Do you remember 1520 Sedgwick Ave.?

Don’t feel bad if your answer to the above question is "No." I certainly didn’t until I read the article in today’s New York Times which explains the critical role that this nondescript apartment complex in the Bronx, N.Y. played in the history of our pop culture. Thirty-four years ago, it seems, a Jamaica-born teen who called himself DJ Kool Herc started playing with some vinyl platters for friends and neighbors who’d gathered in a room on the building’s first floor; looking back, it’s clear that Herc’s early party tricks — years before Grandmaster Flash or Grand Wizard Theodore touched their first turntables—directly gave rise to what we now know as hip-hop music. Despite Kool Herc’s deserved profile as an elder statesman of rap, the building itself has largely faded into obscurity. Now, the Times reports, local residents are trying to get 1520 Sedgwick recognized as a historical landmark.

The Times piece is a fascinating read for a number of reasons. The activists’ real focus, it turns out, is something more urgent than music: While 1520 Sedgwick currently provides affordable housing for low-income families, its owners have taken actions which suggest they may be planning to force current residents out and find wealthier tenants. Official landmark status, however, would prevent them from making "any change that would affect [the building's] character." So this is really a story about the creeping march of gentrification. And that insidious force, after all, doesn’t just push out people who happen to have less financial agency — it also pushes out the unique, vibrant pop-cultural niches that give a city its mosaic identity.

Even without gentrification, though, our collective memories have a wayof erasing themselves. I grew up just three or four miles from thisstoried building without being aware of its existence; indeed, who knewthere was a specific, mappable location where hip-hop was born? TheTimes article makes it clear that even these community organizers hadno knowledge of 1520 Sedgwick Ave.’s significance until some chanceGoogling led them to online references to Herc’s work. We’re all luckythat they realized they were sitting on a piece of history. But whatother, equally important historical locations are we letting slip away?

What do you think, PopWatchers? Are you aware of any unsung pop-culture sites that are in danger of being forgotten?

Comments (8 total) Add your comment
  • Slimjimmy

    Sorry, have to point out it was 34 years ago.

  • stacydarc

    Cool! I lived at 2725 Sedgewick Avenue (a building I believe has been knocked down)from 1966-1975 and had no idea ’til today what was going on up the street. True, I was 9 when we left. A little early for basement parties. My older brother, whose ignorance of hip-hop is so deep he asked me THIS YEAR “so explain to me what this gangsta wrap stuff is all about”, will be delighted with our new found street cred.

  • EP Sato

    The excorcist stairs are in Georgetown and no one in this “city” (DC) seems to know where they are. Yet when Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright and Nick Frost came here to promote Shaun of the Dead, it’s the first thing they asked the audience about. By a show of hands my azz was the only one in the crowd to have walked them. But I digress.
    I heard Coney’s island was getting turned into condos. Where the Heck are the Warriors going to claim home turf now? Can you dig it?
    And some love to NYC. The loss of your twin towers wasn’t just an awful tragedy that cost the lives of friends and loved ones, the loss of the towers was also theft of collective memories from our shared American culture. Snake Plissken’s landing strip, the beginning montage of the Sopranos, and King Kong’s last stand, just to name a few. Those towers inspired dreams and represnted to many the image of NYC. Sorry to reopen an old wound, but we can’t ignore how important those towers were to popular culture.

  • Ep Sato

    Was my Towers comment a buzzkill or something? How come no one’s got any more goodies on this? I know some of you fellow readers live in cool places! Maybe a house where a movie was filmed, maybe you went to school where a Hughes movie was filmed.

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  • holly

    does anyone have an e-mail address for D.J.Cool Herc?

  • EDWARD HOLLIDAY

    I LIVED IN 1520 FOR 19 YEARS. EVERYBODY KNEW THE HOLLIDAY FAMILY. I GREW UP AROUND KOOL HERC. I WAS THERE WHEN WE USED TO HAVE THE PARTIES IN THE COMMUNITY ROOM AND ALL THE LITTLE KIDS USED TO PLAY IN THE BACK OF THE BUILDING. WHEN KOOL HERC VENTURED OFF TO FAME HE HAD TO PASS THE TORCH DOWN TO SOMEONE WHO KNEW WHAT THEY WERE DOING. THAT PERSON WAS JERRY LEADER. HE TOOK OVER WHEN HERC LEFT. WE USED TO HAVE BATTLES IN 1600’s PARK AND JERRY WOULD ALWAYS WIN. OUR BLOCK PARTIES WOULD BRING PEOPLE FROM ALL OVER. EVRYBODY THAT WAS SOMEBODY ON SEDGWICK AVE WOULD BE THERE. WE WOULD HAVE PEOPLE FROM UNDERCLIFF, RIVER PARK TOWERS, EVEN UNIVERSITY AVE. COMING TO LISTEN TO ALL OF THEIR FAVORITE HITS BE PLAYED LIKE YOU’VE NEVER HEARD. NOW THOSE WERE GOOD TIMES TO REMEMBER.

  • Abigail

    I just found an old 45 that B J Allen sent to me from 1600 Sedgwick ave. Is that in the same block area? Was there a recording studio there?

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