Marc Gordon, AIA, LEED®AP BD+C Partner, is a practicing architect in New York, where he’s a partner at the firm Spacesmith. A lifelong student of New York history, he’s an enthusiastic believer that the city’s past holds lessons for us all today. On weekends and in other snippets of free time, Marc traverses the boroughs exploring hidden history and seeking stories that he hopes will illuminate New York’s architectural heritage, inspire an appreciation for the richness of urban life, and give voice to the metropolis he calls home. He’s excited to share this piece with Untapped Cities readers.
There has been plenty of talk recently about the gentrification of New York. This is a dynamic city and it is often said that the only constant in New York is change. In the last 20 years, New York has transformed at an astonishing rate, and parts of the city are hardly recognizable from the gritty urban decline of the 1970’s and 80’s and subsequent turnaround in the 90’s. However, along with the positive aspects of economic growth come the negative side effects of rampant over development and loss of character that makes our city unique.
Much of the discussion in the news lately has been focused on the socio-economic impact of demographic changes, income inequality, rising real estate costs and the growing chasm between the wealthy and the poor. There is an ongoing political discourse regarding the Tale of Two Cities. These types of changes have happened in New York before and they will continue to happen in the future. In fact if you look carefully enough you can see past changes reflected in the buildings and neighborhoods throughout the city. For example, many commercial buildings around Wall Street are now residential, residential walk-up buildings in midtown south have been repurposed for stores and businesses and warehouses adapted for residential or mixed-use commercial. Although these changes have been occurring throughout the city, Manhattan is unique in the fact that tectonic changes to the urban fabric are not new here and have always occurred on a scale not seen in other boroughs, due in part to its density and situation as the city’s business center.
One aspect of recent developments includes the disintegration of many distinct commercial districts specializing in a particular service or type of business. Here are few that you may still be able to find and few that are gone forever. These districts lent a distinctive character to the urban context.
1. Music Row
“Alex, Rudy’s & Sam Ash Musical Instruments” once located on 48th Street. Image via Flickr: Andrew Pilling
Music Row was located on 48th Street between 6th & 7th Ave. If you were a musician in New York City, this area was the place to go. Whether it was rock & roll, R & B, punk, classical, Jazz or whatever, this once thriving block was a one stop shopping for any instrument, sheet music and instrument repair. Music shops including several from Sam Ash specializing in different instruments, Alex Musical Instruments, New York Woodwind and Brass, Rudy’s Music Stop and Manny’s, lined both sides of the street…there was plenty to choose from.
The location of Music Row was probably due to its proximity to Times Square, Radio City Music hall, the Brill Building and the recording studios and record companies on 6th Avenue. The music shops are now all gone leaving empty storefronts ready for the wrecker’s ball.