Friday, December 5, 2008

Heritage Lost is Humanity Lost

To initiates in the history of early 20th-century popular music, this picture of the block of 19th-century houses on West 28th Street just off Broadway in Manhattan, NY are immediately recognizable. Today, though vastly different in appearance from when the block rocked with music, they are still a temple of musical greatness to be treated with awe and protected.

It was in this row of four-storey buildings, with its classic New York iron fire escapes and elaborate plasterwork, that the modern popular music industry was created.The nickname by which the block came to be known - Tin Pan Alley - in time came to represent the entire music industry.

Upper and lower photo
Tin Pan Alley today

Your physical environment has a lot to do with your health: physical, mental, emotional and physiological.

Part of being human is sharing connectivity with our brothers and sisters – both those that are here now and those that came before. There are many ways to share and connect in our fast-paced world. Those of us who have joined the e-revolution stay in touch via telephone, cell phone, pagers, computer, and many other ways I still haven’t figured out yet. If you’re a little more laidback, you may stay in touch with cards, letters, home visits or handmade gifts.

One of the ways I like to connect with those that have gone before is by taking in the feelings and vibrations of the original place (if possible). Many factors have shaped the world of North Americans and the music from Tin Pan Alley was one of them.

This music took the country by storm and changed the way the Americas thought about music, dance, and the distribution of these new energized tunes. Suddenly, the industry caught fire and there were lots of people ready to help keep that flame burning high.

Today, if you were judge this block by their facades alone, there would be very little of note to distinguish them from any other block in Manhattan. They are painted in colours that some could mistake for slightly bilious selling cheap Obama memorabilia, jewellery that will turn your skin green and knock-off perfumes.

However, the block has now been put up for sale by its owners for $44 million (£30 million). If the block is sold, those wonderful heritage buildings filled with memories, ghosts and music will probably become just another office block. No music buff will ever again feel the thrill of walking where the great ones made their names and changed the course of music in the process.

"That these buildings, where the sheet music business began, still exist is wonderful. We don't need another faceless office tower when we could preserve something as historic as this," said Simeon Bankoff of a New York preservation body, the Historic Districts Council.

The history of the block dates back to 1893 when M. Witmark & Sons, a music publisher, moved there. Others saw the benefits of this location with its many musical talents all in close proximity, such as songwriters, composers, performers, agents and managers. The block soon became a place like no other.

David Freeland, whose book on New York, NY’s disappearing cultural spots, called Automats, Taxi Dances and Vaudeville, said the street was "filled with the cacophony of upright pianos being hammered day and night by songwriters demonstrating their latest creations, looking for the next hit. It was a place of noise, activity and competition."

It is believed that it was this cacophony that was the basis for some to compare it to having to listen to the clashing of tin pans. This bit of hilarity caught on and the block became known as – Tin Pan Alley.

In the fifty or so years between the 1890’s and 1930’s, some of the finest music in American history was created there by some of the finest creative American minds. Tin Pan Alley held the offices of George and Ira Gershwin; Irving Berlin; Scott Joplin; Cole Porter; and Fats Waller.

"It was here popular music grew up into a mass force, and was marketed just like any other factory product," said Freeland.

Tenants living in the apartments, as well as music lovers and architectural conservationists, are trying to fend off the sale. They are pressing for permanent landmark status for the buildings.

If you feel you might want to say something on this issue, you can reach Mayor Bloomberg as follows:

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg
City Hall
New York, NY 10007
PHONE 311 (or 212-NEW-YORK outside NYC)
FAX (212) 788-2460E-
MAIL: (you access the email from this page)

Or you may wish to contact the Historic District Council

Historic District Council
232 East 11th Street
New York NY 10003
tel: 212-614-9107
fax: 212-614-9127

1 comment:

kathi said...

Thank you Dear Canadian Neighbor from the coast on the other side of the country from New York for letting me (us) know what's going on in the US. Don't know that I would have heard of this otherwise. Wonder if Dave Letterman would be interested - you have the Mayor's name in writing, so that would help. :)