Dazedly dodging Times Square crowds in the numbing cold of mid-February I found myself at 7th Avenue and West 46th Street, home on the ground floor at least to the TSQ Brasserie, which, I gather, has absolutely nothing to do with the other restaurants in Midtown named “Brasserie,” and there are a number of them in NYC, though I seem to remember an upscale original in business in the 1960s and 1970s. The term began in Paris, where ‘brasserie’ first referred to a relaxed-setting restaurant operating with fixed prices for meals.
Passing right next to the building (723 7th Avenue), I was at first perplexed by a number of circular plaques above the ground floor bearing the initials “RC.” I needn’t really have been, as there exists fairly substantial research available about this building. As a matter of fact, I had written about this very structure before:
What used to be called the Powers Building, #723 7th Avenue, is on the northwest corner. It’s an ordinary medium-size building, nothing out of the ordinary, the kind of thing The Fountainhead‘s Peter Keating would design. There have apparently been several experiments in electrical engineering that went on early in the early 20th Century, and later the building was home to Associated Recording Studios beginning in 1961 and continuing to 1985. Some of the biggest names in the biz, and stars from other fields giving music or spoken word recordings a whirl, have cut records there including [according to wikipedia]:
Al Caiola, Al Hirt, Al Martino, Albert Einstein, Andy Williams, Archie Bleyer, Art Garfunkel, Arthur Godfrey, Barbra Streisand, Barry Manilow, Barry Mann, Bette Midler, Beverly Ross, Bill Charlap, Blood Sweat & Tears, Bo Diddley, Bob Hilliard, Bobby “Boris” Pickett, Bobby Darin, Bobby Goldsboro,Brian Hyland, Bryan Adams, Burl Ives, Burt Bacharach, Buster Poindexter, Carole King, Cat Stevens, Charles Strouse, Charlie Tobias, Connie Francis, Cy Coleman, Danny Davis, Danny Kaye, Dave Blum Trio, Dee Dee Warwick, Dick Van Dyke, Dionne Warwick, Doc Pomus, Don Costa, Donnie Hathaway, Duo Tones, Eleanor Steber, Ellie Greenwich, Elvis Costello, Ethel Merman, Eydie Gorme, Fats Domino, Firefly (Brooklyn local folk-pop band), Frank Sinatra, Gene Autry, Gerry Mulligan, Ginger Rogers, Gwen Verdon, Hal David, Hank Williams Jr., Henry Mancini, Herb Alpert, Herbie Hancock, Hoagy Carmichael, Howard Greenfield, Ike & Tina Turner, Jack Keller, Jake LaMotta, Janis Ian, Jerry Herman, Jerry Keller, Jo Jo Starbuck, Joe Harnell, John Sebastian, John Wayne, Johnny Marks, Jonathan Winters, Jule Styne, Kay Starr, Kenny Karen, Kenny Rogers, King Curtis, Leiber & Stoller, Leslie Gore, Lewis & Clark, Liza Minnelli, Louis Jordan, Marlene VerPlanck, Mary Ford, Mary Martin, Melba Moore, Mickey & Sylvia, Miles Davis, Milton DeLugg, Mitch Miller, Moose Charlap, Mort Shuman, Napoleon XIV, Neil Diamond, Neil Sedaka, Norman Bergen, Noro Morales, Ornette Coleman, Oscar Brand, Oscar Peterson, Otis Blackwell, Pat Boone, Patti Duke, Patti Page, Paul Evans, Paul Robeson, Paul Simon, Peggy Fleming, Peggy Lee, Perry Como, Pete Fountain, Pete Seeger/The Weavers, Peter Criss, Peter Duchin, Peter Dunfield, Peter Nero, Peter, Paul and Mary, Petula Clark, Pierre Brunet, Pink Floyd, Polly Bergen, Prairie League, Ricky Dee, Roberta Flack, Rocky Graziano, Rod McKuen, Ron Dante, Sandy Stewart, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Sheb Wooley, Shel Silverstein, Sherman Edwards, Stan Lebowski, Steely Dan, Steve Allen, Steve Lawrence, Steve Neilson, Teresa Brewer, Terry Bradshaw, The Bell Notes, The Belmonts, The Chipmunks, The Delphonics, The Four Lads, The Four Seasons, The Kalin Twins, The Ronettes, The Shirelles, The Three Suns, Thelonious Monk, Tiny Tim, Tito Puente, Tom Glazer, Tommy Edwards, Vic Damone, Walter Carlos, Woody Guthrie.
That’s quite an entertainment roster — you could have booked one of the old Jerry Lewis muscular dystrophy telethons with that bunch. But that doesn’t get down to the matter of who Powers was, or what “RC” stands for. That’s where I bring in the Indispensable Walter Grutchfield. I’ve never met him — but I have been in his presence at a Frank Jump book reading a few years ago. Somehow, he and Daytonian in Manhattan‘s Tom Miller are able to ferret out minutiae that I haven’t the wherewithal — or just the will — to uncover. FNY is always in their debt.
Both Powers, and the RC plaques, have their origins in the company the building was constructed in 1921. This was the home of the Film Booking Offices of America, one of the United States’ first motion picture studios, in business from 1918 to 1928 when it merged with other entities (RKO Pictures emerged from this). On the board of directors was Joseph P. Kennedy, father of future President John F. The company was a pioneer in sound pictures, and the first nom-musical “Talkie,” The Perfect Crime, was released in 1928.
FBO was the American arm of the British studio Robertson-Cole, begun in 1918 by the British Harry Robertson and American Rufus Sidman Cole as a film export business. Irish immigrant Patrick Anthony Powers was a production head at Robertson-Cole from 1923-1924 at its Hollywood offices, where he helped develop one of the first motion picture sound synchronizers, the Powers Cinephone Equipment Corp. Powers’ own company, Powers Film Products, shared space at 723 7th Avenue with FBO.
There are worlds on top of worlds in NYC, and dusty plaques on old buildings can serve as the means of entering them.