On August 2, 1962 a protest took place that reverberated throughout New York City, and ignited the preservation movement throughout the city and country. The Action Group for Better Architecture (AGBANY) was formed in an effort to save McKim, Mead & White’s Pennsylvania Station from demolition. The organization’s birth is often pegged to this protest, which gathered hundreds who supported the preservation of this monumental Beaux Art structure in pink granite that spanned two full city blocks.
Though this protest and AGBANY’s formation is sometimes thought of as the birth of the preservation movement, preservation had a steady footing ahead of this event. This includes many preservation efforts in our neighborhoods pre-dating the protest. That said, it is a crystallizing moment in preservation history to commemorate and explore — as we have done through multiple programs and blog posts.
The 60th anniversary of the protest is being commemorated through events like The New York Preservation Archive’s “Toast to Penn Station Picketers” on the evening of August 1st. In July, 2022 we took a unique look at this event with an emerging preservationist, Sydney Andrea Landers, as she presented her graphic novel on the momentum and organization leading up to and following the protest at Penn Station 60 years ago.
Sydney is self-publishing this graphic novel, which began as a project during her Masters studies in historic preservation at the University of Texas Austin’s School of Architecture (graduated 2021), and now is available for the public to learn about this important moment in preservation.
Village Preservation’s program focused on Sydney’s inspiration for creating the novel and delved into both her research and her aesthetic choices. For example, as the graphic novel looks at the past, the colors and tones of the images she created were cool and had a blue hue. As she moved into the future to discuss the impact of the work of AGBANY, the novel becomes more colorful, ending with a hopeful in tone.
Seeing the protest and its organization through the eyes of a next generation of preservationists gives us new perspective while deepening our understanding of how the leaders of past movements, such as Jane Adams and Norman Mailer, impact our work in preservation today. Also discussed during the program was how graphic novels can make complex histories and important community stories more accessible and attractive to a cross-section of generations and population groups.
Another key point discussed in the program is the place-based nature of preservation. This is reflected in Village Preservation’s work to focus on the neighborhoods of Greenwich Village, NoHo, and the East Village. Why then are we discussing Penn Station all the way up on 34th street? Because the impact of AGBANY on the ongoing preservationist movement in New York City was a large one, including its influence on the signing of the Landmarks Law on April 19, 1965. With this as a backdrop, Sydney also answered questions that gave us insight into what it is like to join the preservation field today. In the end, Sydney left us with a feeling that historic preservation is an important act of love and support for community.