Though it looks like any fluorescent-lit church basement, community center or public school teacher's lounge, the basement of 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx's Morris Heights neighborhood has a monumental history. It was on this unlikely linoleum floor, under the workaday dropped ceiling, that Clive Campbell a.k.a. DJ Kool Herc first set up the turntables and guitar amp that gave life to what is known now as the sound system and hip-hop music.
"He was the guy who first laid it down and played it for a party crowd," says hip-hop historian Marcus Reeves.
Many consider 1520 Sedgwick hallowed ground. But in 2008, an investment group reportedly led by real estate investor Mark Karasick purchased the basement community room and the 100-unit 18-story building above it from New York City. After Karasick bought the building and the housing bubble burst, the building's tenants reported rats, cracked walls and a largely unmaintained building.
Though he was surely not present at DJ Kool Herc's 1973 "back to school jam," Mayor Michael Bloomberg's office took issue with the building's poor living conditions and said the investment group's purchase of 1520 Sedgwick was an attempt to evict its tenants, raise rents and ride the wave of South Bronx gentrification all the way to the bank. The city decided to give funds to two companies so they could take over the mortgage of 1520 Sedgwick. A $750 million program, which Mayor Bloomberg announced in January would aid "distressed multifamily buildings," allowed the New York City Housing Development Corporation to approve a $5.6 million loan to WinnResidential and Workforce Housing Advisors, the companies which purchased the building's mortgage.
Sen. Charles Schumer and Rep. José Serrano also threw their political support behind funding the city's efforts to save the building, and the city council pledged $3 million towards building repairs for fiscal year 2011.
Saving the building is a relief to many, least of all hip-hop heads who know what happened in the building's basement. Reeves says he is pleased with the developments because the city is recognizing the place where hip-hop was born. "They're going to care about the working class history of the building and hip-hop is a part of that," Reeves says.
Check out a slideshow of where hip-hop was born below. The images of the building were taken this past March by Brooklyn Bodega.