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They don't make 'em like they used to.
June 23, 2009 4:33 AM   Subscribe

Beautiful train stations that fell to the wrecking ball.
posted by gman (72 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
We bet on cars and lost.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:39 AM on June 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


Or rather - beautiful train stations in the US that fell the wrecking ball.

Very sad. It's not like the US has tons and tons of architectural history. It seems rather shortsighted to tear down some of what little there is.
posted by MuffinMan at 4:42 AM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


There is that tag over to the right.
posted by gman at 4:46 AM on June 23, 2009


It was bittersweet to see the Rochester NY Central station on this list. Designed by Claude Bragdon, it was sold to a private investor and torn down because they couldn't think of a use for it.
posted by tommasz at 4:48 AM on June 23, 2009


I was glad to see they didn't leave out the late lamented station from my hometown, Birmingham, Alabama. I've been pissed off all my life at the knuckleheads who ordered that demolished. Buncha stupid fecking yahoos.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:49 AM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also Union Station in Portland ME. It's now a strip mall.
posted by rusty at 4:55 AM on June 23, 2009


the late lamented station from my hometown, Birmingham, Alabama.

From the picture, it looks like a bizarre mishmash of a Mughal tomb & a bunch of district courthouses; some kind of orientalist fantasy not unlike the British fairytale station in Kuala Lumpur.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:55 AM on June 23, 2009


It seems rather shortsighted to tear down some of what little there is.

No one laments the ugly ones that also got torn down.
posted by Pollomacho at 4:55 AM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


If Sneelock had a train station behind his shop instead of a vacant lot there would have been no circus.
posted by mattoxic at 4:55 AM on June 23, 2009


The Detroit train station is still standing, but I'm guessing not long for this world...
posted by HuronBob at 4:56 AM on June 23, 2009


And this wretched sort of thing doesn't only happen in the US; see, for example, the Euston Arch.
posted by hydatius at 5:02 AM on June 23, 2009


This is sad. I travel by train when I can (when the cost/time factor is practical) and I love old stations.

The old one in Richmond got turned into a science museum, which I think is a great reuse of a cool old building (I do want to make some comments about how that's Virginia for you, and we love our old stuff, sometimes unnecessarily so, but in this case, I think it's awesome and I'm glad the building is still there).
posted by darksong at 5:05 AM on June 23, 2009


Oh, and kiss our unrepresented brown booty, USA.

Make fun of our mayor will ya?
posted by Pollomacho at 5:06 AM on June 23, 2009


Oh, definitely, Ubu, the B'ham station was a real architectural oddity. It had a lot weird charm, y'know?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:06 AM on June 23, 2009


the Euston Arch.

...which is not actually an arch at all - some kind of British joke?
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:07 AM on June 23, 2009


This one was about three blocks from my house, torn down in the '50s along with hundreds of other cool buildings in the name of "urban renewal".
posted by octothorpe at 5:10 AM on June 23, 2009


It needn't have been that way... St. Pancras, Atocha.
posted by run"monty at 5:11 AM on June 23, 2009


There are some sad dissertations in these images...
posted by njbradburn at 5:11 AM on June 23, 2009


flapjax - this is what it immediately reminded me of.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:20 AM on June 23, 2009


You really should have put USA in the front page post. I wouldn't have bothered clicking if I knew it was just a bunch of US Train Stations..
posted by mary8nne at 5:24 AM on June 23, 2009


While it's sad that some of these beautiful structures are now gone, I don't think anyone should be surprised. Given the tax-cut, slash spending fetish throughout the US, coupled with what has to be the enormous cost of maintenance on such structures, it's a wonder any old buildings remain standing here.

Ideas such as converting them to museums and such work only if, you know, you actually have a collection available to put on display, that will attract a regular enough visitation, to support itself. And converting them to usable office space could, quite often, cost far more than demolishing and building anew. And, you're still on the hook for upkeep on an aging structure.

