Sunday, March 26, 2017

Preservation! When Jackie Saved Grand Central by Natasha Wing

"Out with the old; in with the new!" was the motto of America in mid-twentieth century. And when in 1960 the handsome president, John F. Kennedy moved into the White House, it was a new era, the "New Frontier." His young and ultra-stylish wife, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, was a startling contrast to the staid and matronly first ladies who came just before her. It seemed her image was everywhere, in the news, on the covers of magazines, on television, a symbol of the fresh, "born-in-this-century" First Family.

But there was one thing that the public did not know about Jackie Kennedy. She loved old things. When she saw the shabby and faded walls and furnishings in the White House, she was appalled and set to work to redo the whole place. But Jackie was possessed with innate taste and the patience to seek out the original furnishings, paintings, and fixtures that had been replaced piecemeal, and deliberately she set out, not to remodel, but to restore the White House to its original, historical state. And she did it.

But Jackie did not have long to enjoy her results. President John Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, and Jackie left the White House and decided to return to her favorite city, New York. And she got there just in time.

New York's historic Beaux Arts Grand Central Station was set to be demolished to make room for a high-rise hotel. The once elegant edifice, built in 1913, had long been a wonder.

Grand Central was the largest and grandest railroad terminal in the world. Some called it a work of art, with its pink marble steps, majestic sculptures, dazzling chandeliers, towering windows, and cerulean vaulted ceilings painted with gold-leaf constellations.

But the years and many millions of passengers had taken their toll. The glorious painted ceiling was dingy from smoke. Its tall windows were grimy. The pink marble stairs were chipped and stained. Its owners began to negotiate to sell the site to a firm planning to replace it with a new modern skyscraper.

And Jackie was adamant that Grand Central Station, a world-famous landmark, a symbol of the city, was not going to be lost to history. It was going to be restored.

She lobbied city leaders; she formed an organization to raise money to save New York's Grand Central Station.

She inspired citizens to donate money. She made headlines.

Jackie wrote a letter to the Mayor, saying, "Is it not cruel to let our city die by degrees, stripped of all her proud monuments, until there is nothing left of her history and beauty to inspire out children?"

Jackie even led a "whistle stop" train campaign down the Atlantic Coast to Washington, D.C., to get the whole nation on her side. The case to stop the land deal even went to the Supreme Court!

And Jackie won. Grand Central Station was saved from the wrecking ball.

Unfortunately, Jackie Kennedy died in in 1994 and didn't live to see Grand Central's full restoration to its former glory. But although Jackie was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, beside her famous husband, Grand Central Station is her real memorial, as Natasha Wing's just published When Jackie Saved Grand Central: The True Story of Jacqueline Kennedy's Fight for an American Icon (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017) tells. Author Wing's spirited narration and artist Alexandra Boiger's arresting portrayal of the fashionable but fearless Jackie will give young readers an appreciation, not only for the creation of great new landmarks, but for caring lovingly but fiercely for our old ones.

Appended are author's and illustrator's notes and a brief bibliograpy of books about Jacqueline Kennedy and the edifice she saved for the nation.

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