Landmarks Holds Public Hearing on Tin Pan Alley Designation

Nos. 47 – 55 West 28th Street were the home of many sheet music publishers in the 1890s and 1900s. Image Credit: NYC LPC

The designation received strong public support despite objections from the owner. On April 30, 2019, the Landmarks Preservation Commission held a public hearing to designate five buildings located at 47 – 55 West 28th Street collectively known as “Tin Pan Alley.” Landmarks calendared the five buildings on March 12, 2019. The street was the home of sheet music publishers in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. The street received its moniker from the sound of different pianos playing from the various publishers along the block, which collectively sounded like tin pans banging together. For CityLand’s prior coverage of the Tin Pan Alley designation process, click here.

At the public hearing, Landmarks heard testimony in opposition of designation from representatives of the buildings’ owner, 45 West 28th LLC. Dan Butch, a principal of 45 West 28th LLC, testified that Landmarks didn’t designate these buildings as a part of the nearby Madison Square North Historic District and was surprised that Landmarks was considering it now. Ken Fisher, attorney for the owners, stated that this was not the first, last or longest-lasting cluster of sheet music publishers. Fisher questioned whether the five buildings were the best representation of thousands of publishers across the city. Fisher also showed Tin Pan Alley sheet music covers that displayed images of racial stereotypes and argued that the racism featured in some of the music should not be memorialized with a landmark designation.

Many people testified in support of the designation, discussing the history of Tin Pan Alley and how the street provided opportunities for African – Americans and Eastern European Jewish immigrants to publish music that was not available elsewhere.

Others chose to address the concerns raised by Fisher, arguing that history should not be erased just because it is ugly and that society needs to see both the good and the bad to learn from past mistakes and make room for growth.

A representative speaking on behalf of Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, both of whom represent this district, stated, “Over the years, we have supported the effort to designate this region as a historic district. Some of us, including Manhattan Community Board 5, the Historic Districts Council, and the 29th Street Neighborhood Association have tried to add Tin Pan Alley to the Madison Square North Historic District. This has been unsuccessful, so designating five of Tin Pan Alley’s buildings will be a step in the right direction. Perhaps more than any other area in the city, Tin Pan Alley offers a glimpse into the past of what became a worldwide cultural force – popular music – at a specific place and moment of creation in the late 19th Century.”

In support of the designation, the Historic Districts Council published its testimony stating, “. . . It is sometimes difficult for people to understand what is being preserved when landmark designation is proposed for sites of historic significance. Comments such as “these buildings have been altered, they look nothing like they did Back When!” or “music isn’t made there anymore – why do you want to save these?” miss the point. History is the communal memory of a shared culture. It depends on artifacts to transmit knowledge across time, so that future generations can share in the same knowledge and form their own memories.”

Landmarks will vote on the designation at a later date.


By: Veronica Rose (Veronica is the CityLaw Fellow and a New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2018.)



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