I'm not arguing against saving these structures. I love old buildings. I'm only saying I can easily understand why they fall to the wrecking ball.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:30 AM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wow, just popped in to say you're sorry you did? Nice!

gman, great post. Thanks for this. Penn Station was just fabulous. So beautiful. Detroit, you make me sad. I love me some urban decay, but Detroit never fails to make me wince just a little. (I was born there.)
posted by heyho at 5:30 AM on June 23, 2009


You really shouldn't have put USA in the front page post. I wouldn't have bothered clicking if I knew it was just a bunch of US Train Stations.

Aside from that, it's a poignant thing...typically, the grandest edifices built in any town (other than churches) used to be the banks, town hall, courthouse, post office & railway station.

As often as not, these were great white elephants, designed to impress but economically ridiculous, especially as they began to age & acquire heritage status.

Australia - for example - is full of old bank buildings & post offices that look nice enough, but are near-impossible to sell because the new owners not only have to maintain the buildings, they also have to retain the character & heritage features, meaning that they are restricted in how they can develop & use them - eg no massive makeover of the internal spaces, no new fire exits (required for things like restaurant or pub licences) etc etc etc.

It's hard to imagine how any owner could turn old stations into some kind of viable commercial building, so once the rail business died away, the best strategy was probably to let them fall into disrepair so badly that demolition was the only realistic economic strategy.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:41 AM on June 23, 2009 [2 favorites]



Memories. I passed through all these stations multiple times.
In the 40's, 50's & 60's rail travel was a pleasant means of transportation. Especially east of the Mississippi and the Great Lakes region.
posted by notreally at 5:47 AM on June 23, 2009


The beautiful art deco Buffalo Central Terminal could very easily have been on this list. The building is still in poor condition but the Central Terminal Restoration Corporation is working very hard restore and redevelop it, arguing it could be re-used as Buffalo's high-speed rail terminal. Lots of photos historical and more current ones here.
posted by radiomayonnaise at 6:01 AM on June 23, 2009


Regarding Penn Station:
"One entered the city like a God," the architectural historian Vincent Scully famously wrote of the original station. "One scuttles in now like a rat."
posted by exogenous at 6:07 AM on June 23, 2009 [6 favorites]


Public policy has often resulted in architectural demolition. When Empress Maria Theresa of Austria imposed a roof tax, many families simply removed the roofs from centuries-old, perfectly preserved castles and fortresses, which they weren't living in, having moved into more modern and accessible buildings. The result is today's "romantic" ruins that abound in Austria, as the elements destroyed these icons. Baron Haussman tore down most of Paris. It looks fantastic now, but he displaced thousands of people at the time and destroyed many beloved ancient buildings, not to mention the entire map of central Paris. Americans don't have a monopoly on brutal urban and architectural redevelopment.
posted by nax at 6:14 AM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


They did save this one here in Pittsburgh and turn the top part of it into condos. The trains still run though but Amtrak is sort of camped out in a tiny area that looks like a bus station in the basement. And they only bother to run two trains a day.
posted by octothorpe at 6:25 AM on June 23, 2009


Well, when it said "wrecking ball" and "train stations," wasn't it pretty obvious whis was going to be about the USA? Americans had a great penchant for knocking down old beautiful buildings that didn't really start to abate until the early Seventies.

Union Station in Denver and Union Station in St. Louis are two more that made it through our self-destructive era.
posted by kozad at 6:58 AM on June 23, 2009


Worcester, MA saved theirs after about 25 years of letting it sit empty. Now it's a big beautiful, mostly empty building. There is hope that a nearby commercial development might help nudge it along, but really unlikely.

If local building authorities refused to grant permits to plain buildings with no redeeming features, we wouldn't miss these buildings as much when they are torn down.
posted by inthe80s at 7:01 AM on June 23, 2009


I've been using (the new) Penn Station for nearly 30 years and still can't find my way around. That's the worst thing about what replaced these old stations: they just don't function as well.

Amazingly, New Haven, Conn., which was ground zero for the misguided post-war urban renewal movement, managed somehow not to tear down its stately Union Station. For years it sat empty as commuters and Amtrak users scurried through a nasty little flourescent-lit side building with the all the charm of a men's room. The old place reopened in the mid-'80s and is a joy to travel through.
posted by stargell at 7:09 AM on June 23, 2009


On the plus side, at least here in Portland ME, the demolition of the gorgeous Union Station Rusty references prompted a strong preservation movement.

