Archive for the ‘SoHo as Concept’ Category

SoHo as Muse: The SoHo Shift

November 29, 2014
SoHo Editorial3

Public Interaction: Isabel modeled the Soho dress for a fashion editorial photoshoot the group named “Bag Lady”. She caused quite a scene in the big, attention grabbing garment, both disrupting and intriguing the crowds of Saturday afternoon shoppers.


A couple weeks ago, I received an email from Cameron Durham at Parsons the New School for Design, telling me about a SoHo related project he completed with his Integrative Studio and Seminar class. The studio portion of the class is taught by Stacy Selier, exploring a range of visual, analytical and making skills while working on projects that draw upon collaboration and cross disciplinary investigation. The focus of this course is not only on the “how” of making things, but also the “why.” How is it that we make sense of our ideas, the information we collect, and our hunches and theories? And what can this inquiry tell us about why we make decisions as creative thinkers? The seminar portion of the class is taught by Andrea Marpillero-Colomina and explores the urban transformation and shift in New York City through analytical classroom discussions and writing projects.

Cameron told me that they used The SoHo Memory Project as a source of information when they were doing background research for their SoHo shift design.  The finished “product” is quite interesting, melding history and fashion into a design for a shift.  I would like to share it with you, as it presents a visual interpretation of SoHo from the point of view of designers who were all born after the transformation of SoHo from a community of artists to a retail hub—blank slates in a way, in that they never experienced SoHo as anything but the home of Kanye and Nine West. (more…)

SoHo Walks of Fame Part II: Cinematic SoHo

October 1, 2014


An Unmarried Woman (1978) directed by Paul Mazursky

An Unmarried Woman (1978) directed by Paul Mazursky

While doing research for last moth’s post, SoHo Walks of Fame, about SoHo in the media, I came across several films that were shot in SoHo through the years.  Some were mentioned last week, but since then I’ve poked around looking for clips so you can see our neighborhood in action.  Here is a rundown of what I found.

There have been scores of films shot on location in New York City, but not too many that depict life in SoHo, especially pre-gentrification.  Only one film that takes place in the 1970’s that is shot, at least in part, in SoHo comes to mind (although I’m sure there are others), Paul Mazursky’s An Unmarried Woman (1978), in which a newly divorced Upper East Side woman finds romance and freedom with a downtown artist. (more…)

SoHo Walks of Fame

September 1, 2014
Mercer Street, November 2, 2012 after Hurricane Sandy

I took this photo outside my house on November 2, 2012 after Hurricane Sandy

After my way-too-serious post last month about “archivism as activism,” this month I decided to write about a more lighthearted subject—SoHo in the media.  As I was doing my research, something interesting occurred to me.  Many of the films I found were shot either on Crosby Street between Prince and Spring, or on Mercer Street between Houston and Prince.  Come to think of it, these two blocks, the first where I lived until I was five years old, and the other to which we moved in 1974 and where I still live today, have appeared countless times not only on film, but in print as well.  After some poking around, I came up with an inventory of media where these two blocks have appeared.  What makes them so appealing to photographers and film makers?  Or is it that every block in SoHo appears repeatedly in the media so I could have picked any two blocks at random?  These are not the most pressing questions of the day, to say the least.  But there are too many pressing questions being asked already these days.  You don’t need me asking any more.  So, I’m guessing it’s not MY presence on these two streets that have made them alluring to visual artists over the years.  Then what is it?  Your guess is as good as mine.  Let me know if you have any ideas! (more…)

Archivism as Activism: The Preservation of SoHo

August 1, 2014
 SoHo Newsletter

SoHo Newsletter

Keeping Watch, last month’s post on The SoHo Alliance and their mission to maintain, in the words of director Sean Sweeney, “controlled and appropriate development – a balance between residential and retail, seeking a quality-of-life that benefits everyone who visits, lives or works in SoHo” was inspired by another, equally laudable organization, The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP), that is, according to its mission statement, “a leader in protecting the sense of place and human scale that define the Village’s unique community.”  In fact, GVSHP advocates on behalf of not only Greenwich Village proper, but the East Village and NoHo as well.  The work of these two organizations thus helps ensure that our historic roots are preserved and that the residents of these communities are protected.

The Village Voice - April 9, 1964 issue about artists rallying for loft rights, back when you had to pay (10 cents!) for the paper.

The Village Voice – April 9, 1964 issue about artists rallying for loft rights, back when you had to pay (10 cents!) for the paper.

This past June I attended an event hosted by GVSHP, where host and long-time Village resident Calvin Trillin presented its annual Village Awards to local individuals and businesses that had contributed in some way to the preservation of Greenwich Village and its environs.  Among the award recipients were LaMaMa in the East Village, Unopressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Books on Carmine Street, and Kathy Donaldson, an activist who has spent the last forty years working to preserve the heritage of her neighborhood.  Board members also reviewed GVSHP’s work during 2013-2014 to protect architectural heritage and cultural history.

