Despite our best efforts, life—sometimes with the help of a wrecking ball—reminds us that nothing lasts forever, not even architecture that defines a location or cultural era.
It’s a beautiful thing when a building reaches iconic status for its impact on aesthetics, pop culture, and daily life. But it’s only that much more of a crushing blow when a structure of this merit meets its untimely demolition, usually in favor of a more modern and arguably less inspiring structure.
Even the work of our most celebrated architects isn’t safe from destruction. Case in point: McKim, Mead & White’s Pennsylvania Station, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Imperial Hotel, or Richard Neutra’s Gettysburg Cyclorama. Here, we have compiled a list of 15 notable buildings that have been razed, and whose legacies—for better or worse—stand as a tacit acceptance of time.
The original Pennsylvania Station, the beloved bygone New York City landmark, was built in 1910 by the legendary firm McKim, Mead & White. Owned by the Pennsylvania Railroad, the Beaux Arts building was demolished in 1963 because of a decline in railway ridership. It was then replaced with Madison Square Garden and the current iteration of Penn Station.
Prentice Women’s Hospital
A distinctive example of brutalist architecture, the Prentice Women’s Hospital and Maternity Center in Chicago was designed by Bertrand Goldberg and completed in 1975. The building was razed in 2013 after its owner, Northwestern University, argued it needed the site to accommodate medical research facilities.
The Visitor Center at the Gettysburg National Military Park, better known as the Gettysburg Cyclorama, was designed by Richard Neutra. It housed a 360-degree painting by Paul Philippoteaux of the Civil War battle Pickett’s Charge. The modernist structure opened in 1962, and despite protest was demolished by the National Parks Service in 2013 to preserve the historical context of the site.
Completed in 1906, the Marlborough-Blenheim Hotel was a destination resort hotel that graced the shoreline of Atlantic City, New Jersey. Designed by Will Price, the grand structure was featured in multiple movies, including Garry Marshall’s Beaches, and once hosted Winston Churchill. In 1978, the historic structure was demolished to make way for a casino.
After demolishing the original Savoy Hotel, Harry S. Black—then owner of the Plaza Hotel—used the site to build the Savoy-Plaza Hotel, which opened in 1927. The McKim, Mead & White–designed building was an iconic structure along the edge of New York City’s Central Park until its demolition in 1965, making way for the General Motors Building.
In 1919, Russian actress Alla Nazimova bought Hayvenhurst, an estate built in 1913 on Hollywood’s Sunset Boulevard. By 1927, she had added villas around the main house and opened the property as the Garden of Alla Hotel. New owners renamed the property as Garden of Allah in 1930. Before it was razed to make room for a bank in 1959, the hotel was a legendary Hollywood hangout, hosting guests like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Greta Garbo, and Frank Sinatra.
The Brown Derby
The Brown Derby restaurant, also known as the Little Hat, opened on Wilshire Boulevard in 1926 across the street from the celeb-studded Cocoanut Grove at the Ambassador Hotel in L.A. The eatery, still an icon of the city’s architectural history, was demolished in 1980 and turned into a parking lot.
Replacing Tokyo’s original Imperial Hotel after it was destroyed by a fire, Frank Lloyd Wright’s iteration of the building opened in 1923 in his signature Mayan Revival style architecture. And though it famously survived that year’s earthquake virtually unscathed, the iconic destination did not survive the test of time. It was demolished in 1967 to make way for the high-rise third iteration of the hotel.
Welbeck Street Car Park
Designed by Michael Blampied and opened in 1971 in London, the Welbeck Street Car Park was a department store parking garage before its closure in March 2017. An icon of brutalist architecture thanks to its honeycomb-like concrete façade, the building’s demolition began in 2019.
Designed by Stiles O. Clements, this building housed the Richfield Oil Company, and it was a familiar part of the Los Angeles skyline until its demolition in 1969. The intricately decorated façade—constructed from black architectural terra-cotta and gold accents—was considered an exceptional example of Art Deco architecture of the era. The color scheme, which was uncommon, was meant to symbolize black gold, a nickname given to oil. The building was demolished after the company outgrew it, though the ornate elevator doors inside the tower were salvaged and now remain in the lobby of the City National Tower, the building that took its place.
Nakagin Capsule Tower
After multiple unsuccessful attempts to save the Nakagin Capsule Tower Building, its deconstruction began on April 12, 2022. The building is being disassembled due to its deteriorating state, even though it’s one of the most notable examples of Japanese Metabolism, a postwar architectural style of the 1960s. Designed by architect Kisho Kurokawa, the mixed-use residential and office structure is a combination of two interconnected towers which held 140 pre-fabricated and self-contained capsules. Each capsule was supposed to be replaced every 25 years, but this never happened due to a lack of funding.
The Singer Building
Coincidentally enough, Ernest Flagg, the architect of Singer Building, once the tallest building in the world, was critical of skyscrapers. He took on the project as a way to promote skyscraper reform, as he felt they blocked too much light on city streets and advocated that they should include setbacks as they grew taller. Though not loved by all critics, the building did play and important role in history, and has been credited with influencing the New York City 1916 Zoning Resolution, which required setbacks and ultimately changed the future of the Big Apple’s skyline.
The Lenox Library
From 1877 until 1912, the Lenox Library sat on Fifth Avenue between 70th and 71st street in Manhattan’s Upper East Side. It began as bibliophile James Lenox’s personal collection, which previously only existed in piles in his town house with a cataloging system that only he knew. Lenox, a philanthropist, decided to build a separate institution just to house his books. He hired Richard Morris Hunt to design the building, which was considered incredibly grand and a pinnacle example of architecture at the time. The building was demolished after Lenox’s death, and all of the roughly 85,000 books inside were moved to the main branch of the New York Public Library.
Cornelius Vanderbilt II’s Mansion
Mansion and New York City aren’t words you often hear put in the same sentence. However, before studio apartments and high-rise buildings became commonplaces, mansions did occupy Manhattan Island, the largest of which belonged to Cornelius Vanderbilt II. His palatial abode occupied most of the northwest corner of Fifth Avenue and West 57th Street, and it was six stories tall. Designed by George B. Post and Richard Morris Hunt, the château-esque mansion featured a drawing room, a dining room, a reception room, salon, music room, and conservatory in addition to a two-story ballroom, two-story smoking room, an office, and a breakfast room. The home was demolished in 1926, and the Bergdorf Goodman department store now stands in its place.
Though officially this building in Madrid, Spain, was called Laboratorios Jorba (Jorba Laboratories), it was unofficially referred to as La Pagoda, or The Pagoda, because of its resemblance to a Buddhist temple. Designed by Spanish architect Miguel Fisac, each floor was a rotated at 45-degree angle from the one below it. Fisac was well-known for his love of concrete, and he was also a leader in modern design in Spain. The building was demolished in 1999, though not without public indignation.