NYC: The Brill Building

NYC: The Brill Building

Save the Last Dance for Me, Sweet Caroline, Breaking Up is Hard to Do, Anyone who Had A Heart, and of course, Who Put the Bomp (in the Bomp,Bomp, Bomp.)   

What do all these songs have in common? They were written, published, had their demos cut, and promoted on radio all within the Brill Building at 1619 Broadway. 

The Alan E. Lefcourt Building (it's original name) was built in 1931 by Abraham E. Lefcourt and designed by architect Victor Bark, Jr.  Lefcourt was, by the 1920s, one of the most active developers of tall buildings in Midtown. As a New York Times article in 1930 enthused, "No other individual or building organization has constructed in its own behalf as many buildings as are in the Lefcourt Group." Yet for some reason, unlike Fred French and Irwin Chanin, almost nobody remembers Abraham Lefcourt anymore. 

Lefcourt subleased the lot at the corner of W. 49th and Broadway from the Brill brothers, successful Manhattan haberdashers. A condition of the lease was that Lefcourt construct a building on the lot by November 1931, and Lefcourt did indeed fulfill that clause. Just prior to starting construction, Lefcourt's 17-year-old son Alan died of anemia. And thus not only the name of the building, but a bust of Alan over the portal, memorialized the son that he loved and doted on. 

The Brill brothers, who, remember, held the lease on the building, occupied a store at the base of the new building. Lefcourt's businesses suffered during The Depression and he soon defaulted on the lease and then died of a heart attack in 1932 at only 55 years old. The brothers took possession of the building and soon changed its name.

By the 1940's, musicians and businesses supporting music were the majority of tenants of the Brill Building, and eventually, it became a synecdoche for the pop music of the 50's and 60's. Musical life in those days inside the Brill Building, in the pursuit of hits on the radio and record sales,  was hectic. The Times once referred to the building as "the Art Deco sweatshop of smash hits on Broadway and 49th Street." 

In 2010, the Brill Building received landmark status, and if you're interested in the history and the architectural details of the building, you'll find the Landmarks Preservation Commission's report here

Recently, investors spend $25 million to modernize the building’s interior and restore the façade (and as the photo shows, it really looks good!) Nevertheless, more than half of its 150,000 square feet of offices remain vacant. 

Musically, the Brill Building isn't what it once was, and mostly much more mundane tenants now occupy what is rented. But a few famous names still have their offices in the building, Paul Simon for one. So you can hang out in front of the amazing entrance to 1619 Broadway, and if you see Paul Simon heading out to grab lunch at the nearby Majestic Deli, sing him a few bars of Why Don't You Write Me. 

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