Pravda: The SoHo Nightclub That Never Was

October 1, 2018

Rudolf Pieper, Jim Fourrat and friends (including Janis Savitt) at Pravda, 43 Crosby Street (image: Allan Tannenbaum)

“We should have seen the end coming because in ’79 this club called Pravda was scheduled to open on Crosby Street,” says writer and music critic Peter Occhiogrosso in a recent conversation with the late Stephen Saban, legendary chronicler of New York nightlife, with whom he worked at the SoHo Weekly News. The “end” to which Occhiogrosso refers, is the end of artists’ SoHo.

Pravda, an arts venue or nightclub (depending on who you ask), was a collaboration between stockbroker-turned-restauranteur-turned-nightclub-owner Rudolf Pieper and Jim Fourrat, the duo behind Danceteria, one of the hottest New York nightclubs of the 1980s. Slated to open in late-1979, Pravda opened for one night, November 8, and for one night only. Regardless of its ill fate, however, the venue and its failed opening symbolized a sea change in SoHo, as it straddled a line between the SoHo art world of the 1970’s that had already begun to fade and the glitzy glamour of the 1980’s fame and fashion world to come.

Ron Lusker and Rudolf Pieper of Pravda (photo: Allan Tannenbaum for SoHo Weekly News)

Residents of SoHo, as well as New York club scene insiders, had heard about Pravda long before it (almost) opened. The was a buzz around the project from the beginning. Fourret was the booker for Hurrah, a successful dance club on 62nd Street. It was rumored that Sean Cassette (who originally introduced Rudolph and Fourret), a hot British deejay who played punk music, was coming on board. Even more buzz-worthy in SoHo, however, was Ron Lusker, a partner in the enterprise, who rubbed the community the wrong way from the get go. Lusker had “managed to insult, alienate and, in many cases even threaten, just about every individual and agency in the community,” writes Alan Platt in a December 1979 article for the SoHo Weekly News.

Crowd in front of the Mudd Club, 1979 (Image Bob Gruen via: nytimes.com)

Although Pravda was proposed as an avant-garde artists’ cabaret with live music (Human League and Lounge Lizards were on the slate), a deejay who would play what we now call “alternative” music, and a daytime art gallery (Ken Tisa and William Coupon were to have inaugural exhibitions), the community was worried that it would become another Mudd Club, a venue for underground music in Tribeca where rowdy clubgoers disturbed its neighbors at all hours of the night. Despite a soundproofing system at Pravda designed by sound engineer Jack Weisberg that was to prevent any sound leakage, concerns abounded.

The interior of Pravda was rather slick for an arts venue of that era, described by Occhiogrosso as “Nouveau Bauhaus with bars that jutted out at strange angles like the prow of a ship.” Much money was invested in a sophisticated sound system and state of the art lighting to feature three floors of performance art, live and recorded music and gallery shows. It did not resemble other typical avant-garde art spaces that were more DIY and AS IS. This space was DONE UP. This space looked like a nightclub.

The Fiorucci+Wet party at Pravda on November 8, 1979 (photo: Allan Tannenbaum for SoHo Weekly News)

And then November 8 happened. Once the construction for Pravda was finished, but before it was to officially open, Fiorucci, the then “it” fashion “concept store” with fans such as Cher, Elizabeth Taylor, and Jackie Onassis, threw a pre-opening fashion show and party for Wet: The Magazine for Gourmet Bathing. What exactly is gourmet bathing? Nobody was sure. The magazine itself is described by Steven Heller in The Atlantic as a “screwball arts publication that ended up influencing a generation of designers, writers, and editors—and maybe even a few bathers” and “an archetype for a new subgenre of stylish, irreverent magazines.” With a list of contributors that included Matt Groenig and Herb Ritts, Wet, like Fiorucci, was a hip new trendsetter.

A Fiorucci advertisement from the late 1970s

That night, before the sun even went down, hundreds of people showed up for the party on quiet Crosby Street causing a scene the likes of which SoHo had never seen. Once the crowd was admitted, the narrow staircases (left over from the building’s factory days) caused a logjam in the rush for the open bar. FDNY, NYPD and the buildings department were called in by neighbors. Pravda was shut down, never to open again.

