À la recherche du temps perdu…

This photo of me and my sister was taken in 1974 in the parking lot on Crosby Street between Prince and Spring, the current site of the Crosby Hotel, where we would often play.

Okay.  I know.  An annoyingly pretentious title for a blog post, especially my first one EVER.  But I feel that the title of Proust’s novel (which I have not read, by the way), sums up what I’m trying to do here—I am in search of lost time.

The SoHo Memory Project is a new blog about the history of SoHo in the late-1960’s through the early-1980’s.  The blog’s focus is not on the art scene of that era, as there has been much written on this subject already, but on SoHo as a community, a neighborhood made up of a wide variety of people, families, businesses, community groups, and, only incidentally, all manner of creative activity.  It addresses a broad range topics through written posts, interviews, and biographical portraits, as well as photographs, sound recordings, and video. Ultimately, it will be a record of our lost community comprised of myriad memories and experiences.

SoHo has changed tremendously since I was a child, for the better and for the worse.  I accept that it is the nature of urban communities, especially in New York, to be in a constant state of flux.  If they stopped changing, they would atrophy and die.  So I am not interested in talking about how great things were “back in the day” vs. how not-so-great they are today and how nice it would be if we could go back to the way things were.  What I would like to do, however, is to celebrate a very special place at a very special moment in time

Every person has his or her own 1970’s SoHo, and it is very different from the SoHo of today.  For me, it was a wonderful place to grow up and explore and make friends.  In a way, my 1970’s SoHo resembled a description of your average American neighborhood, where people know their neighbors and all the children play together.  But on the other hand, I did learn how to ride a bike in my house!  Anyone visiting SoHo today could not even fathom such as place existing in lower Manhattan.  And because this aspect of SoHo has not been well documented thus far, I would like to build this collection of recollections over the coming months and years before our ephemeral memories fade and disappear forever.

I will try to post as often as possible (i.e. as often as my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter lets me), so please subscribe to this blog by clicking on the “subscribe” button to the right.  I hope you will all join me by posting comments and by emailing me with ideas for topics, or even “guest-posting” now and again!

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24 Responses to “À la recherche du temps perdu…”

  1. suzanne Says:

    What a great idea for a blog! I can’t wait to read more!

  2. Khairah Says:

    I love the idea. Whenever i return “to my block” it’s so hard to explain to my kids where i played or why I never walked down Crosby street without my dogs (and it wasn’t to protect me from the grown-ups it was the cat-sized rodents that instilled fear in me and Khayyam), I find myself having to explain why we were the only residents in the building and yes it was perfectly acceptable for my mother and Lenny to raise us there. I can’t wait to see where this goes. Congrats Yukie and Happy New Year!

  3. Bethsheba Says:

    Hi Yukie,

    Happy 2011! I was able to visit my childhood at 98 Greene street a few years ago. I sat across from our old loft and tried to transport myself back in time to what it looked and felt like back then. I could remember the way it used to look. I have, so many fond memories. I was thrilled to hear the building was made a historical site in 2009, I loved living in that building and I feel very privileged to have had that kind of childhood and upbringing. It still feels as though it were all a surrealistic dream and I look forward to hearing and the memories of your subscribers.

    A few years ago I began the task of scanning all the slides and photographs, art invitations, postcards, all sorts of ephemera from that time period and I have a few fun things to share with you from our childhood. I love your enthusiasm. Many Cheers! – Sheba

    • Yukie Says:

      I will send 98 Greene your regards the next time I pass by. I can’t wait to see what you have in your archives!

      • Bethsheba Says:

        Hi Yukie;

        Here is a link to a video i made last year interviewing my father about his early day’s in Soho.
        The channel I created is called ” Soho Stories”. If you have any video interviews or short video’s that relate please join my channel.

        Thank you,

  4. Lois Atkins Says:

    The SoHo playgroup kids must have special memories of growing up in NYC and an area unlike any other in Manhattan. I remember going out for a walk on Sunday afternoons, pushing Rama in her stroller and stopping to pick up buttons. I ended up with thousands of them! Our 100 Wooster St. loft was in a rag warehouse, so there were plenty of fabric pieces to glean from our Italian brothers landlords. Eventually I started a business sewing children’s clothing from the fabric, and later I made front-loading baby carriers that strapped onto the adult. There was a poster factory next door (Gemini) and both Victor and I made some money from them. Victor created silk-screened posters and I worked in the office as a bookkeeper in the afternoons. Had to leave the mornings free to volunteer my hours at the playgroup space! So exciting to be in the pioneering days of SoHo, even with the blackout curtains. Hendrix was nearby, Donovan visited, John and Yoko were only around the corner at their studio. Now I’ve got to see a copy of “Illegal Living” and find out what photo of me is in it!

