Iconic buildings that were demolished
From Notre Dame to the Taj Mahal, many of the world's most iconic buildings seem so perennially full of tourists and so universally beloved as to run no risk of ever being sold and demolished.
But is this always the case? Stacker took a look at 20 buildings around the world that were designed by some of the most important architects of their day and played host to many significant personalities and historical events. And yet, each of these was nonetheless eventually demolished.
Significant wealth proved no bulwark against the potential for a wrecking ball to hit a building. The famous American industrialist family the Vanderbilts demolished multiple buildings themselves on the famous Fifth Avenue in Manhattan to make way for their own mansion in the late 19th century. But when the family finally sold the building to a developer several decades later, the developer wasted no time knocking the mansion into the ground just like the Vanderbilts had once done.
Historical status proved no sure indicator of a building's longevity, either. To wit, the Brown Derby restaurant in Hollywood was once one of Los Angeles' most famous eateries and served as a famous meeting spot for the celebrities the city is so well known for. But despite the hordes that still clamored to catch a glimpse of their favorite movie stars inside the restaurant, it shuttered abruptly in 1980. Brown Derby's legions of fans hoped for a re-opening that never came.
Which isn't to say beloved buildings are laid to waste without a fight. From striking housewives in New York City to protests by famous architects, the fans of many famous buildings fight for years to save the structures from destruction. But as the ruins of the following 20 buildings show, protests, historic status, and superfans are no sure thing when it comes to the relentless tide of modernity and the appetite of real estate developers.
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Penn Station: NYC
It may surprise visitors of today's rather drab Penn Station, but the bustling train depot was once a grand and imposing turn of the 20th-century building designed by prestigious architects McKim, Mead & White. Replete with travertine quarry from Italy and 138-foot ceilings, the old Penn Station was a “beautiful Beaux Arts fortress,” as one architect put it. By the 1950s, competition from planes and cars had lost the station too much money to stay afloat; in the 1960s, a plan was devised to move the train station belowground to make room for a sports arena—Madison Square Garden—aboveground. Today's Penn Station handles more than three times the number of travelers it was designed to, and many of them likely wish they were walking the halls of the old station.
Singer Building: NYC
Upon its completion in 1908, downtown Manhattan's Singer building was the tallest in the world and was also one of New York City's first skyscrapers to be lit at night. The building was headquarters to the Singer Sewing Company and was designed to harmonize and recede slightly from Manhattan's narrow streets. When the Singer company decided to move uptown in the 1960s, the relative lack of square footage because of its smaller footprint made it too difficult to sell for inhabitation. The buyer, United States Steel, purchased the building simply to destroy it. Demolition began in 1967 and set a less auspicious record: the tallest building in the world to be peacefully demolished, to the regret of historic preservationists ever since.
When the Hippodrome Theatre opened in New York City in 1905, it could seat more than 5,000 patrons and played host to everything from live theater and vaudeville to movies. Over the ensuing decades, the space served as a place to hold rallies, circuses, and even a basketball court. But by the end of the 1930s, real estate prices on Sixth Avenue had increased to the point where the Hippodrome could no longer afford its rent. It closed in August 1939 and was demolished the same year.
Prentice Women's Pavillion: Chicago
When the Prentice Women's Pavillion opened in 1975 in Chicago, it was a prime example of mid-century modern architecture, designed by Bertrand Goldberg. The hospital's design inspired fierce devotion in the architecture and broader community; but after failing to attain landmark status, it was demolished in 2013 to make way for a new medical research center for Northwestern University. Among those publicly opposed to the demolition was Frank Gehry, perhaps the world's most famous living architect at the time.
Savoy Plaza Hotel: NYC
The grand Savoy Plaza Hotel opened during the roaring 1920s overlooking New York City's famous Central Park. The Beaux Arts building was considered such an iconic emblem of the city's jazz age heritage that when the hotel was sold to General Motors in the 1960s so the car company could demolish it and put up a building of its own, significant demonstrations sprung up. Among the protestors' lines of attack? A boycott of General Motors, led by some of New York's wealthiest women, and a “Funeral Week” for the hotel led by architecture schools.
Sutro Baths: San Francisco
When a self-made millionaire opened the Sutro Baths outside of San Francisco in 1894, his idea was to give the city's residents an ocean pool aquarium in a rocky cliff with an accompanying bathhouse that would be accessible (for a low fee) for cooling off, relaxing, and getting into nature. Sutro Baths was wildly popular for years—but during the Great Depression, funds for leisure dried up, public transportation to the baths suffered, and new public health codes made running the baths more difficult. The baths never really recovered their fiscal footing and were destroyed in a fire before they could be demolished to make way for high-rise apartments.
Vanderbilt Houses: NYC
When Cornelius Vanderbilt and his wife Alice demolished three brownstones on Fifth Avenue in New York City in the 1870s, the mansion they built on the land became the largest single-family home in the city's history. As the years went on, Cornelius purchased even more brownstones to demolish and make way for additions to his property, stating that his goal was to rival the nearby Plaza Hotel. Alice finally sold the mansion—by all accounts a chilly place—to a developer in 1927. That developer wasted no time in demolishing the mansion to make way for new buildings (Bergdorf Goodman now stands at the original mansion's address). You can still find remnants of the mansion throughout New York City: the mansion's main gates are Central Park, two of its six sculptural reliefs are still installed in the Sherry-Netherland Hotel, and its entrance hall fireplace (along with various artwork) is on display at Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Brown Derby: Los Angeles
Hollywood's Brown Derby restaurant was once a major haunt of the city's legions of actors, producers, and artists, and lays claim to a heritage that includes a marriage proposal by Clark Gable to Carole Lombard. Designed in the shape of a hat—hence the name—the restaurant was a legendary and central meeting spot for the powerful and the famous for generations. But in 1980, the restaurant shuttered abruptly; despite the protests of preservationists and film buffs, Brown Derby demolished. Memorabilia salvaged from the demolition circulated for decades at auctions around the country.
Imperial Hotel: Tokyo
Starchitect Frank Lloyd Wright's Imperial Hotel in Tokyo was more than just a stunning example of his famous style, it was also something of a survivor. Standing from the 1920s to the 1960s, the building managed to outlast the 1923 earthquake that rocked Tokyo and destroyed many of its buildings. The hotel was sinking into the mud a few decades later, and was taken down in spite of objections from architectural devotees and historic preservationists. The central lobby and reflecting pool were preserved, and can now be seen in the Meiji-mura museum in Inuyama.
Euston Station: London
London's old Euston Station had an illustrious history, including serving as a shelter during the German bombing of London during World War II, not to mention surviving both World Wars. But the building couldn't survive the relentless march of modernity. In the 1960s, most of the beautiful old building—replete with Doric columns—was bulldozed to make way for “the rail station of the future.” Patrons of the re-imagined version today will find little in common with the idyllic vision of the mid-century renderings.