Posts Tagged ‘West Broadway’

The Saint of SoHo

May 15, 2018

Razing the Church of St. Alphonsus Liguori at 310 West Broadway, now the Soho Grand Hotel, Harry Pincus 1981

This amazing photo, part of a series of the razing of the Church of St. Alphonsus Liguori taken by artist Harry Pincus in 1981, tells many stories. It tells us that there used to be a church where the SoHo Grand Hotel is today. It reminds us that the twin towers once stood downtown until they didn’t. It is proof that West Broadway was once home to a community of German Catholics and then at some point became a victim of urban decay and that it is now an affluent street with a high-end hotel. (more…)

Guest Post Series: M. Lynch

March 24, 2012

West Broadway in the late 70's or early 80's (photo: Mira Schor via The Huffington Post)

West Broadway has always been a main thoroughfare in SoHo.  What happens on West Broadway is often a good indicator of what’s going on in SoHo in general.  In the past, I’ve written posts about the possible renaming of West Broadway to Jackson Pollock Place (see the post here), about an early gallery on West Broadway that was perhaps a bit before its time (see the post here), about a proposal to build a mega-sports complex (see the post here), and about the pig roasts at the bodega (see the post here).

In an effort to include a spectrum of voices with a spectrum of approaches to SoHo memory, I would like to introduce you to the very interesting work of M. Lynch, who traced the evolution of SoHo by studying the businesses along West Broadway through the decades between the 1960’s through the 1990’s:

West Broadway is the illustrative case-in-point for the evolution of SoHo. Successive businesses along the same commercial corridor trace the ever-changing history of the neighborhood. Over the five blocks in SoHo there was a constant movement of businesses in and out of the buildings along West Broadway. In the sixties new enterprises were still industrial and commercial concerns, just different companies. From the 1970s onward the new types of businesses along West Broadway – galleries, restaurants, clothing boutiques and retail outlets – represented a shift in the orientation of SoHo from an industrial backwater into a hip and increasingly affluent residential community. (page 3)

The following is an excerpt from her thesis. (more…)

(Almost) In the Right Place at the Right Time: FlatsFixed Gallery

July 16, 2011

FlatsFixed Gallery no longer exists, and, alas, nor do any photos of it.

FlatsFixed Gallery, named for signs posted in garage windows on the Lower East Side to convey its anti-art establishment focus, was the third gallery to open in SoHo after Reese Palley and Paula Cooper.  This was in 1970.  Soon thereafter, many galleries, among them O.K. Harris and Leo Castelli, opened on the same street.  FlatsFixed was located at 451 West Broadway, which some of you may remember also as the home of Let There Be Neon, with its cavernous whipped-cream-castle interiors.  The space was indeed different, some would say odd.  Like a gallery space on acid.  A perfect venue to show neon art.  But not so perfect for other media, apparently.

Mark Gabor left a successful career as a Managing Editor of Abrams Artbooks at the ripe old age of 26 to open the gallery with partners Paul Margoles, a craftsman who originally designed the Gaudi-esque space to showcase his furniture designs, and Arthur Levin, Mark’s best friend from Reed College.  Arthur was the financial backer, the business side of the business, Paul was the artistic side who basically came with the space, and Mark was the core driving force holding the other two in orbit.

At Abrams, Mark had worked with many mainstream artists, including Robert Rauschenberg, Larry Rivers and Robert Indiana, and when he left on not the best of terms with Harry Abrams, he wanted to make a break from what was already beginning to be seen as the art establishment and represent unknown artists.  A noble cause, a daring one at a time when SoHo was not yet in the throes of being the art capital of the world.  So, with much hope and enthusiasm, FlatsFixed mounted shows of graphics, prints, and multiples (three-dimensional pieces, sometimes electric, that were made in small editions). As an added attraction, FlatsFixed periodically held events — plays, happenings, performance art —  in what Mark himself calls “that goofy space.”

For two years, Flatsfixed struggled to stay afloat, with Levin kicking in funds to cover overhead.  But they could not get itgoing.  They were not taken seriously by the press, and even when they were, their space was not taken seriously.  Reviews were scant, as were customers.  If potential customers did come in, they were often more interested in the space itself than the art.  Or they were looking for artwork to match the color scheme in their living rooms.  And on top of that, the artists themselves became angry at the gallery for not being able to sell their work, after Mark had chosen them precisely because they were talented but had not yet had much exposure.

In 1972, completely disillusioned by an art world based on “wheeling, dealing, and stealing,” and not willing to compromise his vision by selling artwork to clients looking for something merely decorative, FlatsFixed closed its doors just before the gallery scene in SoHo exploded.  At the time, Mark felt that SoHo was being so exploited that “it had no future.”  To this day, he says that this lapse in judgement has become his favorite professional embarrassment. He thought he was outsmarting everyone by getting out early because he was sure the SoHo art scene was going to be a “quick fad.”

So why am I telling you this story?  The story of a failed gallery in a time and place when many galleries not only succeeded but were successful beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.  Because I’d like to think of it as a large failure that contains within it a small success, and therefore a bittersweet if not happy ending.  Mark wanted to do something.  He wanted to represent unknown artists.  That didn’t work out.  But instead of changing what he wanted to suit his bottom line, he moved on.  Was this arrogance, stupidity, or authenticity?  Perhaps a bit of each.  Nonetheless, he stuck to his guns, at least that’s the way he tells it in hindsight.  To be young and idealistic is to be naïve.  To be old and jaded is to be practical.  When it got down to it, Mark said, “The gallery business was no fun.”  Naivete won out over practicality this time.  And perhaps if this had happened more often, the gallery business would be more fun.  But fun doesn’t make the world go ’round.

