Citing racist history, banned NYC developer tries to block landmarking of his Tin Pan Alley buildings

Preservationists claim Yair Levy is distorting history
April 30, 2019 09:30AM

Yair Levy and 47-55 West 28th Street (Credit: Wikipedia)

Yair Levy and 47-55 West 28th Street (Credit: Wikipedia)

Tin Pan Alley, a stretch of West 28th Street that was once the center of America’s popular music industry, is being considered for a landmark designation, and one landlord is fighting back in an unorthodox way.

Representatives of banned developer Yair Levy claim that racist music produced on the block around the turn of the 20th century make it unsuitable for landmark designation, the New York Post reported.

“Who wants to be known as the buildings that brought [racist] songs to America?” Ken Fisher, who represents a trust controlled by Levy’s family, told the Post. “It’s not a coincidence that most of the Confederate statues went up just as these songs became popular.”

To bolster the landlord’s case, Fisher commissioned a 39-page report from historian Andrew Alpern (author of “Luxury Apartment Houses of Manhattan: An Illustrated History”) to highlight the neighborhood’s ties to racist music from the post-Civil War era.

In addition to classics such as “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” and “God Bless America”, Tin Pan Alley was also the source of songs with titles like “N—-r, N—-r Never Die” and “All C–ns Look Alike To Me.”

But preservationists claim the report is a distortion of history, and ignores the presence of African American and Jewish songwriters in the area who played a major role in the development of American music.

“He’s hired a contract historian who has written a dubious report that relies on second- hand information to dispute the historical importance of the district,” Simeon Bankoff, the executive director of the Historic Districts Council, said.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission is scheduled to hold its first hearing Tuesday, and has up to a year to issue a decision.

Levy, who received a lifetime ban from selling condos and co-ops in 2011, picked up the five row houses between 47 and 55 West 28th Street in 2014. [NYP] — Kevin Sun