However, not only did we lose an amazing train station that provided transportation to people wanting to leave the city; we also lost a great intra-city transportation trolley network. It's amazing how short-sighted the almighty car made people.
posted by miss tea at 7:15 AM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's hard to imagine how any owner could turn old stations into some kind of viable commercial building, so once the rail business died away, the best strategy was probably to let them fall into disrepair so badly that demolition was the only realistic economic strategy.

When Empress Maria Theresa of Austria imposed a roof tax, many families simply removed the roofs from centuries-old, perfectly preserved castles and fortresses, which they weren't living in.



Certainly there are historical examples of how poor policy led to the needless destruction of beautiful architecture, but it does seem that at least as often it is commercial impulses that force the hand.

Part of my vocation is working first hand with a local historical preservation group. I identify strongly with their mission of avoiding travesties like those linked above. However, upon learning about their approach to convincing owners to enlist for designation I was left completely underwhelmed. The sense of place (not to mention the respect to history) that these types of structures offer is an obvious public good. Yet, the policy tool for protecting or refurbishing them is small matching funds from municipalities or increased access to small public grants (at least around here). All this comes with the enormous hassle and property restrictions accompanying the designation.

In certain instances 'smart growth' (re: reuse) is viable. However, more often a building has a cost structure that belongs to a bygone economic environment. They don't build 'em like they used to mostly because they can't afford to. Has anyone seen good approaches to getting around the public benefit <> private cost dynamic that seems to doom historical properties to redevelopment?
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 7:24 AM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Interior photos of the Michigan Central Station in Detroit. On April 9, Detroit city council voted to demolish it. (Original article paywalled.)
posted by acro at 7:41 AM on June 23, 2009


They don't build 'em like they used to mostly because they can't afford to. Has anyone seen good approaches to getting around the public benefit <> private cost dynamic that seems to doom historical properties to redevelopment?

Both Washington's Union Station and NYC's Grand Central Terminal have become viable mixed-use sites that preserve the historic structures.
posted by stargell at 7:45 AM on June 23, 2009


As octothorpe mentioned, Pittsburgh's Penn Station (designed by Daniel Burnham) is still standing, and it is awesome, if not functional.
posted by the littlest brussels sprout at 7:52 AM on June 23, 2009


Save the Michigan Central Depot website, petition, Facebook app and blog.
posted by acro at 7:56 AM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Beautiful train stations that fell to the wrecking ball.

WARNING: USA ONLY.
posted by swift at 8:02 AM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hey, miss tea, you forgot to mention (and I've been going up to Portland most summers for fifty years) that Portland, Maine finally, as of a few years ago, revived it's train service. (To Boston, only two hours or so SW of Portland.) The train station may not be worth bragging about, but, hey, it's a real passenger train!

And yes, that's how it seems to happen a lot of places. Sometime about two thirds of the way through the Twentieth Century, developers wreck one of the last remaining beautiful old buildings, and everyone wakes up and says, "Hey, what the hell were we thinking?" And then the Historical Preservation Society is born and everybody lives (more) happily after.
posted by kozad at 8:06 AM on June 23, 2009


Nashville kept theirs, thankfully. Losing the enormous and beautiful train shed out back is sad, though.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 8:14 AM on June 23, 2009


It's interesting to me that so many of the demolished stations mentioned here are on the east coast. I'm very pleased that Union Station in Portland, OR is still standing. I never considered how lucky we are to still have it here; I'll have to give it a big 'mmmmwah!' on my way to work this morning.
posted by JohnFredra at 8:20 AM on June 23, 2009


The chicago losses make sense. As a historical oddity, we had more rather than larger terminals, which is pretty inconvenient for travelers. You'd rather be able to come into a terminal and change trains than come in, travel a few miles (on foot, bus, ?) then change trains. We also have extra old unused buildings. If you have a viable plan for the huge post office over congress (3 million square feet), give the mayor a call. It was scheduled to be sold for $10, but that fell through. Unfortunately, there's been a glut of new construction, so it's going to be hard to think of what it should be.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 8:24 AM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


My small prediction: As oil gets more expensive, passenger trains, being more efficient than airplanes, will make a comeback. When I see train infrastructure being destroyed I usually find myself thinking "Someday they're going to regret doing that."
posted by LastOfHisKind at 8:29 AM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


The 1960's redesign stripped all the personality and soul out of New York's Penn Station. (That link has a number of images of the original station, and relates the loud public outcry that erupted when redesign plans were announced.) By contrast, the second renovation in the '90's was merely pitiful.

