The Grimm Den of the Beastie Boys: Hip-Hop Landmark If Ever There Was
The wooden structure was built in 1871 and run for a few years by Henry Grimm as a grocery, with apartments above. Grimm was foreclosed on and the building soon became The Boulevard House, a respite for travelers, reflecting the slow to develop state of upper Broadway (then known as the Boulevard).
Anthony also shared that, "in 1894, a German immigrant named Peter Doelger, a brewer who owned many saloons, bought the building. The bar was in front and a respectable restaurant in back. He lived at 280 Riverside right down the street. The saloon closed with Prohibition and became a seller of ladies' finery and then even a theater."
Interesting side note from the wonderful Forgotten New York: Peter Doelger was Mae West's uncle. So she may have lifted a pint or two there.
For more on Doelger, see this great post from the Daytonian in Manhattan.
At the time of the quizlet, neighbor Elizabeth del Alamo also quickly chimed in that the Grimm building is reputed to be the last wooden building in Manhattan. I haven't fact checked that but am sure she's right about it being the oldest on the UWS. Elizabeth recalled that the Grimm building was the subject of a New Yorker cartoon, probably from the early 1980s. I failed to find the cartoon and would love it if a reader would send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Emily Berleth told me that when she was a youngster, there was a pottery studio on the second floor where the salon is now.
I, of course, remember it in the late 1980s as La Tacita d'Oro. The album cover above and below depict Tacita faithfully. And I'd give anything to have their café con leche in my little golden cup again. The Metro Diner replaced it in 1993, and I recall that Tacita moved south before it shuttered completely about 12 or so years ago.
All these are great tidbits, but Jim Henderson topped them all with his tip off that this was where one of the first (white) hiphop supergroups -- the Beastie Boys -- had their inaugural concert on August 5, 1981, in founding member and guitarist John Berry's father's building on Adam Yauch's 17th birthday. John's father, also John, was a "1930s-style left-leaning intellectual with a serious work ethic" who was editor in chief of Library Journal" (p. 52 Beastie Boys Book). As a single dad, he gave his son a lot of leeway in terms of band practice but when he got home, the band stopped playing in deference to his intellectual downtime after work.
The bassist had his buddies over to practice in his third floor bedroom, and, according to Rolling Stone, the "first Beastie Boys shows took place at Berry’s old loft...where a small crowd gathered to hear the fledgling hardcore/punk band." The site popturf.com reported that that same evening "Dave Parsons of the Rat Cage record store said that he wanted to start recording bands, and asked the Beastie Boys if they were interested. They said yes, and the Polly Wog Stew EP was the result" and the Rat Cage label was born for what that is worth to music historians.
A great description appears in the new Beastie Boys Book:
"How do I even begin to describe this place? Start with the fact that it was an old, squat, three-story wooden structure in the middle of a concrete jungle, like someone had forgotten to tear the place down when they were building the rest of the modern city. Also, for a wood building, it was ancient, literally a hundred years old; it had been a saloon in the late 1800s -- before the streets up here were even f*&*ing paved -- and the place looked and felt like it hadn’t been touched since. It was a dilapidated, sagging, slant-roofed structure of rotting wood, parked in a sea of concrete, brick, and steel. At that point there was a greasy Cuban-Chinese restaurant on the ground floor (that’s right Cuban Chinese). John and his dad lived above the restaurant. John's bedroom, where we practiced, was the building's third-floor loft; the second floor was a single open room, but not like a glamorous designer loft. Large windows were set in rotting and splintered wooden frames. Fading and chipped paint covered the clapboard. Every piece of furniture looked like it had been found on the street.... Framed picture of Che Guevara, books on Lenin and Trotsky, and pamphlets about the IRA lay around the house.... Upper Broadway at that time was like a multicultural mixtape. Salsa blaring on one block, a JVC boombox playing rap outside a housing project on the next, sounds of AM broadcasts from Panasonic clock radios coming out to the opened windows on the next. Across 100th Street from John's place was the large residential hotel -- politely known as an SRO (single-room occupancy) building, and impolitely known as a flophouse....The constant hubbub across the street worked out well for us...because it allowed us to play music as loud as we wanted....We were pretty far down the precinct to-do list. So we'd just set up and practice after school on the third floor....When we weren't actually practicing, our whole cast of characters just hung out and played music full blast... [For the inaugural 1981 makeshift concert] maybe two dozen people showed up. Us. the Bag Ladies, a few of Yauch's oldest friends, and Dave Parsons and his girlfriend, Cathy, from a newly opened and really cool downtown record store called Rat Cage." (pp. 51-55, Beastie Boys Book)
Berry was sometimes credited for coming up with the name for the group which, perhaps tongue-in-cheekily, was said to be an acronym for "Boys Entering Anarchistic States Towards Inner Excellence." Other early members included Kate Schellenbach, "Mike D" aka Michael Diamond, and "MCA" aka Adam Yauch. "Ad-Rock" (Adam Horovitz) joined later after the departure of Berry and Schellenbach.
The Grimm building was also the location where, again thanks to the Berrys, Beastie side-project Big Fat Love formed in 1984. The structure in all its wabi-sabi greatness was featured on their album "Hell House" in an illustration on front and in a photo on the back. An homage to the building (was it in fact the hell house?) appeared in the album's liner notes:
"Big Fat Love's sound is unlike any other Beastie Boys side-project and may take a few listens before one gets into it or out of it, as the case may be. The music though is a wonderful document to just how creatively diverse this group of musicians could be. When people ask about this period in the band's history, Thomas Beller described it best in the liner notes: "Big Fat Love was organized around a particular living space, in this case a house, where several of the band members lived and where, in the mid-80's, an amorphous and slightly derelict group of people spent time. Big Fat Love didn't move to the house as a band, they just sprung up out of the house the way that, in the right conditions, a random bit of plant life springs up from a crack in the sidewalk." (Quoted from the site Beastiemania.com; also more here.).
Sadly John Berry died at the age of 52 in 2016.
If you weren't a Beasties fan, you might at least recall their top Billboard hit "(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)" in 1987. Their place in rap history was sealed forever by the success of the album "Licensed to Ill" which was the first rap album to hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart.
If you were a fan, you might enjoy the audio embedded below from the NPR radio show "Wait wait...don't tell me" that I heard on December 22. It seems the surviving members have a new book out. The last of the beasts now tamed, the boys have turned to men, less anarchic and ever so slightly more capitalistic, now packing a license to shill.
Times change. The Grimm building has remained, but the scary part is that this wooden relic is not landmarked. So, stay tuned for next week's continued homage to the Building Grimm.
I hope the Grimm building will endure given the New York miracle that it's pushing 147 years old without landmark status.
Many thanks to all the above readers for chiming in. Clearly, this building has captivated many of us, if not the powers that be at LPC!
Note: If you are reading this via an email subscription, you'll have to click on the blog post title to listen to the radio audio.