Lived 1974-78, worked 1979-83
90 Prince Street, 75 Spring Street
Sculptor, Graphic designer and Production Artist
The Crazies, the desolation and the ingenious ways we would invent things and ways to deal with unconventional situations. Painting our sneakers to match our outfit, throwing keys out windows, yelling from street (no door bells), disposing of garbage ...
Now I really miss my large work space where you could work on a few projects at a time. And miss the comradery of the artists in community.
The cold. My building still had 2 businesses in it, and us artist "did not exist". I got heat only during business hours! or if temp dropped below 20.
Riding my bike down Prince in early morning on way to work and it was empty
Workers on their break peeing out the windows on the building opposite us.
The art and music scene was amazing. You would run into so many dynamic budding people.
I’ve been writing little vignettes of the very unique life style in Soho.
Fire Escape Incident
SoHo in the 70's by Vivian Ricupero
Odd as it may sound, back then, Soho was like the Wild West with © concrete and steel. It was a vast space of uncharted territory where rules and social norms of the city didn’t always fit. Massive iron and stone buildings surrounded you. Instead of wide-open sky there were huge raw interior spaces. Hardly anyone actually lived in the buildings. At night a whole block could be dark except for only one light. And that one light was probably an artist. The building immediately across from us, where Prada is now, didn’t have any residents yet and only a handful of businesses were still functioning so it was definitely vacant at night.
It could be eerie and even scary, but also full of freedom and a feeling that anything goes. So much outside the realm of normal convention that one morning a most unusual thing happened. I decided to have my coffee out on the fire escape. It was a beautiful day. As I walked to my window I could see the sun cast a soft golden tone on the buildings and they even seemed to sparkle and glisten. Especially the building opposite me that now houses Prada. It turned out the glistening was actually a couple of men pissing out the factory window! As surprised, not shocked however, and embarrassed as I was to see them, they were just as shocked to see me looking back at them. That image has stayed with me ever since!
I lived on Prince Street. Two friends from Boulder, Stan and Eileen, and myself had just graduated from University of Colorado and we were heading off to NYC. They had already taken one floor of a building and they offered me 1/3 of the loft. I immediately jumped at the chance. It was and old factory building butted up to the Singer Building. Two floors were functioning as factories and workers would stagger in every morning. A couple of floors were abandoned and filled with old machinery and military file cabinets from WWI. I cleaned up one of the heavy metal file cabinets for my cloths. Two people lived on the 3rd floor and we lived on the 5th floor. It was just us 5 artists living there, but technically not living there, as our landlord would occasionally remind us.
We knew pretty much all the artist that lived near Prince and Mercer. It was just a hand full. Fanelli’s was the only bar. The Broome Street Bar had not opened yet. You had to walk a few blocks for any groceries, restaurants, or banks. Forget laundromats!
There was a Cuban restaurant on the bottom floor that catered to the factory workers. It looked pretty grungy and almost every day at least one loud fight would brake out. Once I looked out my window to see one man holding a machete while running after another man. They would only last a few minutes and go back to normal. It didn’t really bother us much.
There were times I’d be in my loft and I knew that if my Colorado friends were away, and if Barbara and Bob from the 3rd floor were out, that I was the absolutely the only person in the whole building. If it was Sunday, I was sure that the Singer Sewing building next door was empty and so was the Prada building. Except for an occasional artist or wino walking down Prince, no one was on the street either. And the rare pedestrian would assume the building was empty and I didn’t exist.
The Nespresso store was not there yet either. That was just an empty dirt lot with a broken chain link fence around it. Fanelli’s was across the street and it served as my lobby. During the daytime, if friends didn’t want to bother yelling up to me, catching the keys and riding the freight elevator up, they could wait at Fanelli’s. Unfortunately it did not stay open that late and rarely on weekends. His hours were very irregular.
So in spite of the dense concentration of people, buildings, businesses, restaurants, and shopping in New York City, I was the ONLY person not just in my building but also on the whole block- all alone in my cavernous loft.
There were a fair amount of burglaries and prowlers too. More like druggies and kids exploring the abandoned warehouses. Climbing up fire escapes to see what these odd artist people were doing in what seemed decrepit and dirty lofts. Barbara on 3 once walked into her loft and found 2 guys trying to undo her stereo. They were very flustered by the wiring and her sudden presence. Being pretty high, they could barely stand up straight, so she just shooed them out on to the elevator and send them down.