I found this event inspiring for a number of reasons.  I was impressed by the awardees’ passionate dedication to the GVSHP’s mission and with the breadth and depth of GVSHP’s reach in its communities.  But most of all, I was inspired to find a way that I could do something to help preserve the architectural heritage and cultural history of SoHo. (more…)

Reading SoHo: Recent Books

February 1, 2014
Babette Mangolte, Roof Piece (Trisha Brown), 1973, photograph of Trisha Brown’s Roof Piece performed from 53 Wooster to 381 Lafayette Street, New York City, 1973. Courtesy Babette Mangolte via

Babette Mangolte, Roof Piece (Trisha Brown), 1973, photograph of Trisha Brown’s Roof Piece performed from 53 Wooster to 381 Lafayette Street, New York City, 1973. Courtesy Babette Mangolte via  From Art on the Block by Ann Fensterstock.

I wanted to conjure New York as an environment of energies, sounds, sensations. Not as a backdrop, a place that could resolve into history and sociology and urbanism, but rather as an entity that could not be reduced because it had become a character, in the manner that a fully complex character in fiction isn’t reducible to cause, reasons, event.

—Rachel Kushner, author of The Flamethrowers,
in The Paris Review

While recently re-revisiting my SoHo book idea that seems forever stuck in Neverland, I was thinking about books of note have recently been written about SoHo.  There is, of course, Illegal Living: 80 Wooster Street and the Evolution of Soho (2010) by Roslyn Bernstein and Shael Shapiro, a history of the evolution of SoHo as told through the history of 80 Wooster Street and the people who lived there, as well as Soho: The Rise and Fall of an Artists’ Colony (2003) by Richard Kostelanetz, which is soon to be out in a revised edition, among other excellent books that have come out over the years (see list below).

There are two brand spankin’ new books, however, published within the last year, that merit particular attention in case they’ve been overlooked by my fellow SoHo memoriticians.  The first is Ann Fensterstock’s Art on the Block: Tracking the New York Art World from Soho to the Bowery, Bushwick and Beyond that follows the evolution of New York’s arts hubs over the past fifty years.  There is also the novel The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner, about a young artist who moves to New York from Nevada and then finds her way to Italy where she becomes involved in a radical movement.  Although neither of these books focus solely on SoHo, the sections that do are quite compelling and each do their part in shaping our collective memory of SoHo in the 1970’s. (more…)

SoHo State of Mind

May 18, 2013
The opening reception for the SoHo Memory Project exhibition.

At the opening reception for the SoHo Memory Project exhibition.

This is week three of my SoHo exhibition.  I think it has been rather successful thus far.  Not in the sense that it has drawn large crowds from far and wide, but it has shed a (dappled) light on the mysterious ways of my ex-expat parents in the eyes of locals.  My parents spent more than half of their lives in New York.  How could they not have brought it back to Okazaki with them?

First of all, everyone now sees that what they thought was my parents’ unusual and excessively large live/work space, is de rigeur in SoHo.  Japanese homes are small, cramped abodes with small cramped rooms that at first glance appear more spacious than they really are because everything, from the sofa to the plates to the people themselves are a few degrees smaller than in the US, thus everything is to scale, as if the whole environment were thrown in a dryer set on high.  But then you realize that the overflowing plate of food offered at dinnertime is in fact a Lilliputian feast and that you are starving as soon as you’ve finished your mini-meal.  Yes, even the pieces of sushi are smaller here.

In contrast, my parents have recently super-sized their living quarters.  While they were camping out in the back of the Blue Box Gallery, they decided to build a house on the lot next door that was being used for parking.  Again, instead of building a house like all the others in the neighborhood, my father designed a three-story “loft building” where he could have an entire floor as a studio and then a spacious living space above.  The ground floor, still vacant, is a commercial space that can be used for art or dance classes or as an exhibition space, TBD.  The building has exposed cement walls, wood floors, and high ceilings, a la SoHo 1975, but also includes all of the modern conveniences of Japan 2013, such as a bathtub with a digital control panel where you can set and maintain the temperature of the bath, shower, and air, all separately, and a pleasing tune plays throughout the apartment as a soothing woman’s voice announces that your bath is ready and is at your desired settings.

The control panel of my parents' bathtub

The control panel of my parents’ bathtub

Then there’s the more intangible SoHo ethos that emanates from The Blue Box.  Japan is not a country that generally celebrates difference.  People seem to work hard to blend in, to toe the party line in terms of behavior, dress, even how they pass their leisure time.  This is kind of a bummer for any arty eccentric types.  They must remain closeted or else risk ridicule.  Not anymore!  The Blue Box is a haven for the square pegs of Okazaki.  They come to hang out and chat and let it all hang out.  My father has a motley posse of “misfits,” who in New York would just blend in, but then, who doesn’t blend in in New York, save for a group of Japanese tourists?

