There is a bit of good news for those of us concerned about development threats to the 19th century row houses that once constituted Tin Pan Alley on West 28th Street, the birthplace of the American popular music industry. These threats have been reported upon extensively during the past year and a half, in my book, on Lost City, Curbed and other websites, and by the Historic Districts Council. The impending sale of several of Tin Pan Alley’s buildings wound up being forestalled by the real estate market’s downturn; otherwise, preservation efforts have lacked the kind of high-profile public support they’ve needed to really get momentum going.
Fortunately, historians and preservationists may now have more time to make their case. My friend, tenants rights lawyer Robert Petrucci, who has been representing tenants in the West 28th Street buildings for a number of years, tells me that he has just received a favorable recommendation in his effort to establish the four buildings from 49 to 55 West 28th Street (which, incidentally, are among the most historically significant of Tin Pan Alley’s surviving edifices) as a single unit. In a report dated January 15, 2010, Administrative Law Judge John B. Spooner explains the reasons for his recommendation:
“Constructed as townhouses in the 1860s, the four buildings have been under common ownership since 1903…Based upon the overwhelming number of factors establishing that the four buildings have been owned and operated together for over a hundred years, I find that the four buildings constitute a single horizontal multiple dwelling.”
Judge Spooner cites a number of features, among them a common fire escape and boiler, along with cellar openings between 49 and 51, in support of his decision. Petrucci explains that the findings will still need to be adopted by the NYC Loft Board, but that in these kinds of cases “acceptance is the norm.” What this means is that it would now be “very difficult,” according to Petrucci, for the individual buildings to be developed separately. That, in addition to the fact that a portion of the lot upon which number 49 sits is still designated as M1-6, for manufacturing use (the now-famous 1995 rezoning which opened the area up to commercial/residential use only extends for a specific number of feet from Sixth Avenue), signifies an impediment to prospective developers.
Not the overarching victory we’ll need in the long run, but nonetheless an important development that may help vouchsafe the immediate security of the place where a teenage Irving Berlin worked as a song plugger, and where popular music came into its own as a marketable, hit-making force.