TIN PAN ALLEY ADVOCATES SAY DEVELOPMENT HITS A SOUR NOTE – NY1.com

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TIN PAN ALLEY ADVOCATES SAY DEVELOPMENT HITS A SOUR NOTE

By Michael Scotto  |  December 5, 2017 @7:05 AM
Across large parts of Manhattan, old buildings are being torn down and replaced by skyscrapers. Preservationists fear that trend is about to destroy one block where some of Broadway's most famous songs were created. NY1's Michael Scotto has the story. 

The low-rise buildings on West 28th Street might not look like much now. But more than a century ago, they were the place where the defining sounds of American popular music were created.  

The stretch between Sixth Avenue and Broadway is known as Tin Pan Alley.

From the late 1800s to the early 1900s the music publishing industry was centered here. Songwriters like George Cohan and Irving Berlin worked in what were essentially music factories, churning out classics like "Give my Regards to Broadway" and "Alexander's Ragtime Band" for nearby theaters.

"Each one had an upright piano and each one was playing a different tune, all at the same time, and you walk through this it sounded like tin pans," said Miriam Berman, a historian.

But preservationists are worried that the last remains of a bygone era might be yanked from the city's stage.

The strip is not landmarked, a developer has bought up several properties, and old buildings are giving way to high-rises.

“This neighborhood is really in the crosshairs for big development. We'd hate to see where the place that ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’ was written fall to the wrecking ball so somebody can live in luxury housing," said Dan Allen of the Historic Districts Council.

Currently, only a part of the surrounding area, just steps from Tin Pan Alley, is landmarked. 

Preservationists have repeatedly asked the landmarks commission to expand the historic district to include Tin Pan Alley and the blocks north, but each time the commission said no.

The agency argues there is not a "concentration of intact, high-quality buildings" meriting designation.

Residents say the city should at least acknowledge Tin Pan Alley for its historical significance.  

"We're not asking to freeze this area or any area in amber. But there's no reason we have to destroy our historical and cultural heritage," said George Calderaro of the 29th Street Neighborhood Association.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer supports the push.

"You can almost hear the pianos walking down the street. A lot of the buildings that were there at the turn of the century are still there," Brewer said.

There may be some hope. While the landmarks commission says it won't create an historic district, it is considering landmarking individual buildings - some of them along Tin Pan Alley.

A sign, perhaps, that history will continue to be heard.