7 Great American Buildings That Looked Like the Future Until They Were Destroyed

Landmarks are landmarks until they aren't.

In the 20th century, humans got really good at erecting architectural icons at speed. Cranes, elevators, prefabrication, and power tools were among the breakthroughs that enabled this advance. But as construction got easier, so too did destruction. Humans built architectural triumphs — from the original Penn Station to the Detroit’s Old City Hall — then promptly tore them down.

There’s something profound about this behavior. Most humans, either consciously or unconsciously, tend to spend their lives attempting to immortalize themselves. It’s irrational: in the as-is-said grand scheme of things, very little endures. In the grandest scheme, nothing endures. Often, people favor some creative outlet as a means to this immortality. They write a novel, paint a masterpiece, record an album.

But the most physical instantiation of this desire is, arguably, architecture. Designing and building a home is impressive enough. Designing something open to the public is considerably harder. In bare form, a train station merely provides a place for humans to come and go. In grandiose form, a train station signifies much more. Public spaces can become both physical and emotional landmarks. These qualities grow all the more pronounced when the public space in question is particularly beautiful.

Below are seven destroyed architectural triumphs in the United States. There are countless more in the U.S., and an overwhelming number around the planet. The destruction of some, like Penn Station and Garrick Theater, gave rise to architectural preservation movements. Good thing too — when we can’t remember what we wanted the world to look like, we struggle to understand the landscape we’ve inherited.

Pennsylvania Station


Wikimedia Commons

Location: New York, New York

Lifespan: 53 years (1910 - 1963)

Architect: Charles McKim

What Replaced It: Madison Square Garden & Penn Station

Broad Street Station, Philadelphia


Wikimedia Commons

Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Lifespan: 72 years (1881 - 1953)

Architects: Wilson Brothers & Company; Frank Furness

What Replaced It: Penn Center

Detroit City Hall


Wikimedia Commons

Location: Detroit, Michigan

Lifespan: 90 years (1871 - 1961)

Architect: James Anderson

What Replaced It: One Kennedy Square

Garrick Theater


Richard Nickel Archive

Location: Chicago, Illinois

Lifespan: 70 years (1891 - 1961)

Architects: Louis Sullivan, Dankmar Adler

What Replaced It:Retail Space

Chicago Coliseum


Wikimedia Commons

Location: Chicago, Illinois

Lifespan: 82 years (1900 - 1982)

Architect: Charles M. Palmer

What Replaced It: Coliseum Park



Wikimedia Commons

Location: New York, New York

Lifespan: 36 years (1893 - 1929)

Architect: Henry Janeway Hardenbergh

What Replaced It: Empire State Building

Marlborough-Blenheim Hotel


Wikimedia Commons

Location: Atlantic City, New Jersey

Lifespan: 73 years (1906 - 1979)

Architect: Will Price

What Replaced It: BALLY’S