Tin Pan Alley buildings landmarked on West 28th Street

The buildings at 47-55 West 28 St. (Landmarks Preservation Commission)

BY GABE HERMAN | The city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) this week officially designated five historic buildings on West 28th Street that were part of the legendary Tin Pan Alley for sheet music publishers.

The five adjacent buildings, between Broadway and Sixth Avenue, are buildings number 47, 49, 51, 53 and 55 on the block. They are Italianate-style row houses and were all built between 1839 and 1859.

Tin Pan Alley was the center of music publishing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Its name was given around 1903 and was based on the racket of piano music that could be heard throughout the street. Famous songs that came from the block included “God Bless America” and “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”

The LPC said that Tin Pan Alley brought ragtime to worldwide audiences, and Jewish and African American artists and publishers were able to create new, unprecedented opportunities in mainstream American music. Some of the artists included Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington, Harold Arlen, George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Noble Sissle, James Reese Europe and J. Rosamond Johnson.

The LPC also said in its brief on Tin Pan Alley, when noting it popularizing ragtime: “However, as relatives of musical forms which were popular in minstrel shows, some of Tin Pan Alley’s compositions were built on objectionable caricatures of African Americans in the tradition of blackface performance. Their employment of slurs and caricatures reflects systemic racism in the post-Reconstruction era and a particular lineage of racist stereotypes in American entertainment. Some African American songwriters on West 28th Street deliberately tried to rework stereotypes that were popular in music of the time.”

“Tin Pan Alley is the birthplace of American pop music and now we’re ensuring that it will be here for future generations,” said Council Speaker Corey Johnson. “Like much of American history, the story of Tin Pan Alley is complex and controversial, but preventing its demolition will give future generations the opportunity to learn from it.”

Relatives of Tin Pan Alley composers said they were glad about the buildings’ designation.

“I am so pleased that this designation has preserved the remnants of this cornerstone of New York business and history,” said Melanie Edwards, granddaughter of composer J. Rosamond Johnson. “From the Brill building to the home-made studios of hip-hop, they all had their beginnings on Tin Pan Alley, and this history can now be shared with every music lover.”

“Tin Pan Alley made it possible for African American composers like my grandfather to promote their talents to the broader public,” said James Reese Europe III, grandson of James Reese Europe. “My grandfather had many of his early compositions published by music publishers once located on this block.”

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