  5. Yukie Says:

    Everyone should have a look at ILLEGAL LIVING, a great new book by Roslyn Bernstein and Shael Shapiro (Noah’s dad) about the first successful artists’ coop in SoHo at 80 Wooster Street and the impact it had on the evolution of SoHo, which includes a great photo of Lois with long, cascading hair.

    And Lois, please explain, to those who were not there back then, what you mean by “blackout curtains!”

  6. Judy Reichler Says:

    Many of you probably know that 80 Wooster Street is where Jesse and Ellie lived. Most of you Soho Playgroup folks were there many times — either for parties or as part of an “afternoon group.” You wrote tricycles and big wheels there, flew on the tire swing, and rolled around on that yellow and orange plastic thing. (I’m still looking for the culprits that kept smashing into my mirrored wall and broke all the bottom tiles!).

  7. Rainer Yingling Judd Says:

    Thank you so much for starting this site! I too feel that SoHo was a magical place to be a kid; it had the feeling of a small village but with a rare cultural vitality created by driven, inspired, aching people who had come from everywhere to find themselves as pioneers in SoHo.

  8. Yukie Says:

    Magical indeed! And thanks to your foundation for taking on the enormous task of preserving an icon of SoHo for future generations to admire and learn from.

  9. Hjordis Says:

    Love it, will share with Asia & our folks even though we landed in Noho…we probably have photos in the ol dusty drawer…
    I’ll forward to actual Soho compatriots I’m in touch with.
    Can’t wait to check out updates – brilliant idea Yukie!

  10. Yukie Says:

    NoHo, SoHo, who cares? I needed to set time and place boundaries to contain the discussion, but I do not want to be strict about them. Your childhood at Bleecker and Lafayette was as much about SoHo as mine on Mercer Street was!

  11. Lois Atkins Says:

    Okay, Yukie, and all those not familiar with SoHo in the early 1970’s. Since no one was supposed to be living in those buildings without an A.I.R. designation on the door (artist in residence, very difficult to obtain), we had to be sneaky about it. At night, lights in a building meant that people were inside, so we had to block the lit windows with curtains, blankets, whatever hid the light, much like England during WWII. Within a few years there were so many artists and families living in those factory and warehouse buildings that our numbers gave us clout when dealing with the city. It took many meetings and networking with officials before the City looked the other way – we just had to be sure our renovations were up to code and passed inspection.
    Later on, we managed to recoup some of the renovation expense (tens of thousands of dollars) by “selling the key” to the next tenant of a loft. None of us even want to contemplate what our old lofts look like now and how many millions of dollars have exchanged hands.

  12. Yukie Says:

    We did the same thing in our Crosby Street loft, well, sort of. We had really dirty windows (soot) and never cleaned them! Our version of blackout curtains. At least that’s why my mom says. Maybe she just didn’t like cleaning windows. Anyway, thanks, Lois, for the explanation. Just wanted to get it “on the record.”

  13. Jo Gangemi Says:

    We came to Soho from Riverside Drive, a sightly different atmosphere. Zoë was born in 1968 and our living room was full of all kinds of machinery that Donald used to make various things.
    I have to say I was leary about the neighborhood at first. It was generally very dark, empty except for trucks loading and unloading stuff for the factories. The amenities were basically absent.
    George Maciunas was the deal maker for 465 West Broadway. The 3,500 sq foot fourth floor, south, had been a doll factory and there were dolls’ heads covering sprinkler nozzles. I think we kept finding them around for a long time. The space looked like a dungeon to me. Donald went to work on it while I concerned myself with childcare and didn’t move downtown until 1969. The space was hazardous for young children at the time and it was necessary to keep a very watchful eye.
    I did not know anyone in the neighborhood but whenever I saw another mother with a carriage or a child, I would go up to them and propose starting a cooperative childcare group. Suzanne and Peggy lived on my block and I think they were the first ones I approached. We started out meeting in our lofts. as I recall then we were able to get some time at The Children’s Aid Society and eventually our basement space on Prince and Wooster. I welcome hearing how others remember our beginnings. Rashomon, you know.
    PS-How do you post a photo on this?

