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For almost 80 years, the Empire State Building has reigned supreme over the New York skyline.
Although it was supplanted as the world’s tallest building in the 1970s, the Empire State Building never lost its unsurpassed majesty. The awesome spire that rose from the depths of the Great Depression in less than 14 months and soared into the imagination of everyone who wanted to touch the sky remains an iconic symbol of power, determination and achievement.
The Empire State Building towered alone and apart from all the pretenders, a reassuring sentinel connecting our past with our future.
A real estate outfit called Vornado Realty Trust has convinced New York City’s Planning Commission that it would be a great idea to build a hulking 1,216-foot-tall monstrosity on 34th Street and Seventh Avenue, two blocks west and directly in line with King Kong’s favorite roost on 34th and Fifth.
If Vornado’s block of granite and glass goes ahead as planned, only the top 34 feet of the Empire State Building’s antenna will be visible to everyone west of the Hudson River. From the north, the two towers will look like a poorly planned replica of the World Trade Center, or perhaps the South Tower and the box it came in.
Vornado is a large, faceless conglomerate that buys and sells properties. One of its first ventures in the late 1950s was a shabby department store in New Jersey called Two Guys From Harrison. After selling a few truckloads of discount lampshades, a second store was opened in another Jersey town and the name was reduced to Two Guys. From this inspiring vision, a real estate dynasty was born.
The ingenious planners of New York decided to permit Vornado to exceed the height limit for its tower at 15 Penn Plaza by a whopping 56 percent because the site is across the street from Pennsylvania Station, gotham’s busiest transit hub. The site of Vornado’s proposed atrocity adds irony to insult.
New York City natives painfully recall the City Planning Commission’s 1967 approval of the demolition of the original Penn Station to make way for a third and depressingly round iteration of Madison Square Garden. The original Penn Station was a Victorian masterpiece. Its wanton destruction has long been considered the vilest desecration of New York’s architecture in the city’s storied history. The current Penn Station is a cramped and underground rat warren that is so bad the city has been trying without success for two decades to convert the mammoth U.S. Post Office Building across the street into its reincarnation.
And they call this progress. The real estate interests have spoken and their money talks, loudly.
There is only one way we can stop this, folks. Go down into your basements or up into your attics (or, in the case of Manhattanites, your tiny closet) and grab that drum set you bought for your teenager and hid after a few practice sessions. Take those drums and head for the open ground. Stand atop the Palisades, the George Washington Bridge, the Chrysler Building, Central Park’s Sheep Meadow and all places in between. Start pounding those drums and repeat after us:
We’ll leave a trail of bananas to the doorstep of the New York City Planning Commission. The big guy will take it from there. He’ll know what to do.