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Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

Also known as Jacqueline Bouvier, Jackie Kennedy, Jackie Onassis

Former First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was instrumental in several important preservation efforts, including the fight to save Grand Central Terminal and St. Bartholomew’s Church.

People: Thomas Bowers, David E. Finley, John F. Kennedy, Aristotle Onassis, Mortimer Zuckerman
Organizations: Committee to Save Grand Central Station, Municipal Art Society
Places: Grand Central Terminal, Lafayette Square, St. Bartholomew’s Church
Public Policy: National Historic Preservation Act (1966)
Above: Philip Johnson, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Bess Myerson, and Ed Koch after holding a news conference for the Committee to Save Grand Central Station in January 1975; Courtesy of the Municipal Art Society

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was born on July 28, 1929 in East Hampton, New York. She lived a privileged childhood, growing up in both East Hampton and Manhattan.1 She was educated at Vassar College and George Washington University. During her time at the latter institution, Jacqueline Bouvier began her life in Washington, D.C.2

In 1952, Jacqueline met and began dating John F. Kennedy, a young politician. By September 1953, the two were married. With the presidential election of 1960, Jacqueline Kennedy became the First Lady of the United States.3 In her position as First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy “built her historic preservation legacy” through her restoration of the White House.4 While managing the restoration of the White House, she educated millions of Americans about historic preservation through an hour-long television program on CBS. This project sparked Jacqueline Kennedy’s interest in historic preservation, which she remained dedicated to for the rest of her life.

Following the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, Jacqueline moved to New York City with her children and began a new life. In 1968, she married Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis, but continued to live part-time in New York.5

Following the death of her second husband in 1975, Jacqueline Onassis lived and worked in New York City. She was a member of the Municipal Art Society’s Board of Directors.6 Grounded by her previous interest and experience with historic preservation, she spent her time in New York fighting for significant landmarks including Grand Central Terminal and St. Bartholomew’s Church.7

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis died in New York City on May 19, 1994 at age 64.8

Municipal Art Society
Member, Board of Directors

Following the restoration of the White House in 1961, Jacqueline Kennedy turned her attention to the preservation of the surrounding area, Lafayette Square. The area had been slated for demolition to make way for new federal buildings. Jackie Kennedy's fear of losing the historic character of this neighborhood led her to fight for its protection.9

During this campaign the First Lady met with David E. Finley, chairman of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, and expressed her desire to preserve the area. For Jacqueline Kennedy, this battle also evidenced the need for legislation regarding historic preservation. She reportedly told Finley she "would like to have Congress pass a law establishing something on the order of Monuments Historiques in France."10 Jacqueline Kennedy's interest in Lafayette Square and her work to preserve it was ultimately successful.11 Her desire to see a historic preservation law also came to fruition with the passing of the Historic Preservation Act in 1966.

Jacqueline Kennedy's role in the effort to preserve Lafayette Square was not only essential to winning this battle, but also to shaping the future of historic preservation. Upon the passage of the Historic Preservation Act, members of Congress referred to her work as "a model, not only for preservation in this city, but for large and small communities throughout America."12

In 1975, when Grand Central was threatened with demolition, Jacqueline Onassis lent her support to the preservation cause. She began her involvement with the campaign mildly at first by joining the citizens committee at the Municipal Art Society.13 Soon she became the public face of the campaign. As a well-known figure, she brought great attention to the campaign. A colleague noted:

"Jackie brought enormous visibility to the campaign...By standing up and speaking out for the terminal, she made it a success. And she made it not just a struggle involving New Yorkers, but people all over the country."14

She helped lead the fight by forming the Committee to Save Grand Central Station.15 With this committee she participated in rallies at the terminal. She and a group of Grand Central supporters also traveled by train (which was called the "Landmark Express") to Washington D.C., to bring attention to the Supreme Court hearing.16 Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Landmarks Law and Grand Central Terminal was saved from having a 53-story tower built atop it.17

In 1984, a new battle arose when St. Bartholomew's Church announced plans to build a new office building on the site of the church's community house. The rationale for the new building was that revenue from the offices would subsidize St. Bart's social programs.18 Immediately, Jacqueline Onassis stepped in to preserve the landmark by suggesting an alternative fundraising drive.19 St. Bart's minister, Reverend Thomas Bowers, rejected this option and found himself and the church in a battle with New York City's toughest preservationists. For this fight, preservationists, including Jackie Onassis, participated in another "Landmark Express" similar to the one to Washington for Grand Central. This time they ventured to Albany to fight for their cause.20 On this trip, Jacqueline Onassis testified in favor of St. Bart's landmark status.21

