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Washingtonian magazine recently ran a long article about preservation in the Washington, D.C. region, including early efforts at Mount Vernon after the Civil War to more recent efforts recognizing Modern architecture.

You can read about the local battles and inspirations here, but to me, the most interesting paragraph in the article was this one:

“Sometimes historic buildings are sacrificed for what is considered the greater good. The Federal Triangle was Washington’s first great example in the 1930s, when several square blocks were torn down to make way for a federal office complex. Construction of the National Archives meant demolition of the city’s central food market. The Kennedy Center replaced the city’s largest brewery. And the Army Medical Museum, a handsome brick building on the Mall, was demolished to build the Hirshhorn Museum.”

Let’s save the discussion of whether the Federal Triangle really serves the greater good for another time and another blog. What intrigues me is what we lost at the same time that we gained. I can’t imagine Washington without the Archives, but I sure would liked to have seen that central market.

That layering of use and the people, and buildings that come along with it, is what makes cities so interesting. Unlike suburbs designed to be calm and green forever, the ruthless move forward of cities creates a new riverbank every era with old bits of shore swept away and new shoals deposited.

One Response to “Preservation and Change”

  1. GK

    If you are intrigued by what is lost and what is gained, consider this:

    Prior to the Great Depression, one–actually two–of the most prominent hotels in New York stood at 34th Street and 5th Avenue. I say two, because the separate Waldorf (by the same architect as Washington’s Williard Hotel) and the Astoria Hotels were conjoined by a promenade named Peacock Alley to become the largest hotel in the world, the Waldorf-Astoria.

    To anybody familiar with the city this most famous hotel in the world is not on 5th Avenue but 16 blocks north on Park Avenue. What happened? The cherished original was torn down and and the hotel reopened in a new, larger and more glamorous twin-spired Art Deco wonder that was the world’s tallest hotel until the 1970s. A new Peacock Alley connected Lexington and Park Avenues.

    What became of the original Waldorf-Asotria’s site?

    The Empire State Building.