I commute through Penn on weekdays, and it's pretty awful. Depressing. Dull. Home to lost pigeons (they fly in through the open entrances, down the stairs and roost above the main concourse,) and a dingy retail mall that includes McDonalds, Subway, Auntie Anne's Krispy Kreme and Starbucks franchises. Talk to the train conductors about the thriving rat population in the tunnels below, and you'll never eat at any of them.

To see a transit station with grandeur and a sense of our city's history, you have to travel across town to Grand Central. Sad.
posted by zarq at 8:39 AM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


In 1963, America learned a painful lesson when Pennsylvania Station, an architectural treasure that Senator Daniel Moynihan described as “the best thing in our city,” was torn down and replaced with a dreary complex that includes an office building and Madison Square Garden. The rail station, to this day the nation’s busiest, was moved underground into a claustrophobic warren of artificially lit passageways and bleak waiting rooms.

We've talked about this before, but it's worth repeating: yes yes yes. It is one of the best things about my recent move to queens that I no longer have to see the current Penn Station every day. That monstrosity is a soul crushing abyss. It seems to me that every time I see a really fantastically beautiful, but fictional, train station in a movie, painting, video game or whatever... it looks like the old Penn Station. It still makes me angry that I never got to see it, and that I've had to have so much of my time spent waiting around in the current one.
posted by shmegegge at 8:40 AM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't give a damn about the architecture... I'm pissed off about the parceling out of train rights-of-way. Sure, it's nice to buy a 20' extension to your back yard, but trying to re-organize an at-grade path that connects two points of interest is appallingly expensive. The legal fees to try and expand the rail network in the next few years will be the biggest barrier, mark my words.
posted by anthill at 8:43 AM on June 23, 2009


Union Station in St. Louis died its first death as a train station, and soon it's going to be a dead mall too. I was there a couple of months ago, and most of the stores are now closed. It sure is beautiful though.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 8:44 AM on June 23, 2009


FWIW these old buildings were free to go in my book. Granted, architecture today is in a pretty shitty state but that's no reason not to push ourselves.

Shoe-horning new functionality into old bones isn't necessary. If we can't design things at least as good today then we need to re-learn how to.
posted by @troy at 8:46 AM on June 23, 2009


I was in Los Angeles Union Station for the first time this weekend and kind of fell in love with it. It was a pleasant surprise, since it doesn't look like much from the train windows.
posted by natabat at 8:50 AM on June 23, 2009


It still makes me angry that I never got to see it, and that I've had to have so much of my time spent waiting around in the current one.

Me too. That's why I read books or surf the net on my phone while listening to music. Drowns out my surroundings.

It is one of the best things about my recent move to queens that I no longer have to see the current Penn Station every day.

Lucky. I also live in Queens, but it's the fastest option to NYC for me.
posted by zarq at 9:03 AM on June 23, 2009


Washington's Union Station and NYC's Grand Central Terminal have become viable mixed-use sites

Certainly. These are also located in two of the largest and most resilient commercial markets in the U.S.

Besides economic mass, are there characteristics that make these examples viable? For example, is there a (non-political) reason why Grand Central works, but Penn Station (in NYC) got the wrecking ball?
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 9:11 AM on June 23, 2009


And this wretched sort of thing doesn't only happen in the US; see, for example, the Euston Arch.

The destruction of the Euston Arch was an absolute tragedy - the triumph of apathy over architecture.

I'm about half way through writing a series of articles on the Arch at the moment (construction and demolision are done, legacy and rebirth are to come) and have just covered the Arch's destruction. Reading the exact exchanges that happened in Parliament during the 1960s between its defenders and the Government, you can really pick up the sheer sense of disbelief and frustration the defenders felt at the blatant obstinacy of a Government afraid to actually stand up and make a decision.