In 1987, Jacqueline Onassis once again spoke out in favor of preservation. This time the battle centered on a proposed office building to be built in Columbus Circle. With this battle, she played a less public role, but still exerted great influence. The developer attempting to erect the structure, Mortimer Zuckerman, found his opponent formidable, and made adjustments to the original plan.22

  • Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis Papers, 1930-1993
    Archives and Manuscripts Department
    The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum
    Columbia Point
    Boston, MA 021251
    Tel: (866) JFK-19601
    Fax: (617) 514-1600
    Email: Kennedy.Library@NARA.gov

    Interview with Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis by Lyndon Baines Johnson Library. 1974. 
    The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum
    Columbia Point
    Boston, MA 021251
    Tel: (866) JFK-19601
    Fax: (617) 514-1600
    Email: Kennedy.Library@NARA.gov

  • Oral Histories with Bronson BingerLeonard KoernerJoyce MatzLorna Nowvé, and Fred Papert
  • New York Preservation Archive Project
  • 174 East 80th Street
  • New York, NY 10075
  • Tel: (212) 988-8379
  • Email: info@nypap.org
  1. 
Allida Black, “Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy,” the White House: President Barrack Obama. Article retrieved 12 March 2016 
  2. 
Robert D. McFadden, “Death of a First Lady: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Dies of Cancer at 64,” The New York Times, 20 May 1994.
  3. Allida Black, “Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy,” the White House: President Barrack Obama. Article retrieved 12 March 2016 
  4. 
Kathleen P. Galop, “The Historic Preservation Legacy of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis,” Forum Journal (2006): pages 35-44.
  5. 
Robert D. McFadden, “Death of a First Lady: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Dies of Cancer at 64,” The New York Times, 20 May 1994.
  6. 
Gregory F. Gilmartin, Shaping the City: New York and the Municipal Art Society (New York: Clarkson Potter, 1995).
  7. 
Robert D. McFadden, “Jackie, New Yorker: Friends Recall a Fighter for Her City,” The New York Times, 22 May 1994.
  8. 
Robert D. McFadden, “Death of a First Lady: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Dies of Cancer at 64,” The New York Times, 20 May 1994.
  9. 
Kathleen P. Galop, “The Historic Preservation Legacy of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis,” Forum Journal (2006): pages 35-44.
  10. 
Ibid.
  11. 
”Lafayette Park Revived,” Washington Post, 20 December 1965.
  12. 
Richard Moe and Leonard Zax, “Jackie’s Washington: How She Rescued the City’s History,” Washington Post, 29 May 1994.
  13. 
Gregory F. Gilmartin, Shaping the City: New York and the Municipal Art Society (New York: Clarkson Potter, 1995).
  14. 
Robert D. McFadden, “Jackie, New Yorker: Friends Recall a Fighter for Her City,” New York Times, 22 May 1994.
  15. 
Diane Henry, “Jackie Onassis Fights for a Cause: She Joins in Forming a Group to Rescue the Grand Central,” The New York Times, 31 January 1975.
  16. 
Nancy Collins, “Riding the Rails for Grand Central: Jacqueline Onassis, Supporting the Station’s ‘Landmark’ Status,” Washington Post, 17 April 1978.
  17. 
Warren Weaver, “Tower over Grand Central Barred as Court Upholds Landmarks Law,” The New York Times, 27 June 1978.
  18. David 
Margolick, “Church’s Fight on Landmarks,” The New York Times, 31 January 1984.
  19. 
Gregory F. Gilmartin, Shaping the City: New York and the Municipal Art Society (New York: Clarkson Potter, 1995).
  20. Josh 
Barbanel, “Landmark Status Debated in Albany,” The New York Times, 9 February 1984.
  21. 
Gregory F. Gilmartin, Shaping the City: New York and the Municipal Art Society (New York: Clarkson Potter, 1995).
  22. Albert 
Scardino, “Developer vs. Himself over Colesium Project,” The New York Times, 4 January 1989.