On August 3, 1973, the Mercer’s walls—which were structurally linked to a neighboring derelict hotel—had been ominously groaning all day. At 5:10, just twenty minutes before the first scheduled Friday evening performances, the hotel “fell like a pancake,” said fire chief John T. O’Hagan. The Magic Tramps were in their rehearsal space when the building began shaking, so Eric Emerson and his bandmates ran for their lives. Alan Vega happened to be walking down Mercer Street about an hour after the hotel fell, while the dust was still settling. “It looked like a bomb had been dropped on it,” he said. “You could see the Blue Room, where we used to play, and it was just surrounded by rubble.” Only part of the Mercer Arts Center building came down with the hotel, but the rest of it had to be torn down for safety reasons. The fall of the Broadway Central Hotel epitomized New York’s precarious condition in the 1970s, when the city was on the brink of bankruptcy, its infrastructure was crumbling, and crime was rampant. Those who witnessed the collapse recalled seeing rats fleeing the scene and fanning out into the streets; likewise, the artists and musicians who frequented Mercer’s scrambled to find new places to perform. During the dying days of glam rock, many of them began populating a Bowery bar that became known as CBGB, where the final act of this drama played out.
From Chapter 27 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore