First loft/studio on Wooster Street and Canal.
Then moved to Mercer Street in 1974
Waitress at Magoo's
Co-founder of "Appearances" magazine
Founder/editor of "Re-view: Artists on Art" magazine.
The quiet that descended on the neighborhood after 5PM when the sweat shop workers went home and the truckers left. It was possible to work in one's studio for hours or through the night. The streets were empty and the area very quiet, especially on weekends.
The fear. We were all living illegally in the lofts and had to hide that fact from the Fire Department and police. The quiet dark streets also provided shelter for rapists and muggers. I also was afraid of being evicted. I had a hard time coming up with the rent and I do not miss the eviction notices on my door!
I still live here but I am getting squeezed out by the super rich. It is just a matter of time. I am stubborn and have tried to stay in the loft my husband and I built and raised our kids in. I thought we could live here until we died. But it is no longer cheap to live here even if you own your space.
Meeting artists from all over the United States who had, with great courage, come to Soho to establish themselves in the New York Art World. They seemed to me to be so strong and talented and directed towards their art. As a long time New Yorker I was amazed at their daring to come from the wheat fields of Nebraska and Kansas, the Deep South, and the West Coast. All were young and talented and had great hopes for their art. They brought terrific energy to Soho, an energy that transformed it from a manufacturing area, sandwiched in between Little Italy and Chinatown, to a magical place where creativity was everywhere and everyone you met was totally and full-time engaged in creating cultural statements. Incredibly exciting and unique time in our history.
Another strong memory are the factory workers who came in every morning early and left at 5PM every evening. I could see from my window on Canal Street the people working at Tunnel Machinery; row upon row in an enormous space. Then on Mercer Street I saw through my windows the rows of sewing machines for textiles. At the end of the work day the many low paid workers left and some remained sitting on the steps across the street, some eating leftover from lunch. Mostly Hispanic or Asian women would sit on the steps until young children joined them and eventually their husbands arrived to pick them up. Or they drifted off holding their children's hands. They chatted together after work and seemed from the outside tired but happy. Their hard work inspired all of us to work hard on our art. They were our heroes.
Soho was built floor by floor by the artists themselves. And further, these same young men and women who came from all over the country came together for free and put their skills into helping one another. It reminded me of the movie “Oklahoma” I had seen as a child, the way we all helped each other to fix up our lofts together. If you needed a wall built, as we did on Mercer Street to run down the length of the loft and separate the living side from the studio, then you told your friends and they came over on the designated day. They helped to haul up the sheet rock from street level to the third floor, heavy sheet by heavy sheet up the stairs, they also brought up the lumber for the studding. Then they measured and cut and assembled the frame for the wall on the floor. While mostly the men did the heavy work, we women became good at taping and sparkling,electrical wiring, and of course painting the final wall. When the stud work was done and the wall all framed out, using ropes, we all hauled it up from the floor and nailed it to the floor and to beams on the ceiling. Then the sheet rock was fitted and put in place with screw guns and soon after that, the taping and sparkling began. Usually that was the end of the project for the other artists who had come to lend a hand. It would take the sparkling compound overnight to set and dry. Any sanding and painting of the new wall would be done the next day and usually by the artist who lived there. But we would assemble again soon on another day to help the next artist, and then the next. Onward we worked our way through most of Soho that way. Some the artists became really good at carpentry. Some became really good at plumbing and electrical work. Many continued later on in their lives to support themselves and their families on these skills honed in the early days of Soho when none of us could afford a licensed contractor or plumber or electrician. In the early70’s, I did not have kitchen yet, or much running water for that matter. But I recall making huge batches of chili on a hot plate to feed those artists who had come to help us with our walls. Now, almost 50 years later, these walls in my loft are the very same ones built by those young artists, some who went on to become famous, and others who did not, but all of them living within this art community at that time. People tell me I have a nice loft. Well every wall and every room, the plumbing in the bathroom and in the laundry room, the kitchen sink and counter and storage units were all built by other artists back then and they have lasted the test of time. When our building went up for its Certificate of Occupancy (CofO) our floor passed easily because the plumbing was so simple and legal. A master plumber signed off as did a master electrician. The since gentrified spaces in our building had a harder time passing inspection with work done by well paid professional contractors!
Not a lot of people know that Soho was almost entirely personally financed. Everyone had to come up on their own with the initial down payment to go to contract with our landlords.Coming up with about $10,000 each was not easy. Most of us appealed to family who thought we were crazy to want to live in and buy an old manufacturing building. However we managed, then the banks did not want to lend a bunch scruffy looking artists, without real jobs, the money for a mortgage to pay off the majority of the purchase price. We were all individually and as a group turned down by every bank in Soho. They couldn’t grasp the idea of ten people buying a building together. Later the City would have the same problem. One person buying a building they could understand.Eventually the city passed legislation that made it less of an obstacle course to get the C of O as a group. For our building, it was a bank in Chinatown that gave us our first mortgage that allowed us to purchase the building and form a co-op.I have always felt gratitude to the ( Old Golden Pacific National Bank) bank on Canal street that was built like a four story pagoda for understanding and helping us to become owners and wondered why they alone had the mindset to do what no other bank dared to do? Were they more of a community oriented bank? We were actually a good bet. Not one of us did or would have forfeited on the loan. We all wanted desperately to keep our lofts. Still do.