Covers from Wet: The Magazine of Gourmet Bathing (image via The Atlantic)

In Tim Lawrence’s Life And Death On the New York Dance Floor, 1980-1983, Pieper is quoted as saying “The neighbors wanted to keep SoHo as an exclusive artistic enclave… They were too fucking serious and did not understand the concept of uniting art and nightlife.”

Mary Breasted, writing for SoHo Weekly News in 1979, comments, “How much trendiness can Soho bear before it destroys its original purpose and sends its artists fleeing to new neighborhoods? Can a community reach a point of critical mass in “in-ness”?”

In the end, bureaucratic and financial problems as much as neighbor complaints prevented Pravda from ever (re)opening. “The opening was also the closing,” laments Saban to Occhiogrosso. Yet on the night of November 8, in the twilight of the 1970s, the tragicomedy that was to be SoHo in the 1980s played itself out in a brief few hours. That night, the avant-garde arts venue was overrun by the new guard (the apres-garde?) of popular culture, and this incident would prevent said arts venue from ever seeing the light of day (or night) again.

Interview with Choreographer Rebecca Kelly

September 10, 2018
5 Charles clicks heels crop

Rebecca Kelly and Toni Smith on West Broadway doing a street performance, announcing an upcoming loft performance, c. 1979*

 

Like many SoHo pioneers, choreographer Rebecca Kelly moved to SoHo in 1974 in search of space to do her work. With husband Craig Brashear, she renovated a raw loft, founded Rebecca Kelly Ballet, raised a family, and adapted to an ever-changing New York. In the following interview, Kelly shares her memories of dancing in SoHo.

 

When did you arrive in SoHo and where did you come from?

I arrived in New York to pursue a career in dance as a performer, straight after graduating in 1973 from Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania. After living for a year in a compact apartment over a Mexican Restaurant in the West Village, with a dancer roommate, it was clear we needed more space. I found the loft in 1974. You could see a lot of sky and not too much traffic, which I liked.

We explored the area, spotting a sign in FOOD, a store on Prince Street. It said “loft – 2500 sq ft. for rent.”  How big was 2500 square feet? I wondered, as big as a basketball court?  We climbed four flights up to find a raw space, plaster falling off brick walls, floors thick with glue and varnish, but it was a big unobstructed space. No plumbing, no pillars, no amenities at all. Still, we could envision having our own studio, and a spacious living area. We found two more dancers to split the rent. The four of us got to work. I designed the layout for a comfortable 4 bedroom, open kitchen flowing into the living room and the large open studio. I had this book, Reader’s Digest How to Build a Home.  We began renovations and moved in.

My future husband, Craig Brashear arrived in NYC in 1975 after completing his Physics degree from Haverford College, PA. We met through dance, and soon became partners. My previous roommates who all had been aspiring dancers at one point, developed different interests. Craig and I married, and we took over the loft by 1978.

 

10 RK studio

Therese Wendler rehearses in the Rebecca Kelly Ballet Studio

 

Why did you move to SoHo?

 It was really about the space. There were rental opportunities if you had the inclination to renovate. It was possible for us to think we could do this ourselves. I always liked carpentry. My father had made sure that his daughters and son were all very handy with tools. So the rent was affordable, split four ways.  The neighborhood was so interesting, populated by other artists, all very purposely pursuing their dreams.  There were quite a few other dance studios and lofts around.  It was a dynamic environment.

 

What was everyday life like back then? Where did you go? What did you do?

 As dancers, we were making no money at all, so initially the roommates and I took any jobs we could, as a reception clerk, hat check girl, embroiderer for a jeans store to support our dance habits. It was exhausting between working, taking class, going to auditions, and eventually rehearsing with small modern companies, while studying at [Merce] Cunningham, and various ballet studios. I performed every Sunday evening with the Charles Weidman Company for several years. He paid us in oatmeal cookies and cheap wine, but occasionally we went on tour and received a real wage. He was an extraordinary man. I was also performing with the Vanaver Caravan, a music and folk dance, modern company, and several pick up companies.

 

9 RK rehearsal

RKB dancers in rehearsal: Erin Ginn with Jacob Taylor, and Allison Piccone with Nile Baker in Kelly’s newest ballet “Entnglements” which premiered July 2018 in Lake Placid, NY

 

What was it like to start a dance company in 1970’s SoHo?

