In 2005, hip-hop pioneers DJ Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, Grandmaster Caz, Melle Mel and more, lent their names and likenesses to a vintage hip-hop clothing company called Sedgwick & Cedar. The press release for the company told this story: "on August 11, 1973, DJ Kool Herc's sister Cindy Campbell decided to throw a back to school party in her building's small rec room at 1520 Sedgwick Ave. Kool Herc introduced extended break beats, which mesmerized the jam packed crowd. Soon, he had to take the party outside and down the street to Cedar Park, drawing thousands throughout the night to see the birth of the art form." From the one building, that art form saturated the world.
Now, 34-years later, the NY Times delves in to what will happen to the birthplace of hip-hop once gentrification has its way with it. They revisit 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx with Clive Campbell, aka DJ Kool Herc (who incidentally deejayed the Dance Parade Saturday), and he points out that “this is it. The culture started here and went around the world. But this is where it came from. Not anyplace else.” The building is a high-rise just north of the Cross Bronx Expressway, and just as building owners under the Mitchell-Lama program in other areas have been opting out to charge higher rents on the open market, this Sedgwick Ave building may meet the same fate.
Could having the building be declared a landmark keep it affordable for moderate-income families? This is what many are hoping, though preservationists doubt it will help the current tenants, only the building itself.
“It is complicated when you try to preserve some other feature of a building besides its architecture,” said Lisa Kersavage, a preservationist at the Municipal Art Society of New York. “But this is a very important cultural touchstone for New York, and awareness should be raised.”
Cindy Campbell will try, however. The Times reports that "she hopes that by highlighting the history of the building, where her family lived for nine years, she might be able to enlist big-name rappers to Mayor Bloomberg in her campaign to help the tenants," despite the fact the building falls 12 years short of being eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.
Photo of Sedgwick Ave via Nudnik N Da Hood's Flickr.