Canal Street Artists and Fleas

March 3, 2018

Two Stores on Canal Street ca. early 1980s (photo: Susan Fortgang)


Today I would like to share a collection of photos I received recently. These photos and their captions by artist Susan Fortgang capture Canal Street in the 1980’s and 1990’s when it was a lawless flea market free for all. Her in-depth descriptions tell the story of a bygone era that straddled the old and new SoHos and shows us an up-close look at a street that had a culture all of its own, an invaluable addition to our image collection!

Thank you to everyone who has submitted photos to the SoHo Memory Project Photo Archive thus far. For those of you who would still like to submit photos, it’s never too late! Please send photos to, or email me or share a Dropbox folder.

Canal Street Story: Flea Market Businesses, Lawlessness, Vendors, Tourists

Images and text by Susan Fortgang

Canal Street, the North side (SoHo) between Mercer Street and Broadway

Here are many of the stores that artists, as well as others, loved and depended on: Industrial Plastics, CK&L Hardware, Canal Hardware, Reliable Hardware, and Tunnel Stationers (there were several wholesale “stationery” stores on Canal Street in the l970’s).  In the right-hand corner of the photo you can see the old Pearl River upstairs, on the corner of Broadway.  Most of these stores lost their leases, were subdivided, and became flea market type booths with no store front and only a metal gate to close.  Eventually, Canal Street deteriorated into a flea market free for all.

Canal Street – SoHo – North side between Mercer and Greene Street. Note condition of historic houses behind sign.

Lighting stores, electronic stores, and stores that installed car stereos were also prevalent on Canal Street back then.  The side streets (Greene, Wooster, Mercer) were plagued with vendors who were illegally installing car stereos, purchased on Canal Street, into cars parked along the curb. Loud music, garbage and congestion drove many of us crazy during the weekend.  I believe this was during the 1980’s.  There were also a lot of break-ins into parked cars along the streets, as criminals tried to get car radios and packages from people who were frequenting SoHo.  Car alarms went off day and night.

Canal Street – SoHo – North side between Mercer and Greene. This picture shows the buildings behind at a later date as some uprgrading is visible

Canal Street – SoHo – North side between Wooster and West Broadway . Businesses are closed in the early morning.

Read the rest of this entry »

Sweeping SoHo

February 3, 2018

Trash on Wooster Street in the early 1970s (photo: Jaime Davidovich)

If you haven’t heard yet, SoHo has a new “neighborhood improvement” group, an all-volunteer-run nonprofit called CleanUpSoHo dedicated to keeping SoHo streets clean. I, for one, have seen a huge improvement lately.

Our once relatively rubbish-free sidewalks became dotted with discarded shopping bags, coffee cups and food containers after the Association of Community Employment Programs for the Homeless (ACE), subsidized by its founder, SoHo resident Henry Buhl, stopped cleaning our streets in the fall of 2016 due to funding challenges. And the problem only worsened as the weather got warmer and tourist season ramped up in the spring and summer of 2017.

SoHo is no stranger to trash talking. In the early-1970’s, after it became public knowledge that artists were living in SoHo’s then-manufacturing buildings, the SoHo Artists Association (SAA), a neighborhood advocacy group, lobbied for curb-side pickup of residential trash. Before then, because SoHo was not zoned for residential use, the City of New York Department of Sanitation (DSNY) did not pick up household trash. Residents had to find creative ways to dispose of their trash — often illegally depositing it in public trash bins and commercial dumpsters. Businesses often complained, and artists were fined if trash was traced back to them through discarded mail with their name and address.

A 1971 map of SoHo’s new trash collection zones

Mark Gabor, SAA’s “Director of Garbage” recalls:

At one of the early meetings of the SAA, there was angry debate as to how to deal with sanitation. The “pros” were fed up with no public service and having to schlep our trash blocks away; the “cons” were afraid of exposing our lofts to various City-department inspections and consequently losing our spaces, since most of us were illegal residents living precariously on the edge. A lot of paranoia. I even remember some of the screaming fights by the more radical underground resident artists.

