A few days ago, I got back from a five day trip to New York City. For many years i had been wanting so badly to visit New York to seek out all the important recording history locations that I write about so often here on this blog. This trip had been planned for a few months, and that gave me time to plan out what I was to do while there.
In the weeks before leaving, I made a handwritten list of all the addresses to go and visit, to cross them off as I went. There were nearly 30 addresses on this list, and many of them got crossed off.
Going to all these places was emotionally, and ultimately physically taxing for me. My first day there I was overanxious to start walking down Broadway to 1155 where the 1890's Columbia studio and offices were. I was trembling with excitement, all dressed up in a simple black and white dress dated to around 1901, and could hardly believe I was walking down this famous street, surrounded by all this history.
Along the way to 1155 I saw a few other addresses on the list, one being 1180(1),where Roger Harding set up his short lived publishing firm in 1900-1901. When I got t0 1155, it was overwhelming. The address had changed so much, yet the number remained the same, and somehow the exterior of the building remained somewhat intact. It wasn't difficult to picture the place in its original state when all the recorders made their way in.
Wanted to make sure I took a picture in front of the address with something that was sold there. I stood there for awhile, and after mustering up some courage, I approached two security guards standing by the front door. I commenced to lecture these young men about the unbelievable amount history that occurred right where we were standing. Showed them the supplement pictured above, and the several pictures taken inside the building in the 1890's. These young men were unusually curious about this history, and they seemed quite amazed that the columns on the inside of the building are still standing to this day. After lecturing for about 20 minutes, I headed to 28th street where the original "Tin Pan Alley" was. I heard of a recently finalized proposition to make these five or so intact buildings a historical landmark and have them somewhat restored.
It was so nice to see these buildings, even though they are a bit beat up and sketchy looking as of now, thankfully that is scheduled to change soon. Here on this block and the next included the Witmark publishing, W. B. Gray, Hylands Spencer and Yeager, Helf and Hager, and several more over time. The one specific address I was most curious to see on this block was 55. 55 was where Ring and Hager published together in 1904, and where Helf and Hager first set up the next year.
After going to cross off a bunch more addresses in Tin Pan Alley, I set out to Hell's Kitchen where Frank P. Banta grew up. I wrote down the address that the Banta's lived in according to the 1880 census, so this is most likely where Frank and his siblings grew up. As I approached the number, my eyes started to tear up, as I was walking along the street that little Banta once did to go and tune pianos in the surrounding area.
This building looks very much intact, and probably didn't look too much different when Banta lived there. The house number is even the same as it was in 1880.
The next morning I returned to 28th street. I was waiting for some friends to meet with, was stupidly early, so I decided to sit on the steps of 55 until my friends showed up.
Sat there for over two hours, meditating on all the music that was first conceived there. Sat there in the cold and damp with my gloved hands running over the iron bars once held by so many musicians and writers, Ring and Hager being only two of perhaps hundreds.
When my friends arrived we headed to 27th street where Hylands Spencer and Yeager were. This building appeared to be intact, though it was being worked on, so we couldn't get inside to poke around. Then we passed through where Dan W. Quinn lived in the late 1890's, and later where he lived from 1906 to his death in 1938. The later Quinn address is the one that he lived in when he was writing to Jim Walsh in the 1930's, and where he also operated a booking office. This address was also very nicely preserved, with lots of pretty marble carving and ceiling decoration.
After we went by there, we headed to 14th street where all the 1880's and 90's theaters were. Before Tin Pan Alley reigned in the late-1890's and beyond, 14th street was where all the publishers and performers lived. Here we walked by the original site of Pastor's theater, where Ben Harney first introduced Rag-time, and where countless other performers played. Just two blocks farther along was 223, where Fred Hylands lived from 1896 to 1898. We were lucky enough to sneak in behind a resident, which just happened to be the first time any of us had gotten inside. The inside of the building looked to have been remodeled in the 1920's, but we could definitely tell it was an old seedy building that Hylands could easily be seen in.
This apartment was definitely seedy, but in a charming sort of way.
The stairs of this building were kind of awful, so I could see Hylands complaining about them often going and coming from work at the record lab or Pastor's. This building was where the "Darkey Volunteer" was published, and where Hylands trod in night after night of performing at Columbia's exhibitions. Performers like Burt Green, Max Hoffmann, and Mike Bernard likely also went up and down those stairs.
