Dumber than the Romans

Our built heritage should not become fossils enshrined in amber, but fertile, motley canvases on which to build anew.

The demolition of 270 Park Avenue in 2019. TheHornet via Wikimedia Commons, accessed CC BY-SA 4.0

In a recent talk for the City Club of New York, Françoise Astorg Bollack shared an indignant litany of major demolitions. The Tombs, an eighty-two-year-old detention complex in Lower Manhattan, was to begin its dismantling any day, to be replaced by a slightly larger tower. In Midtown, 270 Park Avenue, a fifty-two-story glass skyscraper that served as JPMorgan Chase’s headquarters for sixty years, was leveled to make way for the bank’s new digs. Most egregious was the erasure of the Hotel Pennsylvania—the world’s largest hotel in the 1920s—for a tentative supertall project trollishly named PENN15, which developer Vornado has since abandoned. “Who knows how long the site will be empty,” Bollack said, of the prime real estate directly across from Penn Station, the country’s busiest transit hub. “It’s puzzling why this very large building could not be reused for housing. An…

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