2 Columbus Circle
The Campaign to Preserve 2 Columbus Circle
In 2007, the New York Preservation Archive Project (NYPAP) undertook a documentation project focused on the 10-year, grassroots-led advocacy campaign to preserve 2 Columbus Circle in New York City. The building, designed by Edward Durell Stone and completed in 1964, was originally Huntington Hartford’s Gallery of Modern Art. The façade and interior were radically transformed by the Museum of Arts and Design beginning in 2006, and the new museum opened in 2008.
Though ultimately unsuccessful, the campaign to save 2 Columbus Circle was one of the most aggressive, high-profile, highly-chronicled broad-based preservation advocacy efforts since the creation of the Landmarks Law in 1965. Preservationists used practically every weapon in the preservation arsenal, and invented a few new ones, in the attempt to convince the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission to hold a public hearing to consider the building’s merits for Landmark designation. While no public hearing was held and the Museum of Arts and Design was unmoved by pleas to preserve the building’s signature white-marble, “Decorative Modern” façade, interest in the building grew and the advocacy efforts on both sides of the argument garnered significant attention both locally and nationally.
NYPAP’s documentation project is meant to provide preservationists and future historians with a primary resource to help them identify key elements of the campaign. Kate Wood, Executive Director of LANDMARK WEST!, a leader and close inside observer of the campaign constructed a timeline for significant events associated with the building and the campaign to save it. Much of the focus of this work is aimed at assisting others in extracting lessons for preservation campaigns to come.
This resource consists of a 50-year chronological narrative, beginning with the opening of the Gallery of Modern Art in 1956 and including news coverage that continues up to May 2008, as well as a “Dramatis Personae” providing an inventory of people, media, agencies, institutions and organizations that played instrumental roles in the campaign.
Hyperlinks, copiously embedded throughout the Chronology, serve as portals to hundreds of relevant documents culled from the files of: the Committee for Environmentally Sound Development (Olive Freud); Historic Districts Council; LANDMARK WEST! (includes files from the New York City Economic Development Corporation, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani archives, and the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission); Manhattan Community Board 5; Municipal Art Society; New York City Law Department; New York Landmarks Conservancy; New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation; New York State Senator Thomas K. Duane; and World Monuments Fund.
In addition, future researchers may also find relevant materials in the files of: the American Institute of Architects New York Chapter; Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg; DOCOMOMO NY/Tri-State (Kathleen Randall); Manhattan Community Boards 4 and 7; the Museum of Arts and Design; the National Trust for Historic Preservation (Washington, D.C., and Northeast Chapter); New York City Council Member Gale Brewer; New York City Council Member/Speaker Christine Quinn; and the New York City Department of City Planning. Due to time and other constraints, these files were not accessed as part of this project.
Understanding the volume and diversity of materials generated through the campaign to preserve 2 Columbus Circle, NYPAP did create a “definitive” history. Instead, this resource will remain a perpetual “work in progress” that, we hope, will continue to evolve as users share their own knowledge and insights, helping to fill in and flesh out the story from a variety of viewpoints.
"And we will probably be judged not by the monuments we build but by those we have destroyed."
"Farewell to Penn Station," New York Times editorial, October 30, 1963
May we learn from them, too.