A Vincent Bach Road Trip
By Bill Siegfried
I first heard of Vincent Bach around 35 years ago when my trumpet teacher, Gilbert Mitchell, loaned me one of his old New York Bach catalogs to look over. Gil was a personal friend of Bach’s and had received his English Besson cornet, several experimental lead pipes and mouthpieces and the music library from the estate after Bach’s death in 1976. In the catalog was a fascinating article entitled “The Story of Vincent Bach” by Franklin Beal, which told of Bach’s extraordinary dual career as a mechanical engineer and musician. Also included in the article were photographs of each of his four factories and descriptions of their locations. As a fan of urban archaeology, I often wondered if those buildings were still there, so, on a recent trip to New York City, I decided to make some time to check it out. My brother Jim (Commander USN), whose ship was at the Brooklyn Marine Terminal for a few days, had some time off so he decided to come along. After an evening of hospitality aboard the “Texas Clipper” and a seafaring breakfast of eggs and sausage biscuits and coffee in the ships mess, Jim and I headed out to explore the city and seek out the locations of the factories. As we were pulling out of the terminal three of Jim’s crewmates hurried down the gangplank and asked if they could come along too. I told them what we were going to do and they said that would be great. A couple months at sea can make some finding some old trumpet factories on land seem like an adventure! I thought they might get bored but, actually they were very interested and helpful. One of the crewmembers described it as a “fun treasure hunt”. Here’s what we found.
Vincent Bach’s first workshop, from 1919-1922, was located at 204 E. 85th St. in New York’s Upper East Side. At the time it was a one story, wooden structure that looked somewhat dilapidated in the old picture. I doubted it would still be there but, sure enough it was. It has been built around and converted to a four story brick building which looks like it houses apartments in the upper levels. The original structure at street level is home to “Jacques Brasserie”, a modestly priced French restaurant.
Bach’s second factory at 241 E. 41st St. (1922-1928) was demolished in the 1920’s. The space is occupied by the modern day News Building. It was here that the first Bach trumpets and cornets were produced. The modern image was taken looking back the opposite direction from the original. Note the signpost which appears similar to the one in the older picture.
Bach’s third factory from 1928-1953 was located at 621 E. 216th St. Bronx, NY. Eight times larger than the previous facility, the first trombones were made here. Today it is home to the Church of Pentecost. Some men working at the church told me the interior of the building had been gutted many years ago and rebuilt for church purposes. The clock tower is still there but now contains the logo of the church.
Bach’s fourth and last factory was located at 50 South MacQueston Parkway in Mt. Vernon NY. I initially drove right past it as its appearance has changed significantly. The windows and main entrance have all been bricked in and there is security fencing around the perimeter. The people at the nearby auto repair shop said it was a jewelry factory that has since been vacated. It’s still identifiable as the original building by the shape of the different colored brick used to close up the glass areas, fire hydrants and entrance foyer. Even the tree branch on the left of the original photograph is still there.
After a couple hours of exploring, picture taking and lunch it was time for Jim and his shipmates to return to the Texas Clipper for duty. After dropping them off at the subway stop I continued north up the Bronx River Parkway to locate Bach’s home at 53 Highridge Rd. in Hartsdale, NY. Not wanting to pester the current residents or disturb the neighbors I just did a slow, respectful drive past the home and quietly took a few pictures.
Continuing north on the Bronx River Parkway I picked up the Taconic Parkway to locate Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla NY, where Vincent and his wife Esther Bach are interred. Kensico is also the final resting place for many famous people including Tommy Dorsey, Sergei Rachmaninov, Danny Kaye and Lou Gehrig. To locate the Bach grave site you head out of the administration office parking lot and enter the cemetery on Tecumseh. Turn right on Kahtadin and right on Narraganset. The small, black headstone is located near the Elks statue.
After paying proper respects I headed down to the nearby Station House Restaurant and had dinner and drank a private toast of Coors light to a man who came to this country with virtually nothing and built factories, provided jobs and created legendary musical instruments that are still the industry standard to this day. Salute!
Note- For-up-to-date directions use the addresses mentioned in this article at Mapquest.com to create your own Vincent Bach Road trip.
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