We were uncertain about whether it was a realistic idea. I remember going to David White who was the Director of the Dance Theater Workshop to seek his advice – and encouragement.  He asked why would you want to incorporate, and thought that wasn’t important. But we were committed, and we envisioned permanence. At that time, Craig and I still weren’t married, but we were already identifying people for our Board. One candidate asked, “How can I be sure the organization will last if you two break up?”  Craig and I thought – “not a problem, we’ll get married.”  So we did. Working with Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, and CCF (Cultural Council Foundation) our 501-c3 came through in June 1979. Craig and I were married at the 15th Street Meeting House (Quaker) in December of that year.

 

7 RK costume

Rebecca Kelly collaborated with international artist Kevin Berlin for his “Black Swan” event at ART New York, spring 2018

 

When/why/how did Rebecca Kelly Dance transition from being a modern dance company to a ballet company?

After an exciting decade of international and national touring, making many interesting dances about social topics, and working with beautiful individuals, in 1991, I was invited to participate in the Carlisle Project, a prestigious program to develop ballet choreographers. It was a game changer for me. I had been frustrated for some time about not being able to get my dancers to “speak” in a particular way. Their training did not produce the flexibility and articulation that I needed for my works.

Craig and I also became parents that year, to our daughter, Hilary. As our focus shifted away from touring to residencies, teaching, and the founding of our SoHo neighborhood dance program Kids Co-Motion, I came racing back to my classical roots, but not the tiaras or tutus. My new works would use the eloquence of ballet technique, but with the sensibility of modern and contemporary dance, and my themes would be topical.

 

1989 promo shot of “Black Glass” on Jersey Street (bet. Lafayette and Crosby)

 

Please tell me a little about the dances CharlesMignonne, and Black Glass depicted in the photographs(*) taken in various locations in SoHo.

Charles, the solo, was dedicated to Charlie Chaplin, and was performed in many places, outdoors in Soho, at the Louise Nevelson Plaza downtown, at a wedding reception in Bangor, Maine, at Tavern on the Green, and by chance at Mohonk in the Catskills, on the eve of Mr. Chaplin’s death.

During the years when I performed with the Vanaver Caravan, I met cellist Abby Newton, who would turn out to be a life-long friend and music collaborator.  Craig and I conceived of the narrative dance Mignonne.  It is the story of a little stage hand (Rebecca/Chaplin) who falls in love with the beautiful cellist (Abby/Mignonne) and therefore neglects his work and gets in trouble with his boss (Craig/Boss).  The broom dance is a highlight.

Black Glass was an iconic dance of the 1980’s. In those days when we toured we looked more like a downtown rock band.  The dance was about the City –the  excitement, the danger and intensity and the beauty of urban life.  The original set pieces suggested giant shards of glass. The original commissioned score was by Brooks Williams. There was had a scene that suggested in slow motion a rape scene.   When we did this dance in Central Park for a video shoot, that scene caused quite a stir.

 

Has SoHo’s evolution affected your choreography or your company?

A few ballets came directly from living in Soho. One was a youth ballet commissioned for a company in Tarrytown. I called it American Suk.  It was inspired by a window at Prada on the corner. Suk is the Arab marketplace. My ballet was about gossip, girls, shopping, and fashion. Another was Tenderness of Wolves which premiered in 1988 at the Joyce Theater, a chic, noire ballet about a dysfunctional couple.

When I am making a ballet in my studio, my eyrie above the street, I am really away from SoHo. The dances just come from my imagination, my pondering about people and what motivates them.

 

4 Chaplin street dancing

Rebecca Kelly (foreground) and Amy Pivar perform RK’s ballet “Charles” on West Broadway, c. 1981*

 

What do you miss most about old SoHo? And what do you miss least?

I loved SoHo’s old uniqueness! I miss the wonderful Pineapple Dance Studio on the corner of Houston and Broadway, which brought together so many people from the dance community. I miss all of the early days of SoHo. It was a great place to be, it continued to be a fantastic place to bring up our daughter. I loved the one of a kind places to find treasures, to eat, to shop, or find costume and stage supplies – the walking distance to our daughter’s school, and walking distance to doctors and pediatrician.  It is not the same. The large chain stores have no interest for me. And the crowds…

 

8 RK portrait

Rebecca Kelly observing rehearsal, (photo: Adrian Buckmaster)

 

What are you up to these days?

