The Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) has voted unanimously to designate five New York City buildings, the one-time home to a group of turn-of-the-century music publishing offices known as Tin Pan Alley, as landmarks. The vote was based on the buildings' connection to the birth of American popular music and the music publishing industry in America, as well as their place in African-American history.
The landmark protection places the buildings under government regulation in effort to preserve their architecture. Supporters of the buildings' landmark designation had feared the buildings would be demolished due to their poor current condition. This decision from the LPC ensures that Tin Pan Alley will remain standing.
The five row house buildings, located on West 28th Street between Broadway and Sixth Avenue, were originally built in the mid-19th century. By the early 1900s, they had become home to several offices at the forefront of the then-nascent industry of popular music publishing. Songwriters such as Irving Berlin, George M. Cohan, Dorothy Fields, Fats Waller, Harold Arlen, and Scott Joplin—to name but a few—would bring their latest tunes to these offices, playing them for publishers on upright pianos. Chosen songs would be published and sold as sheet music singles, a popular source of entertainment in American homes that at that time largely did not have radios but did often have a piano.
The near-constant din of overlapping songs being played from various neighboring offices on the block is said to be the origin of the buildings' nickname, which ultimately came to refer to that era of songwriting as well.
The boom in single sheet music publishing came to a close towards the end of the 1930s as the accessibility and popularity of radio superseded that of the family parlor piano, but many of the songs to come out of that time have become perennial favorites still widely known and beloved today, including "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," "God Bless America," "Happy Days Are Here Again," and many others.
Many composers and lyricists who got their start writing and selling songs in Tin Pan Alley would go on to become golden age Broadway songwriters as well, including Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, George Gershwin, Lorenz Hart, Frank Loesser, and Cole Porter.