Tower of Music
The Carl Fischer Music building dominated the skyline of Astor Place and Cooper Square for many decades. This 12-story building with its iconic sign along the north face is located across the street from Cooper Union and within the NoHo Historic District. For over seventy-five years it housed the printery and a retail store for the Carl Fischer Music company. The company’s founder, Carl Fischer, was born in Germany and immigrated to New York in 1872. He opened a musical instrument store on East 4th Street between First and Second Avenues, and soon expanded into sheet music publishing. By 1880 the company expanded to a larger space on Cooper Square, but it wasn’t until 1922 that the building we see today was built.
Designed by architect W.K. Benedict and constructed from 1922 to 1923 for the music company, 62 Cooper Square not only housed the administrative offices for the company and a sprawling retail store, but was also the site of production of the millions of copies of sheet music distributed world-wide. The music produced was wide-ranging, as the Landmarks Preservation Commission noted, “Having at first gained importance as a publisher of band music, including works by composers such as John Philip Sousa, Arthur Pryor, and Henry Fillmore, the firm later became one of the eminent publishers of orchestral music; acquisitions included works by composers such as Rachmaninoff, Fritz Kreisler, and Ernest Bloch.”
Though founder Carl Fischer died the same year that his firm moved into the newly constructed building on Cooper Square, his children retained management of the company and ran it from years to come.
The New York Times noted the retail store’s extensive holdings in a 1999 article:
“It’s a Library of Congress type store,” said Anna Moffo, the soprano. “You can’t find most of these things.” A copy of Handel’s “Messiah?” Carl Fischer sells not one edition, but seven. A copy of a song by the tuneful but obscure colonial composer William Billings, who wrote the “Over There” of the American Revolution? No problem: A box of Billings is slightly to the left of the “Messiahs.” A book of organ pieces for a pianist who has been pressed into playing an instrument with far more than three pedals? No problem: In the battered, battleship-gray filing cabinets against the back wall on the first floor is a book of arrangements by E. Power Biggs for manuals only — no pedal line.”
The building contained the company’s store, offices, and printing press until 1999 when Carl Fischer Music moved from the space – the building was then converted to condos. The Carl Fischer Music company is still headquartered in New York City – now down on Wall Street – but its distribution/printing operations have moved to Pennsylvania.
In 2006 the Carl Fischer building gained a shiny new undulating neighbor to the north — the Charles Gwathmey-designed ‘Sculpture for Living’ on Astor Place. Though partially obscured by the new building, the Carl Fischer building and sign sill make their presence known.