THE National Academy of Popular Music's Songwriters' Hall of Fame is searching for a home. The organization, in the words of its president, lyricist Sammy Cahn, is dedicated to ``those gifted people who have given us so many pleasurable moments over the years.'' The Hall of Fame, with its vast collection of memorabilia, including sheet music, books, recordings, and tapes, was housed in a building at One Times Square, appropriately located at the center of New York's theater district, until the building was sold in 1983. Since then, most of the items have been placed in storage, and others, including Mr. Cahn's four Oscars and one Emmy (the only Emmy ever awarded for a song, ``Love and Marriage'' from Thornton Wilder's ``Our Town'') are on display at the Symphony Cafe, a posh new restaurant in midtown.
Cahn, who took over the job of heading the Songwriter's Hall of Fame from fellow songwriter Johnny Mercer, said in an interview at the Symphony Cafe, ``Mercer was dying, and he asked me to take over. I promised I would. So your article might be called `Still Keeping the Promise.' I don't know if the ghost of Mercer is hanging over us - I can't explain it - because every time we come to a disastrous predicament, an angel appears.''
In this case the angel was Linda Amiel, spokesperson for the restaurant, who came up with the idea of housing the memorabilia temporarily at the Symphony Cafe. But Cahn has dreams for a permanent museum for the Songwriters' Hall of Fame.
``We had the architect I.M. Pei make a set of plans for us. That'll be my crowning achievement ..., the ribbon cutting for that place.''
Meanwhile, the Songwriters' Hall of Fame held a gigantic 20th-anniversary celebration last month at Radio City Music Hall. Entitled ``The Magic of Music,'' it was created by Al Masini and Dick Clark and Anita Baker were the co-hosts.
The program, which was taped for television, will air as a special Thursday (CBS, 9-11 p.m., check local listings), featured a vast array of singers (including Gregory Abbott, Paula Abdul, Freddie Jackson, Quincy Jones, Patti LaBelle, Liza Minnelli, Anthony Newley, Tiffany, and Judy Collins) and composers (Burt Bacharach, Cy Coleman, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, Jule Styne, Lamont Dozier, and others).
Cahn was thrilled that the show included so many of the younger singers, ``To see the young people singing `All the Things You Are,' and all the great, great songs - it's eye-opening.''
But he doesn't mean to imply that there aren't any great songs any more. In fact, he said, ``Whatever the No. 1 song is, I wish my name were on it. I mean that most sincerely. If it's No. 1, it pleases a lot of people. Isn't that the whole idea of creativity - to please people?''
Even though there are those who believe that the quality of songwriting has diminished since the heyday of the Cole Porters and George Gershwins, Cahn says, ``The natural process goes on - we're replaced.''
And some of those replacements will eventually find their names alongside those of current member ranging from Irving Berlin to Stevie Wonder in the Songwriters' Hall of Fame.