University.
Imagine a New York without places like Grand Central Station, the New York Public Library or even Central Park — would it even be New York at all?
“Saving Place” will be on display through September.