“My” land is “Your” land.

The Penn Central Transportation Company v. City of New York gave Historic Preservation legitimacy because it changed the hearts & minds of “Western” thinking Americans. No longer did they feel it appropriate to follow an “Western” mindset or the English system of land use where owners had the absolute right to do as they pleased with their “property.” Americans now felt it was in their right to protect “property” as Cultural Property. Because Cultural Property benefits the welfare of society above and over the rights of individuals, and organizations.

The reality and magnitude of New York City’s Penn Station’s demolition gave American society the will to insist that our Government protect it’s own Cultural Heritage. Meaning, no longer would Americans think it a “take” when they placed “property” in what you can call a “cultural vault.” Where cultural vaults secure and prevent Cultural Property from being exchanged from one entity to another. They felt it was instead a “keep” as it benefited the welfare of society at large. (Ingraham, “Takings”)

This new mindset development led to a critical tipping point for American society. Because without it, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) would never have formed roughly fifteen years later. It did so to declare New York City’s Grand Central Station a city landmark in hopes of saving it from suffering the same fate as did Penn Station. Backed with designation, LPC’s fight to protect Grand Central, led them into Historic Preservation’s first fight to reach the US Supreme Court and where the outcome would set precedence for the future of Preservation. 

In brief, the US Supreme Court determined that because Penn Central Transportation Company (PTC) was still able to sell the “air” development rights above Grand Central Station, the LPC’s landmark designation of Grand Central, did not prevent PTC from building something new. Therefore, the preservation of Grand Central was determined not to be a “taking” under the fifth amendment. More importantly and more plainly said, LPC’s efforts were lawful. Preservation was now considered legitimate at the highest level of the US Court system

Regarding “Keep” vs “Take.” An important point to make in reading the decision, is that in Preservation, in order for a “keep” to occur, there must be a relationship between the object and its benefit to Society at large. Without a benefit connecting directly to Society, it would then be a “take.”

Stepping back to the case of Penn Station, it too was also a “keep” because despite Penn Station not being funded by the public, the citizens identified it as their Cultural Property and not that of the PTC. As such, and in their protest to save Penn Station, what they were really doing was, demanding the State of New York to exercise its “Police Power” over the PTC. They demanded NY State to prevent PTC’s intended “behavior.” The intended behavior being PTC’s plan to exchange NY State’s Cultural Property on the commercial real estate’s free market to benefit PTC. 

Regarding “Ownership“. Yes, Americans feel they own their land but, our Constitution follows the English tradition that actually provides the absolute rights of ownership of the land to the States. Mainly this is understood because it is the States who granted/permitted it’s citizens ownership rights in the first place. (Stipe, “Some”)

Regarding “Land Use”. Americans also feel entitled to the rights of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” But, when the States created the American Federal Government in 1787 with the writing of our Constitution, they also retained many rights for themselves instead of passing them up or down to the Federal/City levels of Government. One of those rights was that of something called, “Police Power.” (Ingraham, “Takings”)

Regarding “Police Power”. Police Power means the power to control its citizens behavior towards “property” and the behavior’s effects on others around them.  In other words, the State is the ultimate arbiter of behavior towards property as defined through our Constitution’s Article 1, Section 8, and Amendments 9 & 10. (Stipes, “Some”)

Ok, so if you can’t do what you want, like demolishing your property, because it has been kept & held in a cultural vault… doesn’t the fifth amendment require the State reimburse for the equivalent value of the property? 

Regarding “Reimbursement”. This may be confusing as some will argue that the fifth amendment claims a right to “just compensation” when property is “taken” from them. But in both cases; Penn and Central Stations, the property was “kept” not “taken.”

Back to the term “Legitimacy”. Meaning “conforming to the law.” I would like to believe that the very moment American citizens recognized Penn Central Station as a “keep-able” object of “Cultural Property” that must be protected by NY’s States right as written in the Constitution, acts of preservation were felt and understood to be legitimate. But, I realize that preservation was actually proven legitimate in law, when our U.S. Supreme Court agreed with LPC’s landmark designation of Grand Central Station, fifteen years later.

Although the Penn Station was lost, it resulted in a new mindset, that forced our country over a tipping point that then led to American Historic Preservation’s legitimacy.


Works Cited:
Ingraham, Catherine. “Takings.” Future Anterior: Journal of Historic Preservation, History, Theory, and Criticism 2 (Winter 2007).

Stipe, Robert E. “Some Preservation Fundamentals” in A Richer Heritage: Historic Preservation in the 21st Century, edited by Robert E. Stipe (Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 2003): 3-15.

“The Rise and Fall of Penn Station.” Films on Demand, Films Media Group, 2014. Online. https://fod-infobase-com.bucks.idm.oclc.org/p_ViewVideo.aspx?xtid=58619&tScript=0 (Links to an external site.). Accessed 21 Feb. 2021.