Protest, protest, protest, was the only way to stop Carnegie Hall from being pulled down in the late fifties and replaced with a red enamel office tower. Can you imagine? Isaac Stern, the famous violinist saved this New York Institution as did Jackie Kennedy save Grand Central. Everyone was too late to save the original very grand Pennsylvania Station, as well as many of the art deco theaters on Broadway. The only saving grace of the destroyed Roxy Theatre was a photograph of the fabulous Gloria Swanson in the ruins. But the loss of so much of early New York became the driving force to create laws to preserve the city, and this is the subject of an excellent exhibition at The Museum of the City of New York.
Preservation laws were only passed 50 years ago, and it took years to actually enforce them and to expand them to include areas like Central Park. Now New Yorkers have such a feeling of ownership of their city, that even when places like The Frick on 70th and 5th announce plans for expansion, it becomes a vocal public discussion. In this case the loss of the garden on 70th street is a major cause of concern. How fabulous that a garden would have it’s own group of protectors.
While the exhibition showcases newspaper cuttings and legal documents, the display of badges at the end tells a much bigger story of the street level activism that was needed to preserve the Big Apple. This was the sixties after all. Adjacent to this was a quote that said it all for me. ‘(New York) carries on it’s lapel the unexpungeable odor of the long past, so that no matter where you sit in New York you feel the vibrations of great times and tall deeds…’ Those are good vibrations indeed!