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Guide to the Larry Levan and Mel Cheren Collection on the Paradise Garage MSS.483

Fales Library and Special Collections
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
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New York, NY 10012
Phone: (212) 998-2596
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Fales Library and Special Collections

Collection processed by Stacey Flatt.

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on October 06, 2017
Finding aid written in English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Descriptive Summary

Creator: Levan, Larry
Creator: Cheren, Mel
Title: Larry Levan and Mel Cheren Collection on the Paradise Garage
Dates [inclusive]: circa 1954-2006
Dates [bulk]: 1977-1992
Abstract: The Paradise Garage was a discotheque in New York City from 1977 to 1987, notable in the history of modern dance and house music, as well as LGBT and nightclub cultures. Resident club DJ Larry Levan was known for his mixing, which evolved from disco to the house music sound, and Mel Cheren was a financial backer of the club and CEO of West End Records. This collection contains material accumulated by both Levan and Cheren related to the club and their outside work in the DJ and house music industry in New York. Club materials include images of club-goers and performers, tickets and rule list, event announcements/flyers, clippings, and a neon sign with the club's logo. Levan-related materials includes album press kits, fan mail, clippings, personal photographs, funeral-related, and event invitations. Cheren's West End Record Company press kits with album lists, display panels illustrating the club's history, and his disco book events/related lecture announcements are also included in this collection.
Quantity: 11.25 Linear Feet in 1 manuscript box, one half manuscript box, 8 display boards, and 1 large sign in a case
Language: Materials are in English.
Call Phrase: MSS.483

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Biographical / Historical

The Paradise Garage, also known as "the Garage" or the "Gay-rage," was a discotheque in New York City, located at 84 King Street, in the Hudson Square neighborhood. The club is notable in the history of modern dance and house music, as well as LGBT and nightclub cultures. Founded by Michael Brody, with financial support from record executive Mel Cheren, the club open in 1977 and closed after a 48 hour party in September 1987. The Paradise Garage's business model was largely inspired by David Mancuso’s private, invitation-only DJ parties at The Loft in New York City: no liquor was served, there were no sales of food or beverages, and the club was not open to the general public. Unlike other clubs of its time, the Paradise Garage was focused on dancing, with the DJ as the center of attention. The club also hosted live performances with notable musicians, including Diana Ross and Madonna. In 1979, Tim Curry released the album Fearless, containing the single, "Paradise Garage," whose lyrics narrate visiting the club. Larry Levan was the resident DJ for the Paradise Garage from 1977 to 1987. Levan was known for his use of drum machines and synthesizers in his productions and live sets, eventually moving away from disco and developing more of a house music sound during the late 1970s and 1980s. He became so popular, his late-night sessions were known as “Saturday Mass.” He also produced and mixed albums for himself and other artists and DJs. Levan passed away in 1992 at the age of 38. Mel Cheren was the main financial backer for the Paradise Garage and recording executive for West End Records, known for its development of disco and house music artists. The company released many of DJ Larry Levan’s albums, but also included other musical successes such as "Sessomatto" by Sesso Matto, "Heartbeat" by Taana Gardner (remixed by Levan), and "Don’t Make Me Wait" by the Peech Boys (produced by Levan). In the late 1990s, the record company posthumously released one of Larry Levan's DJ sets, recorded live at the Paradise Garage in 1979. Cherin also published a book in 2000 on the rise and fall of the club,  Keep on Dancin’: My Life and the Paradise Garage, which included the history of the Paradise Garage and DJ Larry Levan. After the book's release, Cheren was often requested to participate in panel discussions related to the club, and development of disco and house music. Cherin passed away in 2007.

