“The Wrong Building, in the Wrong Place, at the Wrong Time”: Marcel Breuer and the Grand Central Tower Controversy, 1967–1969
In the late 1960s, New York’s Landmarks Preservation Commission rejected a scandalous proposal submitted by Marcel Breuer and Associates to float a fifty-five-story office tower in the air rights above Grand Central Terminal. The tendency among historians has been to treat Breuer’s tower as an act of vandalism, but this article argues that such an interpretation obscures the real political and economic stakes of the controversy. In fact, Breuer’s design uncovered the single-minded profit orientation of development interests and the preservationists who opposed the scheme operated less on behalf of a landmark threatened with defacement than against an economy of development operating without meaningful public oversight. Contemporary accounts repress this antagonism between preservationists and a growth machinery operated by corporate capitalists; they repress exactly what the proposal made visible to its critics. And the scandal of Breuer’s proposal was not in the threat it posed to the terminal but precisely in the irreconcilability, in the 1960s, of development and preservation.
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