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Tin Pan Alley

Thursday, October 23, 2008 - 01:26 PM

So Tin Pan Alley is for sale, and people who haven’t thought about Tin Pan Alley in decades, and people who’ve walked past those buildings on West 28th Street for years without ever noticing them, are suddenly up in arms. When I read that the buildings were for sale – and that the seller was suggesting they be torn down to make room for another high-rise – my first thought was, that’s terrible, that’d be a great loss. My second thought was – I didn’t even know Tin Pan Alley was still there. I mean, I’ve been down that block, and never realized that this was where so much of the so-called Great American Songbook came from. If there has been any sense of that history, of the lingering echoes of Gershwin, Cole Porter, and the rest, it’s been spread around in New York’s jazz clubs, cabarets, nightclubs, and Broadway theaters, not concentrated on that one block.

Maybe it’s a generational thing, but I don’t think so. I felt the same way about CBGBs closing. And that was a place that had been important, even formative, to me as a teenager. But punk’s first home had had its moment, done its job, and was just sort of hanging on. Its history was well-documented but was in danger of being cheapened by the club’s slide into tourist kitsch. At least that hasn’t happened with Tin Pan Alley. It just went from being a physical place to a mental one: a kind of evocative black-and-white image of old New York, the New York of derby hats, big-fendered cars and Ebbetts Field. And that will remain even if the buildings themselves disappear.

What do you think? Do we lose something when a cultural landmark, whether it’s Yankee Stadium, CBGBs, or the Tin Pan Alley buildings, disappear? Or do we get too attached to the place and lose sight of the bigger cultural ideas they house? Leave a comment.

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