Me? I said, let me try to talk directly with the local Sanitation guys — see what they think. As it turns out, they were fine with idea of scheduled pick-up times for artists’ personal trash, and agreed to make no bureaucratic connection with other City departments, namely Fire & Police. Inevitably, these other agencies ‘recognized’ the artists, not as legal, but as acceptable — since SoHo was already becoming a cultural voice in the boom of the early 70s, and the City liked us. Yes, they liked us! For the sanitation guys (I knew them by name), it was a hoot to see how these screwy artists lived and worked. It gave them a certain panache as somehow being part of The Culture.

Fast forward to the early-1990s. SoHo had become a tourist destination as clothing stores and restaurants opened, slowly replacing the art galleries that slowly began moving to Chelsea. More people, more trash. This time on the sidewalks and streets.

Enter SoHo Partnership, founded by Henry Buhl, “to address problems particular to our urban environment and to improve the quality of life in the community.” The partnership was unique in that it was the first collaboration between a community and a human services organization in New York City with the primary goal of providing job opportunities for the homeless. The organization was largely funded by donations from local residents and businesses. A not-for-profit organization, SoHo Partnership provided training and employment opportunities to homeless and jobless individuals and kept the streets of SoHo clean. In 2010, SoHo Partnership was folded into A.C.E., its umbrella organization, but continued to maintain SoHo’s streets. As mentioned earlier, because of funding challenges, largely due to a decline in participation on the part of an increasingly transient and faceless community of commercial business owners, A.C.E. discontinued street cleaning in SoHo in the fall of 2016.

What followed was a period when the streets of SoHo were strewn with litter from the growing number of people who passed through SoHo on a daily basis. DSNY could do little to help the situation. It turns out that, legally at least, commercial tenants are the ones responsible for keeping sidewalks clean:

One of CleanUpSoHo’s new high-capacity 45-gallon receptacles

The New York Department of Sanitation and most standard commercial leases require that building owners and commercial tenants keep the sidewalk and curb in front of their establishments clear. This rule applies to all sidewalks in Soho — except corners, where Sanitation must empty public trash bins. (source)

Commercial property owners and residents along the Broadway corridor between Canal and Houston formed the SoHo Broadway Initiative (SBI), a neighborhood improvement district and the first New York City supported Business Improvement District to provide equal representation to commercial and residential stakeholders. SBI has a Clean Team that cleans the sidewalks along Broadway.

But where does that leave the rest of SoHo?

Dianne Mendez, Sean Sweeney and Danielle Nazinitsky, founders of @CleanUpSoHo

A group of residents who were fed up with stepping over mounds of trash bags and shopping bags on their way home, not to mention appalled by the general dumpiness of their environs, formed a neighborhood improvement group called CleanUp SoHo. Begun as a Twitter campaign to call out offenders by posting photos of storefronts and brand names, rather than relying on an increasingly transient retail constituency, CleanUpSoHo has begun raising funds from various neighborhood sources, including co-op/condo associations, landlords, and building managers. They have succeeded in raising over $100,000 from various sources to jumpstart a street cleaning campaign.

CleanUpSoHo has begun replacing approximately 100 existing/missing small wire mesh baskets with sturdy, high-capacity 45-gallon receptacles approved by DSNY through their Sponsor-A- Basket program. In addition, CleanUpSoHo has hired Wildcat Service Corporation, who is cleaning the streets bordered by Houston, Mercer, Canal and Thompson.

Members of the Wildcat SoHo team cleaning our streets

CleanUpSoHo co-founder Danielle Nazinitsky told me, “Longer term, we plan an outreach program in cooperation with DSNY to educate property owners and commercial entities about DSNY laws and regulations regarding proper trash disposal, recycling guidelines, collection schedules, commercial cartage, etc.”

In the true spirit of SoHo, CleanUpSoHo is a grassroots campaign that has made true inroads in improving our community. To continue this good work, they will need our support. Please contact Danielle Nazinitsky at or (330) 936-7928 to find out how to become involved with their efforts or to make a donation.

SoHo Guide

January 6, 2018

Happy new year!