As an example, here's Woodrow Wyatt trying to pin down the Ministry of Housing to include the Royal Fine Art Commission (who were meant to be consulted on things like this) in the decision making process. The Ministry knew full well what the RFAC would say and had no intention of letting them get involved as they'd "make things difficult" and back the defenders' calls for a preservation order:
Wyatt: Mr. Wyatt asks the Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs what reply he has sent to the letter, sent to him in July by the Royal Fine Art Commission, concerning the proposed removal of the Doric Arch, Great Hall and Shareholders' Meeting Room at Euston Station; and if he will make a statement.

Joseph [Junior Housing Minister]: My right hon. Friend has not yet replied to this letter because he is still considering the matter in consultation with the other Ministers concerned.

Wyatt: The Government have been considering this matter for nearly a year now. What is the point of having a Royal Fine Art Commission if the Government are going to disregard its recommendations which, in this case, are to keep that historic monument at Euston Station? Why waste the time of the distinguished gentlemen advising the Government if they take no notice?


Post-destruction, the only good thing that came out of the whole embarrassing affair was that it fired up the arch's defenders and taught them some tough lessons about relying on the promises and powers of local and national government when it came to acts of preservation.

In that regard the Euston Arch did not die in vain - though Betjeman (yes that Betjeman) and his allies failed to save it, they put the experience and skills they had acquired during their fight to good use and successfully fought to save St Pancras and countless other parts of our railway (and architectural) history that would otherwise have been ground to dust. They paved the way for modern organisations such as English Heritage and others who still try to help us find the correct balance between innovation and preservation to this day (as they are currently doing brilliantly at Kings Cross).

In a way, I suppose, the statue of Betjeman that stands proudly in St Pancras today is as much a memorial to the Euston Arch as it is to the man himself - for without both we'd have lost so much more.
posted by garius at 9:33 AM on June 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


Shoe-horning new functionality into old bones isn't necessary. If we can't design things at least as good today then we need to re-learn how to.

I agree that shoe-horning (i like that phrase, btw) is wasteful and that not all old buildings need to be saved. But I think saving trains stations, for use as train stations, is an idea with merit. In the midwest, we're hoping on renewed intercity train travel funded in part by the stimulus package, so saving the Michigan Central isn't unreasonable.

Union Station was saved in St Louis.. it's now an empty mall that I haven't been to in years. The funny thing is, the new plastic train "station" is one block away. It's ugly and not too efficient. I would love to see Union Station re-re-purposed for use as a Train Station. There are major reasons why it won't happen (ownership, political complacency, and those couple of buildings completely in the way). Check it out here.

I think aesthetic value is important. And these old train stations really deliver. In Alain de Botton's Architecture of Happiness, he says (I'm paraphrasing here) that our buildings speak to us of our views of happiness. These trains stations really speak to me. The ironwork supporting the train hood speaks of strength and industry and the expansiveness of the hall speaks of possibility.

Very little of modern architecture says anything to me except that the calculable benefits were carefully weighed against the calculable costs.
posted by everythings_interrelated at 9:39 AM on June 23, 2009


The beautiful art deco Buffalo Central Terminal could very easily have been on this list. The building is still in poor condition but the Central Terminal Restoration Corporation is working very hard restore and redevelop it, arguing it could be re-used as Buffalo's high-speed rail terminal. Lots of photos historical and more current ones here.

YES. Buffalo seems to really get it. Hooray for Buffalo!
posted by Sys Rq at 9:48 AM on June 23, 2009


The old Indianapolis Union Station has mostly been preserved, although the main hall is now a hotel ballroom.
posted by pjern at 10:07 AM on June 23, 2009


I was in Los Angeles Union Station for the first time this weekend and kind of fell in love with it.

Kind of? Look at that waiting room!
posted by stargell at 10:23 AM on June 23, 2009


is there a (non-political) reason why Grand Central works, but Penn Station (in NYC) got the wrecking ball?

