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Action Group for Better Architecture in New York

Action Group for Better Architecture in New York

Also known as AGBANY

The Action Group for Better Architecture in New York is best known for protesting the demolition of Pennsylvania Station.

Location: New York, NY United States
People: Jeffrey Aronin, James Burne, Jay Fleishman, Joan Gruzen, Jordan Gruzen, Fannie Hurst, Philip Johnson, Morris Ketchum, Jr., Diana Kirsch, L. Bancel La Farge, Costas Machlouzarides, MacNeil Mitchell, Eleanor Roosevelt, Ray Rubinow, Alice Sachs, Edward Sadowsky, Robert C. Weinberg, Norval White, Elliot Willensky, Frederick J. Woodbridge, Jane Jacobs
Places: Madison Square Garden, Pennsylvania StationSavoy-Plaza Hotel
Above: Members of AGBANY protest the demolition of Pennsylvania Station, 1962; Courtesy of David Hirsch

The Action Group for Better Architecture in New York (AGBANY) was formed to advance the public purposes of architecture and planning. AGBANY’s aims included preservation and advocacy. Its first and primary cause was the preservation of McKim, Mead & White’s Pennsylvania Station.

August 2, 1962: AGBANY holds a protest in front of Pennsylvania Station

August 3, 1962: AGBANY urges Mayor Wagner to call for a report from the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission regarding the architectural and historical importance of Penn Station

August 1963: Demolition of Penn Station begins

October 2, 1964: AGBANY holds a "funeral march" on Fifth Avenue for the Savoy-Plaza Hotel

1965: Savoy-Plaza Hotel is demolished

In the face of the impending demolition of McKim, Mead and White's Pennsylvania Station in 1962, a group of young architects and their friends organized to prevent the loss of treasured New York architecture.1 The first executive committee included Diana Kirsch as secretary, Costas Machlouzarides as treasurer, and Norval White as chair.2 Other members included Jeffrey Aronin, Peter Samton, James Burne, Elliot Willensky, Jay Fleishman, and Joan and Jordan Gruzen.3 AGBANY also counted more established preservation voices such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Fannie Hurst, and Robert Weinberg amongst its ranks. Ray Rubinow, noted for his involvement in the Greenwich Village and Carnegie Hall preservation battles, sat on the board of directors and brought organizational skills and political experience to the group.4 Philip Johnson, Mies van der Rohe’s disciple and iconic American Modernist, was also a member of the organization.5

AGBANY brought the fight to save Pennsylvania Station onto the streets and into the media. Though other preservation and architectural interest groups were against the demolition of the station, AGBANY led the active opposition to it, and garnered the media's attention.6

On August 2, 1962, from 5:00-7:00 p.m., AGBANY held a protest outside Pennsylvania Station's main entrance on Seventh Avenue. AGBANY alerted the media to the planned protest beforehand. The group took out an ad in The New York Times asking New Yorkers to join them in a "peaceful demonstration of affection for this great and threatened building." That same day, AGBANY held a press conference at the Statler-Hilton Hotel across the street from the station.7 Between 150 and 500 marchers were reported to have attended the protest. Notably among them were Ray Rubinow, Jane Jacobs, and architect Philip Johnson.8

On August 3, 1962, AGBANY urged Mayor Wagner to call for a report from the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission regarding the architectural and historical importance of Penn Station.9 At AGBANY’s request, City Council member Edward Sadowsky put forward a resolution in the New York City Council "urging the Mayor of the City of New York to request the Landmarks Preservation Commission for an opinion on the desirability of preserving Pennsylvania Station."10

AGBANY strategically sought to make "the preservation of our heritage" an issue in the forthcoming political campaign in which MacNeil Mitchell, a friend to preservation, was running against Alice Sachs, a Democratic-Liberal who had proposed the adaptive re-use of Penn Station as a museum of science, technology and industry.11 AGBANY had only a slim chance of saving Penn Station, but since the proposed Madison Square Garden would seat more than 2,500 people, the project required a zoning variance. AGBANY begged the City Planning Commission to withhold the variance, or at least delay the project while studies could be done regarding the structure’s architectural and historical significance.12

In September of 1962, AGBANY held a meeting with Mayor Wagner. Among those in attendance were Norval White, Ray Rubinow, L. Bancel La Farge, the Municipal Art Society’s President Morris Ketchum, Jr., and President of the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, Frederick J. Woodbridge.13 Ultimately however, AGBANY's efforts to save Pennsylvania Station were not successful in overcoming redevelopment pressures. Demolition of the building began in August of 1963.14

In August 1964, McKim, Mead and White’s 1927 Savoy-Plaza Hotel was going to be demolished and replaced by a 48-story corporate headquarters for General Motors.15 In protest against the demolition, AGBANY’s Elliot Willensky led a "funeral march." Placards featured pointed slogans such as "Landmarks Preservation Weak.”16 This campaign also proved unsuccessful and the Savoy-Plaza Hotel was demolished in 1965. 

  • Robert F. Wagner Papers
    New York City Municipal Archive
    31 Chambers Street, Room 103
    New York, NY 10007
  1. 
Jeffrey Ellis Aronin to Norval White, 9 August 1962, Anthony C. Wood Archive.
  2. 
 Christopher Gray, “A 1960’s Protest that Tried to Save A Piece of the Past,” The New York Times, 20 May 2001.
  3. 
 Resolutions for Unincorporated Club, Society or Association, Irving Trust Company, Action Group for Better Architecture, 23 July 1962, Anthony C. Wood Archive.
  4. 
 Anthony C. Wood, Preserving New York: Winning the Right to Protect A City’s Landmarks (New York: Routledge, 2008), page 297.
  5. 
 Gregory F. Gilmartin, Shaping the City: New York and the Municipal Art Society (New York: Clarkson Potter, 1994), page 370.
  6. 
 Eric J. Plosky, “The Fall and Rise of Pennsylvania Station; Changing Attitudes Toward Historic Preservation in New York City,” Unpublished dissertation. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, February 2000.
  7. 
 “Save Our City,” The New York Times, 2 August 1962.
  8. 
 Anthony C. Wood, Preserving New York: Winning the Right to Protect A City’s Landmarks (New York: Routledge, 2008), page 298.
  9. 
 Foster Hailey, “Architects Fight Penn Station Plan,” The New York Times, 3 August 1962.
  10. 
Resolution 300, The Committee on City Affairs, 21 August 1962. Robert F. Wagner Papers, New York City Municipal Archive.
  11. 
 “Asks Museum in Penn Station,” World Telegram, 2 August 1962.
  12. 
 Gregory F. Gilmartin, Shaping the City: New York and the Municipal Art Society (New York: Clarkson Potter, 1994), page 370.
  13. 
 “Wagner Confers on Penn Station,” The New York Times, 11 September 1962.
  14. 
 Gregory F. Gilmartin, Shaping the City: New York and the Municipal Art Society (New York: Clarkson Potter, 1994), page, 371
  15. 
 Glenn Fowler, “48-Story Tower to Rise on Savoy Plaza Site,” The New York Times, 16 December 1964.
  16. 
 Thomas Ennis, “Coming Demise of Savoy Plaza Mourned by Student Marchers,” The New York Times, 3 October 1964.