As we enter year eight of The SoHo Memory Project, I thought we would revisit some of the many businesses that have come and gone from our community. This image gallery features a selection of advertisements placed in issues of the annual SoHo Guide, published by the SoHo Partnership. All of these advertisements date back to the mid-1990s.

The SoHo Partnership, founded by Henry Buhl, provided street cleaning services in SoHo from 1992 to 2016 and was the first collaboration between a community and a human services organization in New York City with the primary goal of providing job opportunities for the homeless. They also published an annual SoHo Guide, a handsome, spiral-bound book that contained listings for local businesses, as well as advertisements. More on the SoHo Partnership next month, but for now, take a look back at some of the businesses that made SoHo the shopping and dining neighborhood it is today. (click on any image to view as slideshow).



Let’s Talk About SoHo

December 2, 2017

“SoHo in Transition” at NYPL Mulberry Street Branch, October 23, 2017

On Monday, October 23, I led a Community Conversation at the Mulberry Street branch of the New York Public Library on “SoHo in Transition.” It was the first in a series of three such conversations to take place this fall that examine SoHo’s past, present, and future. The purpose of these conversations is to engage dialogue that creates a greater connection among old and new residents of our community. This first conversation focused on SoHo’s past.

The new 55,000 square-foot Nike superstore on Broadway and Spring is all new construction.(source: The Villager)

New York City has never stopped changing. Change is what defines us as a city, yet today people in neighborhoods across New York are alarmed by the rapidity and direction of the city’s development. Many feel that the “mallification” (some might even say “mollification”) of New York City through the proliferation of big box and chain stores has erased much of what made New York, and SoHo, unique in the world.

In this sense, SoHo has become unmoored from its history, from what makes the neighborhood singular and therefore worth celebrating. Through interviews with a long-time SoHo resident and a relative newcomer to the neighborhood, followed by a lively discussion about what people feel is special and specific to SoHo, the group came up with a varied list of things in SoHo that are worth preserving as we move forward into the future.

A SoHo door (© Jorge Royan / / CC BY-SA 3.0)

Many attendees felt that SoHo is losing its local color and charm, and that one cause of this was the fact that many small businesses have left the neighborhood due to rising rents. Several people also felt the need to preserve the architecture of SoHo and to monitor all new construction and the buying and selling of air rights. The preservation of green space came up, specifically Elizabeth Street Garden, as it is the only green space in SoHo. Others said that SoHo has already lost its sense of community and a sense of cultural history, and that we should renew connections between neighbors.

This is not to say that anyone was keen on going back to the old days, or for SoHo to stay frozen in the present. Several people mentioned the many vacant storefronts throughout the neighborhood, speculating that impossibly high rents coupled with a dramatic shift in the retail landscape (mostly to online vendors) have led SoHo to a possible turning point. Someone mentioned that SoHo is always changing, from an industrial zone to an artists’ community to a retail hub, and there definitely was a sense in the room that we were on the verge of another major turning point. SoHo will continue to develop, but its stakeholders can have some say in how it develops.

The Trump SoHo (2008, Varick and Spring) was originally built as residences, the building was too tall for the area’s zoning, so it was converted into a “hotel” which the inhabitants can only live in for part of the year. The building was then built higher than allowed even for an hotel. (Source: Wikimedia Commons/Beyond My Ken)

Thoughtful development can be enacted through various means. One great tool we have to preserve SoHo’s past is through, well, preservation. The SoHo-Cast Iron Historic District was designated in 1973, which means that buildings in the district cannot be demolished or their facades altered. New construction is permitted only on empty lots, though those are very rare these days. The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) was founded in 1980 “to preserve the architectural heritage and cultural history of Greenwich Village, the East Village, and NoHo. GVSHP is a leader in protecting the sense of place and human scale that define the Village’s unique community,” according to its mission statement.

