A group of New Yorkers is fighting to save Tin Pan Alley, the half-dozen row houses where iconic American songs were born.
The four-story, 19th-century buildings on Manhattan's West 28th Street were home to publishers of some of the catchiest American tunes and lyrics — from "God Bless America" and "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" to "Give My Regards to Broadway."
The music of Irving Berlin, Scott Joplin, Fats Waller, George M. Cohan and other greats was born on Tin Pan Alley.
The buildings were put up for sale earlier this fall for $44 million, with plans to replace them with a high-rise. The construction plan fell through amid the turmoil in the economy, but the possibility of losing the historic block hastened efforts to push for landmark status for Tin Pan Alley.
"The fear of these buildings being sold for development crystallized their importance, and the need to preserve them," said Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council, a nonprofit preservation organization aiming to secure city landmark status for the buildings, which would protect them from being destroyed.
The Landmarks Commission is "researching the history of the buildings and reviewing whether they'd be eligible for landmark designation," said Lisi de Bourbon, a spokeswoman for New York's Landmarks Preservation Commission.
No date has been set for a decision, which she said depends on "a combination of historical, cultural and architectural significance."
'American cultural history'
The block is sacred to Tim Schreier, a great-great-grandson of Jerome H. Remick, whose music publishing company occupied one of the houses and employed a young sheet music peddler named George Gershwin.
"I'm not opposed to development in New York, but we have to balance development with history — and this is definitely American cultural history," said Schreier.
From the late 1880s to the mid-1950s, the careers of songwriters who are still popular today were launched from the buildings at 45, 47, 49, 51, 53 and 55 West 28th.
Nearby, high-rise condominiums have pushed out old brownstones. The four-story Tin Pan Alley buildings house street-level wholesale stores selling clothing, jewelry and fabrics; eight apartment units fill the upper floors.
It's a noisy neighborhood, with trucks beeping as they back up amid street hawkers selling bootleg movies and knockoff perfumes. A century ago, the windows of music companies broadcast a cacophony of competing piano sounds that earned the area the nickname Tin Pan Alley, to describe what one journalist said sounded like pounding on tin pans.
Leland Bobbe, a 59-year-old photographer, has been renting his apartment at Remick's old building since 1975. He says it's important to salvage the buildings in a neighborhood "that has lost its uniqueness. It's just another symbol of what New York was and what it will no longer be."