Once the World’s Largest, a Hotel Goes ‘Poof!’ Before Our Eyes

For one thing, the hotel’s reputation had plummeted into its subbasement, with mocking public complaints about peeling wallpaper, worn furniture and bedbugs. For another, Vornado had been acquiring property around Penn Station with an eye toward transforming the area one day into a business, retail and entertainment mecca.

One evening in the fall of 2007, in the Long Island town of Deer Park, a father came across some news on his desktop computer, and he called out to his 13-year-old son: Hey, Steven. Remember that hotel you like so much? The one across from Penn Station? They’re going to knock it down.

That moment is seared in the memory of Steven Lepore, now 28. He felt a swirl of sadness, anger and urgency. “All hell broke loose in my brain,” he recalled.

Resolved to act, the teenager found and joined the Save the Hotel Pennsylvania Foundation, a small group led by a computer specialist named Gregory Jones. The foundation was working to block any demolition by asking the Landmarks Preservation Commission to consider the hotel for landmark status.

In assessing the merits of a building as a potential landmark, the commission studies its architectural, historical and cultural significance, as well as the level of integrity of the original design. In its estimation, the Hotel Pennsylvania, which had undergone significant changes over the years, fell short.

The hopes of the hotel’s would-be protectors briefly soared when the fallout from the recession of the late 2000s nudged Vornado to reconsider demolition. In 2013, its chairman, Steven Roth, told investors that the company would invest heavily in the building “and try to make it into a really profitable, really good hotel for our purposes.”

“We won,” Mr. Lepore remembers thinking. The save-the-hotel foundation was rechristened the Hotel Pennsylvania Preservation Society, which soon sent Vornado a detailed proposal for restoring the hotel to its former glory.

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