The so-called Ground Zero mosque is not the only controversial building being planned here in New York City. There is a threat of a new building to rise very close to the Empire State Building at the site of the Hotel Pennsylvania on Seventh Avenue. Named 15 Penn Plaza, the building will be 67 stories and reach a height of 1,216 feet, bringing it close to the height of the Empire State’s top floor. Depending on the vantage point of the person looking at the buildings, 15 Penn Plaza could very well block the view of the Empire State Building or be seen as almost on top of it.
Builder Steven Roth has the support of the City Planning Commission and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, but he is opposed by the owner of the Empire State Building, Anthony Malkin. Also many New Yorkers, including this writer, are against the idea.
Many years ago when I was looking at apartments in Astoria in Queens, New York, the real estate agents were talking about many things: lighting, spaciousness, new cabinets, new appliances, high ceilings, and renovated bathrooms. The one thing, though, that stood out was when they talked about the “unobstructed view,” which meant being able to see Manhattan across the river. All the other things seemed inconsequential if I had that lovely scene to look at every day.
New Yorkers like their “unobstructed views” of the rivers to the east and west, of Central Park, or of the cityscape, most notably the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building. We used to also have this love affair with the Twin Towers, and sometimes I catch myself still looking there for what is gone, and then I sadly remember what happened. New buildings will rise there, and we need and want that to happen. Those buildings will alter the skyline and be seen positively by most New Yorkers.
The city had one terrible alteration to its skyline in 2001, and this new addition would just be offensive to the aesthetic sensibilities of most of us. On talk radio here in New York, people are sounding off. Many people cite good examples: would Paris allow a skyscraper to be built next to the Eiffel Tower? Would London allow one next to Big Ben? Would Moscow allow it next to Red Square? Would Hollywood allow one to block the view of the Hollywood Sign? Obviously it would not happen in any of these cases, so why should it happen here?
Malkin is not in this battle all alone. The Municipal Art Society is opposing the construction, and there is a poll on their web site to allow people to vote in favor of or against this new building construction. At the time I am writing this, 68% of the voters are against the building going up so close to the iconic landmark, and as the word spreads I am certain that percentage will get higher.
After 9/11, I think New Yorkers took comfort in the symbols we had left, and the Empire State Building was an old, defiant friend, a beacon that shone at night and glistened during the day. It reminded us then and still that we are New Yorkers, and we can handle anything thrown our way.
There is a serene beauty to the Empire State Building, a grace that seems to have long vanished from elsewhere in our lives. It deserves to stand tall and proud for all New Yorkers, unobstructed by anything, including the shadow of another building that can just as well be built somewhere else in the city.