Back to my story- So sometimes I worried about being so isolated. Who would hear me if I did call out for help? I assessed my situation.
The elevator needed a key to operate. It would not move without a key or without someone pushing the button from their own floor and “calling” it to come up. The elevator door would then open to yet another metal door at each floor. And that metal door had another lock on it. So even if you got to the 5th floor, you couldn’t get into the loft unless I opened the door from my side. I figured I was safe from any intruders from the elevator entrance.
The other potential point of danger was the fire escape. It ran all the way up the building. From the bottom of the 4th floor fire escape there was a long iron bar with a hook on the end. At the 3rd floor it was that hook that secured the detachable ladder. The idea being that in an emergency you would lift, un-hook the ladder and lower it to the sidewalk and exit the building. From the first day I moved in, I always felt that the bottom of the ladder hung way too close to the street level. Even me, if I got a running start, could have jumped up and grabbed the bottom rung.
One summer night late, I was particular aware of how isolated and vulnerable I was. Both neighbors were away. A agile curious explorer or burglar, walking by and seeing that ladder hovering so close over head could get ideas. He could leap up, or stand on the shoulders of his friend to reach the ladder and voila!
My mind was swirling in the dark with deadly scenarios. If someone did jump up, they could climb to the 5th floor, and they could open my windows, my 8-foot windows, and I’d be done for.
I need to protect my self. —I need to bring that ladder higher up!
Later that night, after I was sure there’d be little if any activity on the street, I climb out of my window and down the metal stairs to the 3rd floor fire escape.
Now the reason I would even attempt what I was about to do was that at the time, I was in great shape. We moved into what was called a “raw space”. We ourselves had to put in electricity, plumbing for a sink and shower, and build dividing walls. It took a lot of physical work. On top of that my own artwork at the time required concrete and cement! My arms and shoulders were very strong from lifting and carrying bags of cement. I even carried 4 x 8” sheetrock panels home from the lumberyard on Spring just to avoid delivery charges. On top of that I was studying Jiu Jitsu and did a lot of push-ups. I was very confident that I could do the job.
I wore work gloves to protect my hands and get a better grip. I pictured the whole thing out in my head first. Take a firm stance at edge of railing; grab the rung just below the hook with both hands and pull up. Just a few inches would be enough to release the cast iron hook. Then keep lifting up and re-hook it on the next rung. I may have to repeat the steps to make sure it impossible to reach. I positioned myself, took a deep breath, grabbed and lifted with both hands! Wow, It worked! The ladder lifted up and was freed. The only thing holding that big ladder up now was me. The hook hovered in place waiting for my next move. I just needed to lift a couple more inches to lock the next rung into place.
Cast iron is heavy! I pulled up as much as I could, and held it as long as I could. I was only inches away. But my fingers were being forced open. I just couldn’t lift or hold on any more. It was too late to try and put it back. I was loosing my grip. I couldn’t hold on anymore!
When the ladder fell, it headed straight down. Who knows what it weighed? It crashed into the sidewalk and made a huge thunderous noise. Luckily no one else was there to hear it. I remember how odd it was that when I looked down I didn’t see the ladder! It should be laid out on the street. Maybe it tipped backwards instead of forward? Where could it have gone didn’t really interest me. All I knew was that at least now I could rest easy knowing that no one could climb up my building. I went back up to the 5th floor, into my loft and went to sleep.
Early the next morning I woke up to a loud commotion on Prince Street. Maybe it had to do with the ladder incident? There were firemen, policemen, lots of trucks and the manger of the Cuban restaurant all yelling about something. I looked down from my fire escape and was shocked to see a big hole in the sidewalk. You could see right down to the basement floor!
I went downstairs to check things out. I pictured the sidewalk would stop the ladder and fall over. No, the sidewalk was hollow! It broke clear through and crashed into the basement floor! The top of the ladder was sticking straight up out of the sidewalk. I also never thought the basement extended way beyond the entrance of the building?
The workers, neighbors, police and everyone assumed that a burglar tried to get into the building and left it at that. I stared on in amazement like everyone else. Then jumped on my bike and rode off to work.
About a month later, after the basement floor and the sidewalk were repaired, the ladder was put back in place. I was happy to see that it was definitely a few feet higher than before.
Copyright © 2020 Vivian Ricupero