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Recounting One of America's Greatest Preservation Victories

As New York's Grand Central Terminal celebrates its 100th birthday, Kent Barwick recalls how he and a motley group of advocates including Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis saved the building from being buried beneath a skyscraper.
January 29, 2013, 5am PST | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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Following the unsecessful effort to save its sister station across town the prior decade, the Municipal Arts Society, led by Barwick at the time, and aided by "the city’s most famous East Sider, Jackie Onassis," was able to convince a broke city to defend Grand Central's designation as a landmark all the way to the Supreme Court. Barwick recounts the story, and Ms. Onassis's role in it with Clyde Haberman.  

“'[Ms. Onassis] was smart,' Barwick said. 'She had a visceral sense of architecture and style and politics.' In short, 'she was just a trouper.' Here is a measure of her importance: 'It would have stayed a local story, I think, except for her. Over the course of the campaign, there was enormous interest built around the country. We used to get $5 bills sent in from Iowa. It had a transformative effect.'”

“It changed how America thought about historic preservation,” Mr. Barwick said. “By the time the case was over, all the other major cities had come in as amicus curiae. So it wasn’t just a victory for New York. It was a victory for Chicago and Los Angeles and everybody else. The Supreme Court decision established that cities had the right to protect the public environment.”

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Published on Sunday, January 27, 2013 in The New York Times
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