I asked visitors to the gallery to share their impressions of the exhibition.  People mostly said what you would expect, “I never knew that SoHo had such a rich history,” and “I would like to visit SoHo now that I know something about it.”  One visitor wrote me a note reflecting on my childhood that said, “To bring a well-balanced, well-rounded child into the world is quite difficult.  It takes a broad-minded community, home, and family working together to achieve this.  You are very lucky to have had such a life!”  Lucky, indeed.  I will keep this in mind while raising my daughter, also a child of SoHo, with the hope that when people see her exhibition about the SoHo of her childhood, they will know that she, too, was a lucky kid.

Thinking Inside the (Blue) Box

May 4, 2013
Facade of the Blue Box Gallery in Okazaki, Japan

Facade of the Blue Box Gallery in Okazaki, Japan

Greetings from Okazaki, Japan, hometown of my mom and dad who lived in SoHo for 45 years before moving back here just this year.  Taking their wealth of experience as artists and then gallery owners in New York, they have opened a gallery here in an old warehouse that used to house, of all things, a fabric recycling storage space.  Yes, the rag trade, so prevalent in SoHo when my parents arrived in 1968, followed them all the way back to Okazaki.  How could they NOT open a gallery in this space?

While visiting his childhood home about ten years ago, my father came upon an abandoned warehouse.  He inquired about the 2,500-square-foot space and quickly secured a ten-year lease at the equivalent of $850 per month.  The landlord was probably thinking, who in their right mind would want such a space now that fabric recycling has been moved offshore?  My father painted the exterior a happy shade of blue and aptly named the building “The Blue Box.”  He then slowly, using his carpentry skills that put me thought college, built a live-work space comprised of studio space, a large exhibition space, and a kitchen and loftbed in the back.  Sound familiar?  You really can’t teach an old do new tricks.

The gallery is quite vast, with two large rooms and another small room in the back.  It is in this cozy third space that I have put together an exhibition about the history of SoHo, an analog SoHo Memory Project, so to speak.  I thought the residents of this sleepy city (think outskirts of Hartford) might be interested in knowing a little about the place my parents disappeared to for so long.  Most of the people who will visit this exhibition will not have ever been to New York, and will not have heard of SoHo.  How does one convey SoHo’s rich history and culture to someone whose frame of reference is, at best, the film After Hours dubbed into Japanese?

The following is a video sneak peak of the exhibition.  Please excuse the shaky video and improvised narration.  Tune in next time for a post-vernissage debriefing!

And the survey says…

March 23, 2013
Jason Crum mural sponsored by City Walls at West Broadway and Houston (photo by David Bromberg)

Jason Crum mural sponsored by City Walls at West Broadway and Houston (photo by David Bromberg)

Thanks to all of you who filled out my “SoHo Survey” over the past two years (those of you who have not yet filled one out, click on the “Your SoHo Profile” link to the right).  It’s been great to read about all of your memories of old SoHo.  I thought I’d share some of them here anonymously.  Although I received a wide variety of responses to each of the questions, I feel that I can somehow relate to all of them because my memories of SoHo, like yours, are so varied, bitter and sweet, dark and light, foul and fond.


The Times They Are a-Changin’

March 9, 2013
SN head
The following article by Jim Stratton appeared in the June 7, 1974 issue of the SoHo Newsletter in response to a series of articles about SoHo that appeared in the May 20, 1974 issue of New York Magazine.  I have also attached the two NYM articles to which Stratton refers (thanks, RF!).  These articles appeared around the time when loft living was transformed in the popular consciousness from a way of life to a “lifestyle.”  SoHo residents fought valiantly to protect their Shangri-la, or to at least slow down the pace of development in their neighborhood, but, in the end, no person or group of people was able stem the tide of hipification.
Illustration from the SoHo Newsletter, June 7, 1974

Illustration from the SoHo Newsletter, June 7, 1974

The Most Exciting Place to Destroy in New York

“…This is the fourth time SoHo has arrived.  Perhaps more than any other part of the city, the area has swung between boom and bust…”

Thus begins part of the first of a superficial, counterproductive, and downright mendacious glimpse of this neighborhood by New York Magazine.  What is most galling is that the magazine’s so-called reporters had access to much material and many people, then chose to ignore all that didn’t fit with the narrow profit motive of their publishers. (more…)

Ephemeral SoHo

January 26, 2013
Crosby Street, 1969

Crosby Street, 1969

This May, I will be traveling in Japan with my family, and while I am there, I will be having a SoHo Memory Project exhibition at my father’s gallery in his hometown of Okazaki.  I will display of photos and artifacts related to this blog and the story it tells about the SoHo experience as lived by its pioneers.  I think that the people of Okazaki, so far removed from The United States, New York, and certainly SoHo, will find the story of what my mom and dad, who disappeared 45 years ago only to reappear this year and build a house right back where they started, fascinating, if not incredible.  I will be putting together a catalog for the show that I will share with you, and I will most certainly be posting observations from the gallery in May.

The show will feature an essay by my mother about her memory of the early SoHo days that I translated and posted here a while back, and I will display related photographs printed on several media including paper, canvas, metal and wood.  I would also like to include pieces of ephemera, such as newspapers, letters, flyers.  Basically, anything that would materially illustrate what life was like back then.  I’ve posted images of some of the items I have gathered below. (more…)

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