The world is changing at warp speed as we live through these unprecedented times. The SoHo Memory Project focuses on documenting history and the past. We are, however, presently living through a moment that we understand to be historic as we experience it in real time, a moment that must be documented for posterity.
SoHo Memory Project is creating a SoHo Quarantine Time Capsule, a digital collection that documents SoHo under quarantine. The following are a selection of photographs taken from March 2020 through the present, submitted by community members, for this collection.
SoHo Stays Home
SoHo, like the rest of New York City, was a ghost town after Governor Mario Cuomo issued a “shelter in place” order on March 20, 2020. All residents were asked to stay at home, except to go shopping for groceries or for health emergencies, to help stop the spread of COVID-19. This meant that all but essential businesses closed as New York became an epicenter of the novel coronavirus.
The above photo of Prince Street looking east from Greene Street could almost have been taken 50 years ago, which was probably the last time SoHo was this quiet and deserted.
On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, an African-American man, was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis, MN. A video of the incident depicting the officer kneeling on Floyd's neck for an extended period, attracted widespread outrage leading to local, national, and international protests and demonstrations (source)
Tens of thousands of demonstrators marched daily through New York City streets. Many of the demonstrations went up and down Broadway through SoHo. There was marked police presence in the area, especially after demonstrations gave way to rioting and the looting of many SoHo luxury boutiques the nights of May 30 and June 1, 2020.
By June 2, after two nights of looting, most storefronts in SoHo were boarded up. SoHo resembled the ghost town it once was before there were any stores and restaurants in the neighborhood.
It did not take long for SoHo artists to see the plywood lining the streets as canvases. SoHo became an open-air gallery of murals, many political, many explicitly condemning anti-black racism.
This public art movement grew out of the efforts of individual as well as groups, such as Art2heart and SoHo Social Impact, to beautify the streets of SoHo and to send messages of love and solidarity with ongoing protests.
Signs of Life
As of July 6, 2020, New York City entered Phase 3 of reopening. Street life is making a comeback in SoHo, with outdoor dining, window shopping, and small gatherings of people. Will we enter phase 4 on July 20? Maybe. We will in all likelihood need to reverse course and go back inside for a time before a vaccine is available. But for now, SoHo is showing signs of life. Who knows what is to come? It is the uncertainty that is so difficult to accept.
With the community’s generous participation, I have collected over 1,200 photos of what transpired inside and outside the cast iron buildings of SoHo over the past four months and I will continue to collect until we are on the other side of this. I have been able to piece together the neighborhood’s trials and tribulations as well as its silver linings. These images will be kept and preserved for generations to come.
As @villagegirl said back in March, "Something BIG is happening, and everyone feels it and is trying to work it out somehow- whether through photography or writing or meditation or work or watching Cuomo’s news conferences and reading the paper." Sweet are the uses of adversity, most of the time.
A while back, StoryCorps invited SMP to record conversations about old SoHo at their StoryBooth in Foley Square. Among the pairs of people I brought with me were longtime friends artist Joyce Kozloff andElizabeth Weatherford, founder of the Film and Video Center at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. This forty-minute interview conducted in the StoryCorps signature format, a conversation between two people who know each other well, is a treasure trove of stories about two young women making their way to SoHo in the early 1970s and what happened during the forty-plus years that followed. Read more>>
Today marks ten years to the day that I founded SoHo Memory Project on January 1, 2011. Many of you have been with me since day one and many, many others joined us along the way. What began as a blog I thought only my mom would read has turned into a nonprofit organization with an archive that has been promised to the New York Historical Society. Together we built our collective memory of SoHo, past and present, grit and glory, from scratch.
"I don’t think people who move to places because of the artists and the neighborhood vibe understand that their privilege of having deep pockets displaces the people who created the vibe that attracted them in the first place, and then the neighborhood goes to shit. "
A conversation about growing up in SoHo between Tina Cane and Sasha Baguskas, life-long friends who met each other in 4th grade at PS 41, circa 1978. They discuss loft living, rollerskating, rats, and much more.
Everyday Life in SoHo
Nov 01 2020
The SoHo Memory Project celebrates the history of SoHo as a New York City neighborhood.