If ghosts paid the rent, Eric Hadar would have an all-star tenancy: Freddy Bienstock, Johnny Burke, Cab Calloway, Nat King Cole, Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington and Jimmy Van Heusen, to name a few. Not to mention J.J. Hunsecker and Danny Rose.
The Brill Building, at 49th Street and Broadway, currently stands more than half empty, after the closing last year of Colony Records and the Sound One postproduction studio.
But ghosts do not pay the rent. Neither do fictional characters. Their onetime home, the Brill Building, 1619 Broadway, at West 49th Street, now stands more than half empty, after the closing last year of Colony Recordsand the Sound One postproduction studio.
Mr. Hadar, the chairman of Allied Partners, a private real estate investment company, believes he can breathe life back into the Brill Building by evoking its show business past. He paid $185 million for the 11-story landmark in February.
For starters, he is in discussions with the Songwriters Hall of Fame — a 44-year-old organization with plenty of fame but no hall — about establishing a small museum in the Brill Building, where songwriters once swarmed to stake out the 80 or 90 music publishers or catch the attention of entertainers whose offices were there. The songwriters group will also curate a permanent exhibition in the lobby.
Irwin Z. Robinson, the chairman of the National Music Publishers’ Association, briefly had an office in the 11th-floor penthouse suite leased to Mr. Bienstock, who was closely associated with Elvis Presley. Mr. Robinson recalled certain songwriters, naming no names, who would knock on enough doors at the Brill that they would end up with a couple of buyers, meaning that two or three publishers owned 100 percent of their songs.
The tale was greeted with amusement by two celebrated songwriters, Jimmy Webb (“By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Wichita Lineman, “Up, Up and Away”) and Desmond Child(“Livin’ la Vida Loca,” “You Give Love a Bad Name,” “Angel”), who were visiting the building with Mr. Robinson and Mr. Hadar.
Standing in the gleaming, mirrored lobby, Mr. Webb said, “It’s like the physical manifestation of the Songwriters Hall of Fame.” He is the organization’s chairman.
Mr. Hadar said he was prepared to spend $50 million or more to finance, renovate, repair, maintain and lease the Brill Building.
“I would like to get a premium in rents by developing a building that’s exciting because of the people who are in there,” he said.
Though the building was designated an official landmark in 2010, it scarcely stands out these days on Broadway, especially without Colony Records. Its other retail space, where Jack Dempsey’s Restaurant did business from 1937 to 1974, is also dark.
The Brill Building is still home to three important show-business offices: Paul Simon, an inductee of the Songwriters Hall of Fame; Broadway Video Entertainment, a production, postproduction, marketing and distribution company led by Lorne Michaels; and Key Brand Entertainment, which develops touring theatrical productions.
There is also at least one remnant of the days when the Brill Building was a kind of vertical Tin Pan Alley. On the sixth floor, a visitor can find “St. Nicholas Music Inc.,” as the hand-painted gold-leaf letters proclaim on the transom over a door with chicken-wire frosted glass, brass hardware and a mail slot. This is the company that licenses “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” 64 years after Johnny Marks wrote it.