Nearly eight months after a heated Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) hearing, the agency unanimously voted to landmark five buildings on West 28th Street that are associated with Tin Pan Alley, for their connection to the birth of popular music as well as their place in African-American history.
The five Italianate-style structures, located between Sixth Avenue and Broadway, were built in the 1850s. Iconic songs like “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” and “God Bless America” were published in the Alley during the boom of the sheet-music business at the turn of the 20th century. African-American composers coming from the Jim Crow-era South and Jewish composers fleeing persecution in Eastern Europe, “created unprecedented opportunities for themselves as mainstream songwriters and music publishers,” Sarah Moses, an LPC staff member, said during the hearing.
But at the hearing back in April, a representative for Yair Levy, who owns one of the buildings, testified against the designation, arguing that designating the buildings would celebrate a history of bigotry that permeates the music published during this time.
Commissioners rebutted that claim during today’s hearing, arguing that the designation is important to recognize what happened during that era.
“This designation does not celebrate racist imagery found in some of Tin Pan Alley sheet music, but it must acknowledge it and put it in a context of American history,” said Commissioner John Gustaffson. “We are preserving … to avoid people saying things like ‘it wasn’t like that,’ [or] ‘it did not happen.’”
Commissioner Adi Shamir-Baron also spoke about the LPC’s role in protecting structures with cultural significance, in addition to architectural significance.
“Today we’re engaged in thinking about the questions around the preservation of cultural value,” Shamir-Baron said. “There’s not a building that we designated that does not have or presented complexities and questions whether those were about labor practices, or industrial production, or redlining, or any number of things that this idea, this project called building cities presents and has over the course of our history.”
Several elected officials, including City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, as well as several prominent preservationists, celebrated the designation.
“Tin Pan Alley forms an indelible part of not only our city’s history, but also national identity,” Brewer said in a statement. “This designation ensures that this special place will be preserved and celebrated for generations to come.”
At the hearing, following the commissioner’s unanimous vote to designate the five buildings, attendees enthusiastically applauded.