"Any city gets what it admires, will pay for, and, ultimately, deserves. Even when we had Penn Station, we couldn't afford to keep it clean. We want and deserve tin-can architecture in a tinhorn culture. And we will probably be judged not by the monuments we build but by those we have destroyed."
—"Farewell to Penn Station," New York Times editorial, October 30, 1963
The building was a remarkable monument. And Minneapolis went through it own period of catastrophic renewal, where the most notorious lost monument was the Metropolitan Building.
It is not so grand as Penn Station, but a lost treasure just the same.
My reaction to the loss of history has changed, however. I acknowledge the point in the editorial quote, that these old buildings have tremendous costs of operation, and that monumental buildings are not as important to society as they once were.
The Barrister writes:
When you drive through downtown Bridgeport, CT, Hartford, or Nashville, you will be hard put to find an old building. Lucky towns escaped this frenzy of "modernization," which I term "dehumanization." Nobody wants to be in those sorts of downtowns.
I have felt that, and said the same thing. But it is wrong. Dowtown Nashville is teeming with people and commerce. They’re just not into architecture. Sure, many modern buildings stink. But so did many old buildings. Time tends to erase the warts from history. Most modern buildings serve their purpose just fine. That’s nothing to denigrate. We have other things to spend our money on than ironwork and massive piles of stone.
If The Met or Penn Station were still standing, I would rarely experience their wonders. Unless I had business that took me inside, the interiors would be just pictures and memories.
I have visited many great buildings. Architecture is cool. I am happy that the Foshay Tower has found a new purpose. But I never go there. The Union Depot in St. Paul is being converted back to a train station. It represents a black hole of public subsidy into which many will pay and from which few will benefit. I will visit as a railfan, not as a genuine patron.
These great and grand historical buildings are like public television. Only a handful watch, but the majority are happy it is there. We want to be the sort of people who appreciate art and culture and history. As long as it doesn’t interfere with our lives.
Buildings are packaging. Most of what people do is simply not grand. It would be foolishness to serve Big Macs in rosewood boxes. Monumental architecture is a luxury, an indulgence. It is no insult to a city or its people that preferences change, that technology advances, and sometimes the best choice today is to let the past become history.