We continue to offer an afternoon dance program mostly for busy teens during the school year, but we respond to neighborhood interest. So when there is enough of a demand to start an adult ballet fitness or barre class, or an early childhood class, we put that together. I continue to choreograph new ballets – the latest one inspired by entanglement theory.

 

What is it like for you to live in today’s SoHo knowing what it was like 30 years ago?

If you can’t adapt to change, then New York City is not the place for you.

 

 

Drawing SoHo

August 6, 2018

Christine Berrie’s vibrant drawing of the infamous Vesuvio Bakery storefront, drawn before the it became Birdbath, when loaves of bread filled its windows (until it sold out) and Tony Dapolito was behind the counter.

Happy summer! We’ve already entered into the dog days of August, so I thought I’d write about something light and cool.

SoHo has appeared in myriad media: photography, film, writing, spoken words, all of which have been discussed here. What about drawing, the oft overlooked yet most democratic of visual art forms? I thought it would be fun to look at some of the many ways SoHo has been drawn by artists, illustrators, architects, and children!

Advertisement for Dundas Dick & Co.’s Tasteless Medicines in New York Illustrated, an 1876 guide to New York City

This hand-drawn advertisement for Dundas Dick & Co.’s Tasteless Medicines gives us a glimpse into what SoHo looked like before SoHo was SoHo. In 1876, 35 & 37 Wooster was a “manufactory” of medicines that were distributed internationally, according to the writing on the crates along the sidewalk. This building is now home to none other than The Drawing Center!

Arthur Getz’s cover drawing of 101 Spring Street for The New Yorker magazine, October 13, 1980

Here’s another building we all know and love. 101 Spring Street, home of Judd Foundation and former home and studio of artist Donald Judd and his family. This drawing by Arthur Getz for The New Yorker is of the building’s pre-2013-restoration facade.

Drawing of a loft interior by Jeremy Stratton (age 5)

This drawing is from Jim Stratton’s 1978 book Pioneering in the Urban Wilderness: All About Lofts, where he writes:

How loft construction affects the child’s perceptions. Jeremy (age 5) conceives of his loft building in three stories. His double-bunk shares the top floor with a bowling alley, there’s a carpentry shop on Two, and a kitchen and bathroom on One. Note the mouse still in residence on the second floor.

Stephen Garnder’s 2011 sketch of the scene at Fanelli’s

This October 4, 2011 “sketch of the day” by Stephen Garnder depicts the scene at Fanelli’s, probably the only place in SoHo that has remained pretty much the same over the years.

 

Illustration of buildings on Broadway by Robert Miles Parker from the 1995 SoHo Guide

The 1995 edition of the SoHo Guide, an annual index of SoHo’s businesses and arts organizations published by the SoHo Partnership, includes drawings of SoHo streets by Robert Miles Parker.

 

The Noodle-Cutting Machine by Maira Kalman from the July 21, 2014 issue of The New Yorker

Here’s another one from The New Yorker: a drawingby the fabulous Maira Kalman of the noodle-cutting machine at Rafetto’s on Houston Street that she calls “a rickety, clackety, gorgeous gizmo—and reliable, too.”

SoHo Stairs by Simon Fieldhouse

Simon Fieldhouse’s drawing of SoHo fire escapes, one of the iconic features of so many New York buildings.

The Stupid $30,000 Purse Store by Roz Chast from her book Going into Town: A love Letter to New York

Nowhere in her most excellent and hilarious book Going into Town: A Love Letter to New York does Roz Chast say that this store is in SoHo, but I’d like to think it is, so I include it here. This book is a must must read for all New Yorkers!

Rendering by Paul Rudolph (ca. 1967-1972) of the interior of the HUB, part of the proposed but never built Lower Manhattan Expressway, from Paul Rudolph: Lower Manhattan Expressway, 2010

And last, a look into what SoHo could have been. This is a rendering by architect Paul Rudolph of the interior of the “HUB,” which was to be part of the proposed Lower Manhattan Expressway. If built, the multi-lane highway would have run down Broome Street from the Hudson to the East Rivers. Complete with monorail-mounted “people movers,” the HUB was to be “a transportation interchange that connects the two eastern legs of the Expressway to existing subways, surface roads, pedestrian walkways.”