  14. Yukie Says:

    Good question. I don’t know. I’m new to all this blogging business. I will find out, but in the meantime, anyone can email photos to sohomemory@gmail.com and I will begin putting them up in the “photos” section!

  15. mark gabor Says:

    Maybe we can build a memory together. Much of this fits in with what Lois Atkins wrote on the 4th. I’m just expanding on parts of our history.

    I’m thinking of a series of meetings (c. 1969-70?) when a a dozen or so early Soho artists got together to form the Soho Artists’ Association (SAA) and discuss the pros & cons of our legalizing our living in the neighborhood. I seem to remember a chap named Wiegand (Bob or Ed?) and another named Carl, Maybe Jim Stratton. Maybe Don Gangemi. Maybe Joe Schlichter. Can anyone remember anyone else?

    There was heated arguing as to whether we should even admit to a public identity as “SoHo” (South of Houston) since it might create problems for most of us (non-AIR status) who preferred to live illegally and under the radar of the Police, Fire, and Sanitation departments. The other side of the debate was that SoHo, with its increasing numbers of artists, would inevitably be “exposed” to the public, as well as the NYC gov’t services — so why not volunteer our local identity and existence, and work out deals where we could get Sanitation pick-up, Police protection, and Fire Dept. protection without being harassed by the threat of unannounced inspections.

    The latter argument won out — tho I seem to recall some irate members of the group storming out of the meetings (“temperamental artists,” after all!). I was personally responsible for being the liaison with the Sanitation Dept. We worked out an arrangement for legal pick-up of residential garbage from in front of our buildings, I think twice a week. Prior to that, I recall walking my garbage to corner receptacles, preferably outside the SoHo blocks. Can anyone else remember what you did with garbage in the early days?

    There’s more that went on in these volatile SAA meetings, but I can’t think of any more details at this point. Anyone else?

    Change of subject: Does anyone remember how the space for the playgroup came about? It was a free basement area, corner of Wooster & Prince(?), donated by Charles Leslie & Fritz Lohman, building owners. We were told that we had to “fix it up” for our kids to use a play space. And we did exactly that, using the same construction skills we used on our living lofts.
    Any more details on this?

  16. Yukie Says:

    Thanks for sharing these great memories, Mark! It seems that a bunch of you are interested in discussing loft living and the SoHo playgroup. Let’s start with lofts, and then please stay tuned for a post on the playgroup!

  17. Shael Shapiro Says:

    Thanks to Yukie for starting this blog. It really amplifies and elaborates on the work that Roz Bernstein (my current wife) and I did on our recent book, “Illegal Living: 80 Wooster Street and the Evolution of SoHo.” We spent 6 years researching and writing the book and interviewed over 50 people. We focused on the one building because it was where Maciunas had his command post, Mekas had Cinematheque, it was the first successful coop in SoHo, and I lived there for seven years.

    Mark, it was Bob Wiegand who along with his wife Ingrid was active in the Soho Artists Association. Their building 16-18 Greene St was to have been Fluxhouse Coop I, but various events including disputes with Maciunas delayed its inception and Fluxhouse Coop II was first. Most of the public meetings were at Cinematheque.

    Rainer, our book has the story of my wedding to Joan Herbst in Cinematheque which both your mother and father attended.

  18. Micah Di Sabato Says:

    I grew up from 1975-1989 at 168 Mercer St before moving to Ohio and going into culture shock. I miss SoHo badly to this day. I had a childhood friend named Yukie that attended VCS – Village Community School with me. By chance is this you? Great blog. Looking forward to it.

    • Micah Di Sabato Says:

      That was 1975-1980

      • Yukie Says:

        Hi Micah- I think that was probably the other SoHo Yuki, Yuki Iwashiro. I’ve been trying to find her to tell her about this blog. But why do WE not know each other? I grew up across the street from you! You must have gone to VCS with my neighbors, Kirsty and Elise. They’re still on mercer Street too. Looking forward to hearing more of your SoHo memroies in the near future!

  19. Yukie Says:

    Hi Shael- ILLEGAL LIVING is fantastic and fascinating and anyone interested in the history of SoHo should have a look at it. Would you and Roz be interested in writing a post about it for this blog by any chance?

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