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Potential Sale Threatens Hip-Hop Landmark

Hip-hop pioneer DJ Kool Herc is fighting a plan to bring the Bronx building known as the birthplace of hip-hop out of rent-controlled status.
Hip-hop pioneer DJ Kool Herc is fighting a plan to bring the Bronx building known as the birthplace of hip-hop out of rent-controlled status. (By Chris Hondros -- Getty Images)

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By Robin Shulman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 16, 2008

NEW YORK -- The rec room at 1520 Sedgwick Ave. in the Bronx looks like any other in a New York City apartment building -- fluorescent lights, orange tile floors and thick square pillars.

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But in this room in 1973, a kid who had spun records at his sister's parties started mixing from one turntable to another, extending the break beats that made people dance, shouting out his friends' names as they moved, talking over the sound.

In this room, musicians and historians say, the 18-year-old who answered to the name DJ Kool Herc invented hip-hop.

Now the building may be sold to a high-profile investor, and tenants -- some of whom have been around long enough to remember those early hip-hop parties -- fear that they could lose their affordable rents, and perhaps their apartments.

Kool Herc, who turns 53 today, has come back to lobby against the sale and will hold a fundraiser later this month at the Hip Hop Culture Center in Harlem to help residents buy the property themselves.

"Just like the Grand Ole Opry, just like Graceland, just like the Apollo, hip-hop is part of the American folk dance," Herc said. "It came from this building. That should be respected."

In July, the building became eligible for state and national historic registers as "the birthplace of hip-hop," although it is less than 50 years old, the usual cutoff.

And in an unprecedented move last month, city officials rejected the proposed sale, saying its financing was not viable because of rent restrictions on the building imposed by a state program that subsidizes landlords. Still, the owners may make a new deal that is acceptable to the city, so the building's future remains uncertain.

The landlords announced long ago that they intended to withdraw the building from the state program, but neither they nor would-be buyer Mark Karasick have announced their plans.

"Everyone wants to know what's going to happen," resident Gloria Robinson said at a tenants' association meeting in the rec room, adding that a fundraising effort is underway at Save1520.org. "We're hoping they sell it to us."

Karasick told tenant advocates in January that he would step out of the deal for $14 million, said Dina Levy of the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board, a nonprofit housing advocacy group. The building's assessed value is $7.5 million.

Karasick's secretary said he would not comment.

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