Sources: "Memories of the Paradise Garage, From Those Who Danced There," nytimes.com, May 9, 2014
"'He was like the Messiah': Larry Levan, the DJ who changed dance music forever,"  The Guardian, March 28, 2016
 New York Times obituary, December 21, 2007 "Mel Cheren: 'Godfather of disco,'"  The Independent, January 11, 2008

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Scope and Contents

This collection contains material accumulated by both Levan and Cheren related to the club, including photographs, slides, and negatives of club-goers dancing and posing, DJ Larry Levan, club financial backer Mel Cheren, and various club performers. Event flyers, tickets, clippings, club rule list, and a neon sign with the iconic club logo are also included in this collection, illustrating the New York City gay club scene during the 1970s and 1980s, and documenting its transition from disco to DJ-driven house music. This collection also contains clippings, fan mail, and personal photographs from the 1950s through the 1990s, related to club DJ Larry Levan, along with announcements for annual tribute events hosted by fans after his 1992 death. Press kits, announcements, and album listings generated by West End Records relate not only to releases of various Levan albums, but also smaller, lesser-known DJs and performers during this time who were active in New York. The collection also includes announcements and clippings regarding the release of Mel Cheren's book, Keep on Dancin’: My Life and the Paradise Garage.

Arrangement

This collection has not been arranged by an archivist. The materials are arranged in the order in which they were received from the donor.

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Access Points

Document Type

  • Clippings (information artifacts)
  • Press kits.
  • Press releases.
  • Black-and-white photographs.
  • Color photographs.
  • Color slides.
  • Negatives.

Subject Organizations

  • Paradise Garage (Discotheque)

Subject Topics

  • Gay discotheques -- New York (State) -- New York.
  • Gay men -- United States.
  • Electronic dance music.
  • House music.
  • Disco music.
  • Gay men -- United States -- Social life and customs.
  • Gay business enterprises -- New York (State) -- New York
  • Popular music -- 1971-1980.
  • Popular music -- 1981-1990.
  • Disc jockeys.

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Administrative Information

Custodial History

The material was in the possession of Larry Levan until his death in 1992, when ownership was taken over, and augmented by friend and Paradise Garage financial backer, Mel Cheren. Upon Cheren's death in 2007, the material's was transferred to Cheren's friend Bryan Raughton, who kept it in his apartment in NYC until it was given to the NYU Fales Library and Special Collections, February 2017.

Conditions Governing Access

Open to researchers. Appointments are necessary for the use of manuscript and archival collections. Curatorial assistance is required for access to the club's sign and the exhibit panels in this collection.

Conditions Governing Use

NYU's Fales Library & Special Collections is not the copyright owner for this collection. Collection use is subject to all copyright laws. Researchers wishing to reproduce collection material should contact rights holders for permission.

Preferred Citation

Identification of item, date; Larry Levan and Mel Cheren Collection on the Paradise Garage; MSS 483; box number; folder number; Fales Library and Special Collections, New York University.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Bryan Raughton in February, 2017; the accession number associated with this gift if 2017.028.

Processing Information

At the time of accessioning, when necessary, material was removed from 3-ring binders and placed in folders. Loose material was placed in folders. All folders were then placed into archival housing and described to the folder level.

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Container List

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 1 Folder : 1 Event Poster with Paradise Garage Logo
June 2, 2000
Box: 1 Folder : 2 "Larry is Still Alive" Stickers
circa 1992-2006
Box: 1 Folder : 3 Paradise Garage Press Kit with Larry Levan Remembrances and Mel Cheren Interview
circa 2007
Box: 1 Folder : 4 Larry Levan in DJ Booth, Dancing Club Crowd, and Grace Jones (photographic negatives)
circa 1977-1987
Box: 1 Folder : 5 Mel Cheren-related Event Announcements
2005, undated
Box: 1 Folder : 6 Performer at Paradise Garage(?) (slides)
September 9, 1998
Box: 1 Folder : 7 Larry Levan (photographs, negatives, slide)
circa 1977-1992
Box: 1 Folder : 8 West End Records Press Releases, Clippings, Poster on Release of Larry Levan Remixes and Other Artists
1999
Box: 1 Folder : 9-10 Scrapbook/Photograph Album (disassembled)
circa 1954-1994
Box: 1 Folder : 11-14 (Mixed Materials (31142063292554)) Scrapbook/Album (disassembled): "Paradise Garage History"
circa 1960s, 1977-2002
Box: 2 Folder : 1-4 (Mixed Materials (31142063292562))
Object: 3 Display Panels on History of Paradise Garage

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

Curatorial assistance is required to access this item.

circa 2000
Object: 4 Original Neon Sign from Paradise Garage Club Building

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

Curatorial assistance is required to access this item.

circa 1977

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