The Landmarks of New York II
by Barbaralee Diamonstein, Abrams, 479 pages.
In 1963 the Pennsylvania Railroad tore down McKim, Mead & White’s magnificent fifty-two-year-old terminal and replaced it with the sewer that to this day profanes the old name of Pennsylvania Station. New York City has from the very beginning been given to obliterating its past, but this particular blow was so drastic that it helped give birth to the modern historic-preservation movement. In 1965 Mayor Robert F. Wagner signed the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission into existence, and “over the last twenty-eight years,” writes Barbaralee Diamonstein, who today chairs the commission, “the law has helped transform the process of preservation … into an integral part of city government.” This big, handsome book documents the more than nine hundred landmark structures thus far designated, and the briefest glimpse through its pages will suggest the breadth of vision that the commission brings to its franchise: along with such obvious and substantial structures as Grant’s Tomb and the Brooklyn Bridge, it has placed under protection the tall, deep gaslit interior of Gage & Tollner’s restaurant in Brooklyn, five surviving cast-iron sidewalk clocks, and the Gibraltar of all roller coasters, the great, heart-stopping 1927 Cyclone out at Coney Island.