How to save NYC’s Tin Pan Alley: Five ideas for the buildings where musicians thrived.

The news that Tin Pan Alley’s half-dozen row houses [photo by edenpictures]may be torn down to make room for high rise apartments caught my attention for several reasons:

  • One–because a group of people are working to save the buildings by having them acheive historical landmark status.
  • Two–because 19th century buildings have more character than high rise apartments,
  • Three– because they have significance to Americana which means they have significance to tourists
  • Four–because Singapore almost destroyed all of its charm several years back by tearing down many colonial shop houses in favor of high rises until the Singapore government caught on that the shop houses offered charm. Tourists love charm. Charm can mean money. Several areas were earmarked for development where the shop houses were refurbished to create popular tourist destinations like Boat Quay and Clarke Quay–not to mention the streets in back of Orchard Road, one of the biggest commercial streets in Singapore.

My five suggestions for Tin Pan Alley’s salvation involve pepping up each building’s musical connection status by turning part of each building into a place that reflects Tin Pan Alley’s’ important history and contribution to American life.

Suggestion one: Turn one building into a music museum. The museum would have:

  • displays of instruments, photographs, and belongings of Irving Berlin, Scott Joplin, Fats Waller, George M. Cohan and others who got their start here
  • exhibits of publications, advertisements and sheet music
  • Interactive exhibits where people could try their hand at playing tunes, and composing
  • A small theater where a montage of movie scene clips that feature the music of these composers play and another film that shows the history of American music, similar to what is played at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland
  • Listening kiosks where people could listen to the tunes of the musicians who got their start at Tin Pan Alley. Also similar to what is at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
  • an auditorium for talks and concerts
  • a gift shop that sells CDs, movies, and music related items

Suggestion two: Part of one building could house a restaurant with food named for the musical greats such as the Scott Joplin Burger, the Fats Waller Fries, and the George M. Cohan Cobb Salad.

Suggestion three: Next door to the museum and the restaurant could be a music academy where people of all ages can go for music instruction on a weekly basis –or for a week or weekend of intensive instruction. Song writing workshops could be offered as well. Always wanted to play the banjo? Here’s where.

Suggestion four: Part of another building could be turned into a B&B or hostel where people could stay for their musical journey

Suggestion five: One building could be earmarked as affordable housing for musicians. They would pay for rent but, they could reduce their rent by putting in hours at either the restaurant, the museum or the music academy as part of their payment. This could help keep NYC’s musical talent in Manhattan. You try living in an apartment in Manhattan on a musician’s salary.

Suggestion six: Any ideas? Here’s your chance to change history too. Who knows? Maybe someone will listen to us.

By the way, the top few floors of each building could still be used for housing for any New York City resident so that the people who now live in these buildings who are trying to preserve them have the ability to live where they love. Some of these folks might end up on the governing board of whatever foundation needs to be set up in order to help run the place.

And, here’s another reason to save the buildings. It seems to me, it would be a great American success story.

Didn’t the people who would be honored by such a place achieve the American Dream? What better way to show that the American Dream can happen than by having this small piece of Manhattan real estate showcase where dreams came true.

For more Tin Pan Alley information, check out Tin Pan Alley Project. It includes song lists to take you down memory lane.