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Author Topic: The Brill Building  (Read 908 times)

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The Brill Building
« on: January 01, 2010, 05:01:53 PM »

The Brill Building - this is a non-descript building in Manhattan, that for decades was a virtual nuclear reactor generating top hit pop songs. The connection to the Beatles is that in the year or two around 1960, when they got good, the very musicians the Beatles were listening to and trying to play and emulate in terms of writing were working in this building - Lieber and Stoller, Carole King and Gerry Goffin, Neil Sedaka, Phil Spector, Bobby Darrin - it's just incredible how this one building is tied into music as we know it.

Here is a link to a wiki article about the Brill Building  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brill_Building . And here is a little quote from Carole King describing the music writing scene inside:
"Every day we squeezed into our respective cubby holes with just enough room for a piano, a bench, and maybe a chair for the lyricist if you were lucky. You'd sit there and write and you could hear someone in the next cubby hole composing a song exactly like yours. The pressure in the Brill Building was really terrific — because Donny (Kirshner) would play one songwriter against another. He'd say: 'We need a new smash hit' — and we'd all go back and write a song and the next day we'd each audition for Bobby Vee's producer." — quoted in The Sociology of Rock by Simon Frith (1978, ISBN 0-09-460220-4).

Here is an article from yesterday's newspaper about the Brill Building:

December 30, 2009

WHAT if you ordered a memorial to your son, but it wound up with a haberdasher’s name? That’s what happened to the developer Abraham Lefcourt, who began the Alan E. Lefcourt Building at Broadway and 49th Street in 1930, a month after his teenage son’s death. Just above the door of the Art Deco structure is a bronze bust of the younger Lefcourt, although not a trace of the Lefcourt name remains. But 1619 Broadway is still world famous — as the Brill Building, a center of the music industry.

Abraham Lefcourt began as a shoeshine boy, but by the 1920s was a prominent developer, with millions of dollars in completed construction, much of it in the garment center. He had two children, Mildred and Alan, and was particularly devoted to the boy.

In 1914, when Alan was about 2, Lefcourt built a loft building on 37th Street under the name Alan Realty. And in 1925 he gave Alan, then 13, a $10 million property on 34th Street near Madison Avenue “to arouse his son’s interest in real estate,” The New York Times reported in 1930.

The land that became the home of the Brill Building had been owned since the 1910s by the Russell and Pyne families, prominent members of New York society. They leased the property, at the northwest corner of Broadway and 49th, to Brill Brothers, a men’s clothing store established in the 1880s.

In 1929, the Brills sublet the property to Lefcourt with the requirement that he build a structure to be completed no later than November 1931. Lefcourt announced his plan for the site on Oct. 3, 1929: the tallest building in the world, a $30 million, 1,050-foot-high skyscraper.

No plans were published or filed at the Department of Buildings, and it is difficult to conceive just how Lefcourt imagined the structure rising from its constricted 13,000-square-foot lot. He had jumped into a height race against the Chrysler Building, then under way on a plot of 37,000 square feet, and the Empire State Building, just about to begin on 91,000 square feet, and the upper floors of those projects were already considered far too small, after the space allotted to elevators and mechanical systems.

When the stock market crashed later that month, Lefcourt, like some other real estate men, saw a silver lining in the loss of millions of dollars in stock values. He believed that investors would desert Wall Street paper for the solidity of land.

But on Feb. 3, 1930, the ground under Lefcourt’s feet shifted when Alan, 17 years old, died of anemia. Perhaps Lefcourt had already decided he was not going to put up the world’s tallest building, or perhaps Alan’s death persuaded him to seize the day, but within a month he filed plans for a 10-story office structure, designed by the little-known Victor Bark Jr.

Bark’s drawings bear the name Alan E. Lefcourt Building in large letters, and show the chunky Art Deco building as built with tight bands of swirling ornament distributed over a conventional structure. It departs from normal in two statuary niches, one over the main door, and one at the parapet level. The upper niche is difficult to observe from the street, but appears to shelter the bust of a mature man, perhaps Abraham Lefcourt himself.

The lower niche, not more than 20 feet above the street, is in polished bronze, and definitely houses a bust of a young man, certainly Alan E. Lefcourt.

Published accounts indicate that the structure was finished by the spring of 1931, and known as the Lefcourt-Alan Building as late as November 1931. But according to David G. Transom, who managed it for many years, Lefcourt soon defaulted on his sublease, and the Brill Brothers took over the corner store in what was identified as the Brill Building as early as April 1932.

The earliest leasing announcements for the Brill Building refer only to ordinary businesses, but by the 1940s it was full of musicians. The composer Johnny Marks, who wrote “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” in 1949, had space in the Brill no later than 1950, and his firm, St. Nicholas Music, still has offices there, as does the singer Paul Simon. But there are fewer musicians in the Brill Building these days, and more filmmakers.

Lefcourt had less than a year to contemplate the vagaries of monuments and memory, for he died in December 1932. Although his obituary in The Times reported that as of 1928 he had a net worth exceeding $100 million, the petition for probate said he had no more than $2,500 left, none of it in real estate.

Every year millions walk past the monument to his grief, the unlabeled bronze bust of a young man staring out into the distance. The Landmarks Preservation Commission held a hearing on the landmark designation of the structure in October. At the hearing Ofer Yardeni, a principal of Stonehenge Partners, one of the owners, supported designation, which will surely come at some point in the near future.

That would certainly please Abraham Lefcourt, even though the designation report will undoubtedly read the Brill Building.


Imagine being in the Brill Building 1956-1962 or '63! I think I will make it a point to stop by there next time I'm in NY.

I love John,
I love Paul,
And George and Ringo,
I love them all!

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