 

Remembering Michael Goldstein

July 9, 2018

Facebook post by Allan Tannenbaum remembering Michael Goldstein (photo: Allan Tannenbaum sohoblues.com)

Michael Goldstein, founder of the SoHo Weekly News, died on May 19 at the age of 79. One of SoHo’s great influencers, Goldstein left his mark on our neighborhood through his newspaper, as well as his larger-than-life personality.

The SoHo Weekly News (SWN) published Volume 1 Number 1 on October 11, 1973. Michael Goldstein once said that he started the paper so tate SoHo residents didn’t have to hang fliers everywhere to let people know what was going on. In an editorial in the inaugural issue Goldstein wrote:

Thank you for picking up our first issue. We are planning to report what’s going on down here honestly and fairly. To do that we need your help–in telling us your problems, filling us in on what’s happening and keeping us generally informed. The support for this paper, as you can see from the advertisements, comes from within the community. Starting next week, we would like to run as many community bulletins as possible (e.g.., playgroups, openings, bake sales, lost and found etc,). If you send us these items in writing, we’ll be happy to print them at no charge…

So began The SoHo Weekly News, which ran from October 1973 until March 1982, though Goldstein left in 1979 after he sold the paper to Associated News Group. The paper “defined the disparate region of lower Manhattan that became known as “SoHo”. If our experiment in creating a new culture and a new lifestyle eventually failed, the SoHo Weekly News did not fail in reporting it,” says contributing illustrator Harry Pincus. What began as a local paper grew in influence over the years to become a competitor of the Village Voice, the only other downtown paper to cover news and culture at the time.

Goldstein founded SWN after being burnt out by a successful career in public relations. As a music promoter, Goldstein “eventually represented a long roster of marquee clients that included Jimi Hendrix, Sly and the Family Stone, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead. He boasted that he represented 10 different acts at the Woodstock festival in 1969, and that across the years 17 of his clients were voted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame,” according to The New York Times.

Undated photo of the SWN staff, Michael Goldstein, seated center (photographer unknown, from the collection of Allan Wolper)

At SWN, Harry Pincus tells me Goldstein “hired a gang of young talents, like Cynthia Heimel, Allan Tannenbaum, Janel Bladow, Stephen Saban and Peter Occhiogrosso, as well as some old refugees and beatniks from the East Village Other and the Village Voice. Yakov Kohn, the editor, was a former Israeli ‘freedom fighter’ who ambulated with a cane and weighed about eighty pounds who had once thrown a ‘punk’ named Bob Dylan out of his jewelry store on MacDougal Street.” (See a brochure highlighting SWN staff here: soho_news_viewpoints_brochure)

Those who knew Michael Goldstein have vivid memories of his strong and seemingly irksome-yet-lovable character. Tannenbaum remembers when he was first hired by Goldstein. A young aspiring photographer in his late-20’s, Tannenbaum came to New York City by way of Rutgers and San Francisco State. Tipped off by a friend who mentioned that SWN was looking for a photographer, he went to Goldstein’s loft on Broome Street that also served as the paper’s office. Goldstein flipped though Tannenbaum’s portfolio and stopped at a photo of Jimi Hendrix, his former client, and told him, “Yeah, you know how to take pictures.” Goldstein sent him on an assignment to cover the Avant Garde Festival at Grand Central, promising to pay $5 a photo if they were good.

Michael Goldstein with Allan Tannenbaum at the 450 Broome Street SWN office (Photograph Allan Tannenbaum sohoblues.com)

Following that assignment, Goldstein put Tannenbaum on staff at $40 per week. Tannenbaum had recently been fired  from a job as a bartender (for failing to break up a fight), so he was collecting $45 in unemployment in addition, which more than covered his $90/month rent in his Brooklyn commune. Still, $40 was not a lot of money, so to make the deal more equitable, Tannenbaum asked Goldstein to pay for his film, to list him as Chief Photographer on the paper’s masthead, and to grant him full ownership of all his photos. Goldstein agreed to these terms and is said to have given “everyone a piece of the action in lieu of payment,” according to Allan Wolper, former Managing Editor of SWN.

“I am truly indebted to Michael for hiring me and giving me the rights to my pictures,” Tannenbaum says. “He hired me when I couldn’t even get a job as a photo researcher for Magnum photos and was thinking if I didn’t get something soon, maybe he was in the wrong line of work.”

