On This Day: Pan Am Building Opens Above Grand Central
New York's famous Pan Am Building opened on this day in 1963! Designed by Walter Gropius, a founder of the Bauhaus school in Germany, Pietro Belluschi, and Emery Roth and Sons, it was the largest office building by floor area in the world.
In 1954, the New York Central Railroad had proposed demolishing Grand Central Terminal and replacing it with an office tower. The controversial fifty-five-story tower, designed by architect Marcel Breuer would have placed a concrete slab faced in granite, atop Grand Central’s waiting room. A second rendition would have entirely demolished the façade. The NYC Landmarks Commission unanimously rejected all of Breuer’s three designs, which resulted in a lawsuit that finally reached the Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the City. Four years after the Pan Am Building opened Grand Central Terminal was designated a historic landmark.
On the tower's roof, a helipad operated from 1965 to 1968, allowing lucky New Yorkers to fly right into midtown. It briefly reopened in 1977 but after a sideways landing killed five including one woman at street level who was struck by a rotor blade, the helipad was retired.
In 1981 MetLife purchased the tower, replacing the Pan Am logo nine years later.
When the building opened it was widely despised by New Yorkers. New York Times architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable called it ''gigantically second rate.'' But over the years it has become adored by many, as opinions are architecture and urban design evolve.