Before SoHo was SoHo (Part III): The Etymology of Street Names

June 11, 2011

One way we New Yorkers define ourselves is by where we live—in what neighborhood, on what street.  We’ve repeated our own addresses an untold number of times, yet we usually do not know for whom or for what the streets that make up our neighborhood are named. As I discovered during my research for this post, the etymology of street names reveals much about the history of the areas through which those streets run.

Houston Street

Four Views of Houston Street, late 1800's (photo: NYPL)

In the early 1800’s, Nicholas Bayard, once the largest landowner in Manhattan, cut a street through his land and named it after his son-in-law, William Houstoun, a congressman from Georgia, who, it is thought, pronounced his name house-ton, instead of hews-ton, like the city in Texas.   There is a Houston County in Georgia that is also pronounced house-ton.  At some point, the second “u” in Houstoun was dropped, but the pronunciation remained. Some have said that the name comes from the Dutch words huijs tuijn, meaning “house garden,” but this etymology is false.

Canal Street

Early Canal Street (photo: via The Bowery Boys)

Collect Pond was a fresh water pond located just southeast of the present-day corner of Broadway and Canal Street.  In the 1700’s, it was used for recreation as well as a reservoir, but as industries began dumping waste there, it became a toxic wasteland.  In 1807, the city widened a small spring that ran from the pond to the Hudson River to drain it and planted rows of trees along both sides of this new canal.  This path was known as Canal Street, even after it was paved over in 1821 because residents complained of its foul smell.

West Broadway

West Broadway at Canal, 1936 (photo: NYPL via Ephemeral NY)

Until the mid-nineteenth century, West Broadway was called Lorenz Street, after a general in George Washington’s army.  The street was nicknamed “rotten row” because it was lined with numerous brothels.  Briefly renamed South Fifth Avenue, it was re-renamed West Broadway in the 1870’s.

In 1972, Auguest Heckscher, the city’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Administrator, proposed that the stretch of West Broadway between Canal and Houston Streets be renamed “Jackson Pollock Place”  The proposal was not very popular amongst residents (read my post on the controversy surrounding this proposal here).

The portion of West Broadway that is north of Houston was renamed La Guardia Place, after former New York City Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia, in 1967.


And early view of Niblo’s Garden, at Broadway and Prince Streets, ca. 1930 (image NYPL)

Originally a native American trail called Wickquasgeck that meandered through Manhattan, Broadway was made into a wide thoroughfare by the Dutch.  Before 1899 when the name “Broadway” became the official name for the entire road, it was known by different names in different parts of the island.  The name is a literal translation of breede weg (Dutch).

Spring Street

Lispenard's Meadow taken from the N.E. corner of the present Broadway & Spring St. (Drawn by A. Anderson, 1785 via Art NYC)

Spring Street was named for a spring that flowed in Lispenard’s Meadow, which, along with Collect Pond (see “Canal Street” above), was used for recreation by early European settlers.  Spring Street was earlier known as Brannon Street, because it ran through the garden of a man of that name.

Collect Pond was located just southeast of the present-day corner of Broadway and Canal Street. (Image via The Bowery Boys)

Many of the other streets that run through SoHo, such as Mercer Street, Greene Street, and Prince Street, were named for Revolutionary War heroes whose legacies stretch beyond the borders of New York City.

So the next time you are wandering through the neighborhood, if you picture it as a seedy red light district, perhaps you will feel grateful that instead of brothels, we now have not one but TWO Camper stores along Prince Street.  But if you instead conjure an image of the bucolic expanse of Lispenard’s Meadow, perhaps your yearning to run barefoot through grass will remind you that we could use a little more green space on SoHo and a little less Spanish footwear.

Meet Me on the Corner of Pollock and De Kooning

February 5, 2011

West Broadway @ Houston, 1970's (photo by Straatis on Flickr)

Did you know that West Broadway could have been named Jackson Pollock Place?  I guess those of you who were already grownups in 1972 might remember that in February of that year, Auguest Heckscher, the city’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Administrator, proposed that the stretch of West Broadway between Canal and Houston Streets be renamed “Jackson Pollock Place.”  The proposal was not very popular amongst residents.  According to David L. Shirey of the New York Times, some said it would commercialize SoHo, some felt that Pollock did not represent the current aesthetic of SoHo and would therefore misrepresent the neighborhood, and others thought that some of the artists living in SoHo at the time still felt they were in competition with Pollock and would therefore not want to see his name on every piece of mail they received.  If the proposal had been approved, it would have been the first time a street was named after a modern American painter in New York City.  West Broadway was previously called Fifth Avenue South and before that it was Lorenz Street, after a general in George Washington’s army.  The portion of West Broadway that is north of Houston was renamed La Guardia Place, after former New York City Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia, in 1967.

A few years later, in 1976, artist Gary Reister planned to paint a mural depicting twelve pioneer abstract expressionist painters, including Jackson Pollock, at 393 West Broadway.  This plan also came up against strong opposition from the SoHo community.  Does anyone know if the mural was ever painted?  I don’t remember it.

P.S. Does anyone know the name of the artist who did the mural in the photo above?

P.P.S. Here’s a photo of the hardware store mentioned by SoHo Man his comment, with the Jason Crum mural visible in color in the background (source unknown):

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