As we started to head to a friend's house near Queens, we passed by where Antonin Dvorak lived in the 1890's. Thankfully there is a plaque dedicating the history of this address. On the plaque it states that he wrote his New World Symphony here in this apartment, which is pretty nice to see.
The next morning I went to visit a famed broadway and vaudeville historian. This man's house is packed on the walls with posters of all kinds, dating from 1816 to the 1940's. Two examples:
There are hundreds more in this guy's collection. It really was a feast for the eyes to see all these gorgeous colorful posters. He told me that every few months he switches out the posters so there are different ones hanging on the walls. While I was there he pulled out two beautiful posters he had gotten from a recent trip to Paris, which included early art nouveau artwork much like the first poster pictured above. Next I went out with this collector/historian to find Frank P. Banta's grave. We got on the subway and headed to near Wall Street where I assumed it was, but ultimately wasn't able to find his grave there. It was way up in Harlem. I didn't want to spend another two hours going there and back to find his grave, that, as the cemetery directors stated, was in a very large cemetery. So with that I split with my new friend and headed to the Bowery to walk along the neighborhood of so much lore and history, and where Justin Ring grew up.
After a decent trip on the subway, I turned a corner of Canal Street and was finally walking along the Bowery. The weather was perfect for setting the solemn mood I was in as I walked, it was 45 degrees and damp, with a blanket of clouds ready to drop rain at any moment. As I kept walking, I could really feel the intense weight of history on me, all the struggle and suffering of the many thousands of souls who lived in this area, all of it seemed to congregate as I scuffed the sidewalks. Had never felt such an intense feeling of unbelievable history before, everywhere I looked some image of the past seemed to appear. So much music, so much life, so much suffering, it seemed that walking along here was really where the spirit of the era I study came out. As I neared the street I was looking for, the area seemed to get a little seedier than where I got off, but that added to the atmosphere of the old Bowery I was immersing myself in. When I got to the short street where the Ringleben family once lived, it started to rain. The address looked very much reminiscent of the late-19th century, with so much of its original interior intact. The facade of the building appeared to have been redone after the Ringleben's had moved out, but much of the older inside was perfectly intact. The building itself would have looked like the one next door when the Ringleben family lived there.
My hand on one of the walls.
There was even a beautiful mosaic tile floor still intact.
I walked all the way up and down the stairs, and looked out a few of the windows to see such a lovely view.
As I trod around the building I could almost hear the violin of young Justus as he was being taught, and his angry father writing out stock arrangements as his children learned how to write music. It was a lot to take in.
It was getting dark by the time I started walking back to the subway, and it was raining. Another thing that so charmed me about being in New York was the subway. Lots of folks threw me mixed opinions about the subway before I went, but I was determined to witness the intense history of this old system. It felt like a time capsule, with all the mosaic tiling intact, and every time I stood on a platform the smell of 120 year old pneumatics filled my throat. That smell is entirely unique and old-fashioned. It's like being at an old train station but with no steam to be found. The inside of the subway is truly the smell of the past, with little change since its opening in 1904. There's nothing quite like the smell of 120 year old pneumatics that still heave and work every day.
Well, wish i had more to say on this trip, but as I'm writing this I am still processing the emotional toll it took on me. Visiting all these places was very moving to me, as it was where all this history happened, and few few people know about it. Despite few knowing of these places, it seems that those who live and work around these places are somewhat curious, and that is hopeful.
I apologize for not including any recordings in this post, as I usually like to do so.
Within the next week I hope to start a project on Voss' 1st regiment band. This band has been a sources of mild interest for a few years now, after learning that all of Issler's orchestra performed in this band for many years. Based on this, it seems that this band gave us many of the earliest and most prominent studio orchestra musicians of the 1890's and 1900's. So with this in mind, it seems important to see what I can find on this group.
Before I close out here, I must say that some big news has come down! In the last few months I mentioned Hager's scrapbook and papers, well folks...
Now I have these things in my collection!
Since they arrived in the mail a few weeks ago, it has been a lot of process, and I have been holding off doing a major post dedicated to this matter. Just to give you a sneak peek into what's in there, here's one of the more unusual pages from the scrapbook:
That's supposed to be Hager's orchestra in the background I guess, that's why he saved it.
More to come!
Hope you enjoyed this!