From what I understand, Trump got involved in the commercial redevelopment and the Kennedys got behind the preservation and renovation of Grand Central. That's a lot of clout.

Moynihan Station, the proposed replacement for Penn Station (it would incorporate the current, massive post office facility on Eighth Ave & 33rd), is pretty much dead now, given its pricetag, the intransigence of Madison Square Garden's owners, and political ineptitude in Albany.
posted by stargell at 10:30 AM on June 23, 2009


As octothorpe mentioned, Pittsburgh's Penn Station (designed by Daniel Burnham) is still standing, and it is awesome, if not functional.

If I remember correctly, the rotunda on that thing still had a rail-track turntable and tracks heading in various directions, when I was a wee lad.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:33 AM on June 23, 2009


It's not like the US has tons and tons of architectural history.

It's not like Britain (or anywhere else, for that matter) has significantly more railway-related history, architectural or otherwise.
posted by oaf at 10:33 AM on June 23, 2009


flapjax: I have tiles of marble from the central lobby of Birmingham's Terminal Station sitting in my basement right now. My dad and some friends "liberated" them from the demolition site late one night. He later built a patio out of most of it (and then sold the house, dammit), but I've still got a marble-topped table and a few stray chunks of the stuff. Want some?
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:37 AM on June 23, 2009


No one laments the ugly ones that also got torn down.

Do you have some examples, particularly pre-WWII, of ugly train stations? Because in general, even the small, one-horse-town, vernacular railroad architecture was pretty pleasing.

I agree with Reasonably Everything Happens that public policy has a great deal to do with the viability of both physical preservation and adaptive re-use. Current policies provide much more incentive to build new buildings than to preserve the old. Only recently has there been a move to allow LEED credits for re-using an existing structure. I'm not sure what the entire policy package that helps to result in greater preservation is, but I'm sure the ideas are out there. Just as with the railroads themselves, we've got a policy structure built to invest in one set of perceived goods, which had the side effect of divesting in another set that are now being increasingly perceived as good - intercity rail infrastructure as opposed to congested roads, reuse of existing building stock as opposed to the resource-intensive and often poorly envisioned new construction.

It's quite hard to reuse old structures for many reasons, including the need to be ADA compliant, offer proper fire safety, reduce energy usage, etc. But I've no doubt that new approaches to permitting, and in some cases a tiered set of preservation guidelines, could help address the problem of loss of significant architecture.
posted by Miko at 10:37 AM on June 23, 2009


Toronto's Union Station narrowly avoided this in the 1970s. Good thing, too. Like Penn station, it was to be replaced by a more modern, underground station -- a small section of this was built as the commuter train area which, frankly, lacks some of the grandeur of the secular cathedral that is the Great Hall.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:45 AM on June 23, 2009


Whenever the old Penn Station comes up I like to recommend the book The Meadowlands by Robert Sullivan. He had heard that the marble columns and other pieces of the station were dumped in the Meadowlands of NJ, one of many many things buried out there, and went in search of them:
I entered a parking lot the size of a small village that was filled with dozens of tractor-trailers, their drivers either asleep with their feet on their steering wheels or milling around in small crowds. The drivers eyed me curiously. Behind an aluminum-covered lunch truck, only a few hundred yards up Penhorn Creek from where Dave and I had dug for hours the day before, I saw three huge chunks of rock surrounded by minimal dirt and debris. I parked the car and locked the doors and ran over to touch them and I knew in an instant what they were.

It is difficult to describe exactly how I felt at the moment I found my pieces of Penn Station....
posted by Miko at 10:54 AM on June 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


Thanks garius. I suppose I'd never looked at the Euston Arch in that way before, as a architectural monument that did not suffer demolition in vain. I guess that speaks to some of the wider issues at stake as well: every time we lose something of beauty, grandeur, and history in our cityscapes, something that makes our lives (and commutes, in this case) that little bit brighter --and boy do we lose them, every year in every town-- then that galvanises those who lost something they loved to try to make sure that the next time yet more voices are raised in protest.
posted by hydatius at 10:55 AM on June 23, 2009


Fortunately all we did was put up an ugly ass statue.
posted by electroboy at 11:07 AM on June 23, 2009


Kansas City's Union Station got saved too. The stuff inside isn't great (why do they always want to put cheesy science museums in these things instead of something people can actually use on a daily basis?) but at least it's not a parking lot.
posted by banishedimmortal at 11:43 AM on June 23, 2009


It's not all bad in Rochester though, one of the older RR stations was turned into a BBQ restaurant.
posted by Wild_Eep at 11:49 AM on June 23, 2009


is there a (non-political) reason why Grand Central works, but Penn Station (in NYC) got the wrecking ball?

