The Commercialization of The Past

old banks
Nickel Spa (NY County National Bank) and CVS (New York Savings Bank) at the corners of 8th Ave and 14th Street. Credit: S.A. McIntosh

To those with a background in history or the lucky few that has lived through their golden age of their lives remember the times where architecture of the time has created some incredibly stunning buildings that defy any sense of what we use today. Like the buildings of the Columbian Exposition. Great Train Stations of the past and even simple banks in the pre-mega corp days show that there was no stopping of the beauty of these magnificent structures.

…Then time happened.

With that these places can not be maintained because either that the owners can no longer afford to keep them with the rise of rent, the neighborhood changes due to societal factors such as “White Flight” and new technologies often can spell the downfall of these once great places. And in those times they often fall into three distinct fates: Either they fall under the wrecking ball, fall into decay or… become new shops. That’s what’s going on with these old theaters, banks, and squares when they would be better off being taken down but instead new capitalistic attitudes still manage to find a way to make the new out of the old and miserable. I would know this from the moment I saw a little, obscure gallery in the Museum of Modern Art.

It was a small slide show on many walls of the lower theater of all the NYC theaters and penny shows that have either been abandoned, turned into stores or demolished only to be a fading piece of history that a scant few will ever know. This interests me because of the indirect way many of these places are still good only for the lower-class market or commercial interests who want to expand their stakes in other markets without as much butt-hurt in the local communities or landmark committees. I even seen it first hand where I live and where I occasionally work and visit in Manhattan. The major pharmacy chains are the ones who make the mark in our cities landmarks with banks coming in a close second. Since by my belief that the property is cheaper or the place is getting so rich that it would justify the building of such stores.

Compare that to the outer boroughs that do the same but a majority of them often fall for cheaper businesses that see a piece of city history as another come-and-go space to sell cheap wares. Regardless, this could be a beneficial side effect of capitalism, think about it? Sometimes if given enough capital, any business could take an already existing building and retrofit it to conform to new standards without destroying the building. This is to say it could go without the pros and cons.


  • Preserve a national/city landmark
  • Adaptation to modern technologies
  • Improving rather than destroying good buildings
  • Growing hesitation of cold, sterile and often ugly structures
  • Just looks good


  • Local opposition from fringe groups
  • Growing demand of gentrification
  • Newer generations don’t see much use for old buildings anymore
  • Represents “stains” on already undesirable communities
  • Costs of actually getting an old building to new standards

That’s just a short list of what goes on when old buildings get a makeover or get torn down. Each city in America and the world has buildings that represent a significant piece of local history. What goes on in there, what period it represents and even how it was used. All these factors that a few see are worth it to save even if it means turning into something that it’s not but it was either this or the wrecking ball. In conclusion, seeing the remaking of a piece of city history is what people of my generation need to see of how ingenuity and creativity can give these places a new purpose. With all the newer buildings coming into place, makes you wonder how in the next 100 years will those new hi-tech structures be reused.

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