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.
Robert Weinreb, a SoHo old-timer, has spent the past 50+ years photographing his environs and the world, most significantly the Himalayas, documenting changes in the region over a 30-year period. The following is a sampling of Weinreb’s SoHo photos, taken in the early 1970s. They capture the moment in time when SoHo’s buildings housed a mix of artist studios and factories and the streets were both gritty and glorious. Read more>>
Librarian, author, and critic Jesse Karp and I grew up in SoHo at the same time, born just days apart, but we somehow never met until our paths crossed at my daughter’s school, where he is Lower School Librarian. In this month’s guest post, Jesse looks back at how SoHo, as a place as well as an ethos, had a hand in shaping the person he is today. I think all you SoHo “kids” will relate to this story of growing up in a special place where the “forces of art and industry met and sparked a unique vitality.” Read more>>
Sep 01 2022
The SoHo Memory Project celebrates the history of SoHo as a New York City neighborhood.