The super-brief, oversimplified summary: Actually, the Penn Central Railroad wanted to demolish much of GCT for an office tower in 1968, but the demolition of Penn Station had provoked such outrage that the City had started taking architectural preservation seriously. NYC sued to prevent construction and won in the U.S. Supreme Court.

So, GCT survived because Penn Station didn't. And GCT was plenty crummy inside through the '80s. What you see today is the product of a long process that started around 20 years ago.

Both the Penn Station demolition and the GCT case are a big deal for architectual preservationists. I'll see if my brother, who does this sort of thing for a living, has anything to add.
posted by Opposite George at 11:56 AM on June 23, 2009


It's a tremendous shame about Detroit. Are they afraid restoration might create jobs and/or attract visitors?
posted by Sys Rq at 12:59 PM on June 23, 2009


is there a (non-political) reason why Grand Central works, but Penn Station (in NYC) got the wrecking ball?

Actually, here is a picture of what they wanted to do to Grand Central Station in the late 1960s (these alternatives -- by the same architect-- are even worse -- scroll halfway down). A very scary vision of what easily could have been. Incredibly, they were still trying this as recently as 1990.

If Grand Central had to have been demolished, this building (scroll halfway down page) by I.M. Pei would have really been something, especially in the late 1950s. A damn sight better than that POS box called Madison Square Garden.
posted by banishedimmortal at 1:24 PM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wow, that Grand Central/Trump Tower rendering is the Frankenstein's monster of buildings.
posted by Miko at 2:19 PM on June 23, 2009


Shoe-horning new functionality into old bones isn't necessary. If we can't design things at least as good today then we need to re-learn how to.

It's true that not every building can be turned into something else, and requirements ranging from electrical codes to accessibility can be severe limitations. But adaptive reuse can be very successful.

It's also possible to design new buildings that are architectural gems or at least not abortions. But in both cases preservation focuses on what is possible.

Yet, the policy tool for protecting or refurbishing them is small matching funds from municipalities or increased access to small public grants (at least around here). All this comes with the enormous hassle and property restrictions accompanying the designation.

In the right circumstances, or the right hands, the existing tax credit structure [in the US] can be attractive to developers. But yes, the restrictions are the primary objection that must be overcome. It's ironic that one can qualify for tax credits by being a National Register structure, yet the NRHP itself has restrictions that only come into play if you are voluntarily developing using the tax credits. Many property owners believe that being on the National Register means you cannot alter the building or that you will be prevented from tearing it down. The last, alas, is false.

Personally, I am chagrined at how quickly during the housing boom block after block of Chicago brownstones fell to replacement by dull, misshapen concrete-block condos. I love the architectural triumphs as much as the next person, but I am also cognizant of the entirety of the built environment. We have a fabulous art deco railroad hotel in my hometown. It sits empty. A fellow who doesn't own it proposed a development that would demolish every 19th century building remaining on adjacent blocks for parking, including the YMCA building where the Gideon Bible Foundation was formed, and then save an utterly anonymous 1960s storefront across the street as a convention center. It's absurd, but that sort of thing actually happens a lot. Anyway, the actual owner wants to sensibly redevelop the building as apartments or condos.

It's actually often not hard to do this, even to do it well. One of the biggest constraints today tends to be location and other economic issues. A location that was perfect in the 19th century can be inconvenient today, or lack the transportation structure. We have no trolley anymore (a complaint rather ubiquitous) so the need for centralization is limited. You live downtown and you may even be near your job but all the shopping is on the outskirts. The high schools aren't nearby. And so on.
posted by dhartung at 6:55 PM on June 23, 2009


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