Peter Occhiogrosso, Music Editor and Associate Editor at SWN from 1975 to 1982, says of Goldstein, “He was the only person who fired me and then hired me on the same day.” He describes SWN as a place where people had a freedom unlike most other places, and adds that Goldstein gave him a stepping stone to a career as a writer. Occhiogrosso, whose writing focused on jazz and the downtown music scene, adds that Goldstein “let me write about anybody, whatever length I wanted.”

December 3-9, 1980 issue of  SoHo News. Cover story about Yoko Ono by Peter Occhiogrosso, photo by Allan Tannenbaum.

“At a time when The Village Voice seemed to have a monopoly on coverage of Downtown news and arts, Michael offered an alternative,” Occhiogrosso told The New York Times. “Maybe because of his background in the rock ′n’ roll world, Michael was especially attuned to the developing music and associated night life scene south of 14th Street, but especially in the semi-industrial zone between Houston Street and the business district.”

Occhiogrosso, who worked at the Village Voice for around $50-$75 per story before he came to SWN, was asked by the Voice to choose between the higher paying, higher profile paper and SWN, who they saw as a direct competitor. He chose to go with SWN, even though they only paid $10 per story. When Occhiogrosso came onto staff, he told Goldstein that he had to be paid at least $50 a week, so Goldstein, who could not afford to pay him that much up front, offered him $20/week plus $30 in equity, a similar deal to Tannenbaum, who received equity through ownership of his photographs. Goldstein, a man of his word, paid Occiogrosso the accumulated $30 a week in equity when Associated News Group bought the paper from him. Another example of Goldstein giving staff “a piece of the action.”

Allan Wolper was also hired away from the Village Voice. He posits that it was Goldstein’s role at the paper to keep everyone there “a little crazy.” Stories of heated arguments and even throwing objects abound. “All that yelling and screaming gave birth to a lot of great journalism,” Wolper says, adding that it was also Goldstein’s belief that anything could happen and his gift for promotion that moved the paper forward.

Portrait of Michael Goldstein by Harry Pincus

Harry Pincus remembers the day he was hired by Goldstein at the SWN office:

There was a loud noise, and a seemingly deranged gentleman was ejected from the bowels of the office, hurling every vile epithet imaginable at [Goldstein,] the cherubic gentleman with the oversized eyeglasses. He then paused to dump a waste basket on [Goldtein’s] head, angrily slammed the door shut and fled to the street. Silence. The poor man was sitting there covered in garbage. His desk was covered in garbage.

One can only wonder what Goldstein had done to provoke such an outburst.

Allan Wolper remembers that Goldstein once told every writer who worked for him to go to newsstands and if SWN was not sold there, told them to demand why. This went on until his paper was featured at the “big newsstand” on 8th Street and 6th Avenue, right next to the Village Voice. SWN had arrived.

Even so, it drove Goldstein crazy when nobody believed that people were actually reading SWN. To prove that he did indeed have many readers, he decided to list an event on the back page with the incorrect time, and it worked. People showed up an hour early for the event. Point proven, and may people pissed off, I’m guessing.

Despite his shenanigans, Goldstein was a pillar of his community, and through his newspaper, he had a large hand in shaping SoHo’s culture. “The SoHo Weekly News was a welcome challenge to the Village Voice — and much hipper. All of us in SoHo certainly read it with enthusiasm. Michael Goldstein was a rising star in the downtown culture,” says Mark Gabor, former member of the SoHo Artists Association, an artists’ advocacy group.

“The scope of what he did was fantastic. He really gave openings to people who were coming up, emerging writers,” says Peter Occhiogrosso.

Harry Pincus sums it all up by lamenting, “Those days are gone forever, and there will never be another SoHo News. Or another Michael Goldstein.”

Back to the Future on Mercer Street

June 4, 2018

The facade of 155 Mercer Street in 1856 and today

After a long and meticulous renovation and restoration, Fireman’s Hall, at 155 Mercer Street, opened as Dolce & Gabbana, the high-end Italian fashion brand, on April 11. As a retail space, the store is quite impressive. D&G’s designers went all out, creating curated graffiti-covered walls as a backdrop to (tastefully?) garish furniture.

