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Time always wins in the end. Of course, that hasn't stopped people from trying to fight it.

One of the most infamous examples of a lost battle in historic preservation circles is the demolition of the original Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan. The magnificent pink granite structure occupied 28 acres, and had 138-foot-high ceilings and a grand staircase that was 40 feet wide. When construction was completed in 1910, newspapers hailed it as a splendid gift to the city of New York. It cost more than $100 million to build.

That Penn Station was razed in 1963. Today's Penn Station, which is all underground, has 22-foot ceilings. It's an understatement to say the replacement lacks the grandeur of the original. The longtime architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable, who died in January, characterized the original station's demise as part of a larger poverty of imagination and ideals.

"Not that Penn Station is the Pantheon, but it might as well be because we can never again afford a nine-acre structure of superbly detailed solid travertine, any more than we could build one of solid gold," she wrote in The New York Times in 1963. "The tragedy is that our own times not only could not produce such a building, but cannot even maintain it..."

For the Penn Station of the early 1960s wasn't seen as the noble structure it had been in 1910. It had been littered with colorful advertisements that Huxtable called "blasphemous utterances." Automobiles revolved on great turntables, and a swooping aluminum and steel "clamshell" of a canopy was built over a ticketing area in the mid-1950s.

Three years after the original Penn Station was turned to rubble, the federal government significantly expanded its preservation efforts with the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. It was a reaction to the "wholesale destruction" of neighborhoods, often as a direct result of federal transportation and development programs, according to Paul Lusignan, who reviews applications for the National Register of Historic Places.

Now, nearly half a century later, there are more than 88,400 listings on the Register, according to the National Park Service. About 1,500 new applications come in annually and, because most of the vetting is done at the state level, the vast majority of applications are approved.

But one of the persistent misconceptions is that once a site is designated historic, it will remain forever protected and unchanged. Not so. States can request that a site be removed from the National Register of Historic Places at any time, and for any number of reasons. National Park Service records obtained and analyzed by Digital First Media show that states have requested the removal from the Register of at least 1,752 previously designated sites since 1970. That's 2 percent of the total number of listed sites.

In the past decade, there have been about 51 removals from the National Register per year, with occasional spikes. In 1999, for example, 138 sites were delisted.

"I believe that there is a correlation between tax credits and the number of new listings," said Jeff Joeckel, an archivist for the National Register of Historic Places. "But I am not aware of any correlation between a strong economy and the number of removals."

Joeckel surmises that the 1999 spike may have come because states were overhauling computer systems ahead of the year 2000 as a way to prepare for potentially widespread computer problems that year, and happened to notice sites that needed delisting along the way.

The number of removals per state varies, too. On average, states have removed about 36 of their previously listed sites. Vermont is the only state that's never requested a removal.

"We weren't aware that there weren't any," said Devin Colman, Vermont's historic preservation review coordinator. "I checked with one of our former National Register coordinators and she said certainly, there are buildings that should be delisted just because they've burned down. We just have such a small program that we've really tended to focus our efforts and time on the listing process and not so much going back and delisting."

That's not uncommon and may be the case in other states with few recorded removals, federal officials say.

"With smaller and smaller state staffs, removal work often falls to secondary in importance," The National Register's Lusignan said. "The creation of public access to state and national register databases on the Web has also allowed the public to provide information on 'lost' buildings that might otherwise have gone unnoticed by state staffs."

Arkansas has removed 147 sites from the Register since 1970, the most of any state. The state's National Register coordinator, Ralph Wilcox, says that's probably because his office has a relatively robust travel budget that allows for up to two days a week of site visits.

"Most states don't have the budgets to allow a lot of travel by staff," Wilcox said in an email. "As a result of our staff's travel, we probably have a better idea than most states of what properties have been demolished or altered and warrant removal from the National Register. In addition, I usually try to stay on top of that paperwork, and other states may not see it as that much of a priority."

It's also important to note that 147 removals represent just a fraction - 6 percent - of the 2,549 Arkansas listings on the National Register.

Minnesota has had 117 sites delisted, the second-highest number of any state. That's mostly because the state made it a priority to keep its listings updated, says Denis Gardner, who coordinates National Register listings for the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office. The number of overall listings in the state also has climbed substantially, with the new tax credits related to rehabilitation, he says. According to the National Park Service, Minnesota has 1,627 sites on the Register.

The states with the most sites listed on the National Register: New York (5,462), Massachusetts (4,201) and Pennsylvania (3,303). But historians point out that numbers can be misleading. One historic district would be listed a single time on the Register, for example, but it could have 500 historic properties within its boundaries.

Joeckel says he and most others in the preservation field are able to focus on the positives, despite the inevitable crumbling that comes with the passage of time.

"But as the archivist," he said, "you do look at the number of removed files and you're just wondering, 'Aren't all of these (new sites) that are listed eventually going to be over here?'"