Once the largest in the world, a hotel becomes “poof!” ” Under our eyes
For one thing, the hotel’s reputation had crumbled in its basement, with derisive complaints from the public about peeling wallpaper, worn furniture, and bed bugs. On the other hand, Vornado had acquired property around Penn Station with the goal of one day transforming the area into a business, retail, and entertainment mecca.
One evening in the fall of 2007, in the town of Deer Park, Long Island, a father came across some news on his desktop computer and called his 13-year-old son: Hi Steve. Do you remember that hotel you love so much? The one across from Penn Station? They’re going to knock him down.
This moment is etched in the memory of Steven Lepore, now 28 years old. He felt a whirlwind of sadness, anger and urgency. “All hell broke loose in my brain,” he recalled.
Determined to act, the teenager founded and joined the Save the Hotel Pennsylvania Foundation, a small group led by a computer scientist named Gregory Jones. The foundation was working to block any demolition by asking the Landmarks Preservation Commission to consider the hotel as a landmark.
In assessing a building’s merits as a potential landmark, the commission studies its architectural, historical and cultural significance, as well as the level of integrity of the original design. In his view, the Hotel Pennsylvania, which had undergone significant changes over the years, fell short.
The hopes of the hotel’s would-be protectors were briefly dashed when fallout from the late-2000s recession caused Vornado to reconsider demolition. In 2013, its chairman, Steven Roth, told investors that the company would invest heavily in the building “and try to make it a really profitable and really good hotel for our purposes”.
“We won,” recalls Mr. Lepore thinking. The hotel’s preservation foundation was renamed the Hotel Pennsylvania Preservation Society, which quickly sent Vornado a detailed proposal to restore the hotel to its former glory.
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