Interior of the new Dolce & Gabbana store in SoHo

The façade of the building has been carefully reconstructed to (almost) what it looked like when it was built in 1855, including the carved sign above the second floor window that reads “Firemen’s Hall.”

Read the rest of this entry »

The Saint of SoHo

May 15, 2018

Razing the Church of St. Alphonsus Liguori at 310 West Broadway, now the Soho Grand Hotel, Harry Pincus 1981

This amazing photo, part of a series of the razing of the Church of St. Alphonsus Liguori taken by artist Harry Pincus in 1981, tells many stories. It tells us that there used to be a church where the SoHo Grand Hotel is today. It reminds us that the twin towers once stood downtown until they didn’t. It is proof that West Broadway was once home to a community of German Catholics and then at some point became a victim of urban decay and that it is now an affluent street with a high-end hotel. Read the rest of this entry »

SoHo Photos

March 31, 2018

Boys playing at Houston Street lot (image: Nancy Eder)

Ever since I put out a call for SoHo photos, I’ve received all kinds of images, of people, places, events from the 1970s through the present. I’ve included a selection below (click on any photo to view as slideshow), the beginning of what I hope turns into a much larger collection that encompasses as many SoHo stories as possible.

Please continue to send images to yukie@sohomemory.org, and please include a caption with place and date.

Enjoy! Read the rest of this entry »

Canal Street Artists and Fleas

March 3, 2018

Two Stores on Canal Street ca. early 1980s (photo: Susan Fortgang)

 

Today I would like to share a collection of photos I received recently. These photos and their captions by artist Susan Fortgang capture Canal Street in the 1980’s and 1990’s when it was a lawless flea market free for all. Her in-depth descriptions tell the story of a bygone era that straddled the old and new SoHos and shows us an up-close look at a street that had a culture all of its own, an invaluable addition to our image collection!

Thank you to everyone who has submitted photos to the SoHo Memory Project Photo Archive thus far. For those of you who would still like to submit photos, it’s never too late! Please send photos to yukie@sohomemory.org, or email me or share a Dropbox folder. Read the rest of this entry »

Sweeping SoHo

February 3, 2018

Trash on Wooster Street in the early 1970s (photo: Jaime Davidovich)

If you haven’t heard yet, SoHo has a new “neighborhood improvement” group, an all-volunteer-run nonprofit called CleanUpSoHo dedicated to keeping SoHo streets clean. I, for one, have seen a huge improvement lately.

Our once relatively rubbish-free sidewalks became dotted with discarded shopping bags, coffee cups and food containers after the Association of Community Employment Programs for the Homeless (ACE), subsidized by its founder, SoHo resident Henry Buhl, stopped cleaning our streets in the fall of 2016 due to funding challenges. And the problem only worsened as the weather got warmer and tourist season ramped up in the spring and summer of 2017.

SoHo is no stranger to trash talking. In the early-1970’s, after it became public knowledge that artists were living in SoHo’s then-manufacturing buildings, the SoHo Artists Association (SAA), a neighborhood advocacy group, lobbied for curb-side pickup of residential trash. Before then, because SoHo was not zoned for residential use, the City of New York Department of Sanitation (DSNY) did not pick up household trash. Residents had to find creative ways to dispose of their trash — often illegally depositing it in public trash bins and commercial dumpsters. Businesses often complained, and artists were fined if trash was traced back to them through discarded mail with their name and address. Read the rest of this entry »

SoHo Guide

January 6, 2018

Happy new year!

As we enter year eight of The SoHo Memory Project, I thought we would revisit some of the many businesses that have come and gone from our community. This image gallery features a selection of advertisements placed in issues of the annual SoHo Guide, published by the SoHo Partnership. All of these advertisements date back to the mid-1990s.

The SoHo Partnership, founded by Henry Buhl, provided street cleaning services in SoHo from 1992 to 2016 and was the first collaboration between a community and a human services organization in New York City with the primary goal of providing job opportunities for the homeless. They also published an annual SoHo Guide, a handsome, spiral-bound book that contained listings for local businesses, as well as advertisements. More on the SoHo Partnership next month, but for now, take a look back at some of the businesses that made SoHo the shopping and dining neighborhood it is today. (click on any image to view as slideshow). Read the rest of this entry »


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