Saving (at least some of) America’s Treasures

When the Hotel Pennsylvania opened in 1916, it was the world’s largest hotel, a stately complement to the grand Pennsylvania Railroad Station across Seventh Avenue. Its guests enjoyed a rooftop restaurant, Turkish baths, and Roman decorative flourishes. Now, close to a century later, it merely lingers while the building’s owners make plans to replace it with a controversial skyscraper.

Hotel Pennsylvania, 1919.  PR 042, McKim, Mead & White Architectural Record Collection

McKim, Mead and White, the firm that built the hotel, along with the original Penn Station, had a leading role in introducing Beaux-Arts architecture to American cities and towns. By the time it started work on the hotel, McKim, Mead and White had already made its mark throughout the country with buildings that gave the Gilded Age a classical and ornate setting.
Penn Station, however, which is considered by some to be the firm’s masterpiece, met its end in 1967. The fate of the Hotel Pennsylvania depends on how quickly its owner, Varvato Group, is able to finalize plans to build a 1,215 foot tall tower in its place.

Detail, Typical Terra Cotta Bays, Hotel Pennsylvania Working Drawing.  PR 042, McKim, Mead & White Architectural Record Collection

Naturally, preservationists have argued against this proposed demolition, and while their efforts may ultimately be in vain, we can at least say that the nearly 2,000 architectural drawings for the building are safe and sound in the Library’s collection.

Detail, Bar Room, Hotel Pennsylvania Design Drawing.  PR 042, McKim, Mead & White Architectural Record Collection

Starting in 2009 with a grant from the Save America’s Treasures program, the New-York Historical Society is in the midst of an extensive project to preserve these as well as an estimated 58,000 other McKim, Mead and White drawings, all relics of an architectural golden age.

-Luis Rodriguez

Creative: Tronvig Group