Much of SoHo’s preservation advocacy is initiated by the SoHo Alliance (SA). SA’s predecessor, the SoHo Artists Association, advocated for historic districting and zoning changes. Now SA and other community advocacy groups, along with many individual residents, advocate for “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,” in the words of Sean Sweeney, SA’s executive Director,

In addition to preservation, zoning laws regulate the landscape of our neighborhood. Before SoHo became a mixed-use (residential+commercial) neighborhood, SoHo’s first residents, mostly artists, were living here illegally, when SoHo was zoned solely for manufacturing and commercial use. Artists advocated for zoning changes to legalize their live/work lofts. “Mastering the Metropolis,” a recent exhibition at The Museum of the City of New York, celebrated the centennial of our zoning laws:

SoHo Zoning Map

The character of New York’s varied neighborhoods is governed by a novel set of rules first envisioned by New York reformers 100 years ago – the groundbreaking Zoning Resolution of 1916. Zoning, which was designed to tame the unruly process of free-market real estate development, has continued to shape the city we know today in countless, often unseen, ways.

When it comes to the absence of a sense community in SoHo, I think one of the reasons why there is little neighborhood cohesion is that there is no place where SoHo residents can meet, gather, interact, and share ideas. In other communities, such a place would be a house of worship or a community center. When SoHo’s population was small are less diverse, there were restaurants, cafes, and bars where one would encounter people from various sectors of the community, artists, business owners, workers, families. The disappearance of these places has left a void.

Karissa Lidstrand, in her guest post on Placemaking and SoHo writes:

Members of the SoHo community have adapted to the unique constraints of their neighborhood to build community space for decades. Now a renewed twenty-first century urbanism has thrown them a new twist. The current lack of community facilities results in little room for new and old residents to come together and converse. As a result, it makes the task of building social capital more difficult. Establishing spaces that provide a level of comfort and facilitate interaction between community members will go a long way towards strengthening that social capital.

The Broome Street bar was a community hub in the 1970s (painting by Robert Candella)

Another reason SoHo residents may not feel connected to each other is that they do not have any shared sense of history. Although they do not share a personal history, they share a history through the neighborhood. The SoHo Memory Project aims to shed light on this connection. It is surprising to me that there is no neighborhood or historical society to educate residents, building owners, visitors about the history of our neighborhood. As I wrote in my post “SoHo Past, Present, …Future?“:

One of my main goals moving forward … will be to think about how The SoHo Memory Project can create mutually beneficial programming that will bring past and present together to create a future for SoHo that will leverage what makes SoHo unique to benefit all members of our community. To do this, we must devise strategies that leverage the power of our successful commercial district to serve our community’s arts culture while driving a broader agenda for change, growth and transformation in a way that also builds character and quality of place. In other words, we need to find ways for art and commerce to work together to create win-win situations where the missions of all involved are fulfilled.

Photo: Alex Reiter

The most cynical of us will throw up their hands and say, what’s the point? People in New York no longer know their neighbors. People cannot see past their own doorstep. Developers with the cash will pay to play and there’s nothing any of us can do about it. Believe me, I often feel that way too. I have often thought that this is not my SoHo anymore, that it belongs to others with whom I have no connection. I even often think of leaving. But where would I go? There’s really no place else I’d rather live. So until that changes, I’m here for the duration. There are many things about SoHo that I love, the beautiful buildings, the (albeit fragmented) community, and especially artistic community that still remains here.

What do you think is worth preserving about SoHo as we move into the future? And how do you propose we move forward as a community to make sure these things are preserved?

I’d like to hear from you and continue our community conversation here online!


For information on our next Community Conversation on December 18, click here.

For further reading:

Living Lofts: The Evolution of the Cast Iron District (Urban Omnibus, June 2013)
About zoning and SoHo.

Our Visible Past (July 23, 2011)
About LOMEX, the Rapkin Report, Brendan Gill, and preservation.

Keeping Watch: The SoHo Alliance and the Preservation of SoHo (July 1, 2014)
About the SoHo Alliance

Where Everyone Knows Your Name: Placemaking and SoHo (May 6, 2017)
Karissa Listrand’s post on placemaking and SoHo

(W)here is New York? (September 3, 2016)
About my relationship with the new SoHo and a sense of community (or lack thereof).


Dunn’s Deals: Douglas Dunn and the Lofts of SoHo

November 4, 2017

Cassations rehearsal at Douglas Dunn Studio, 541 Broadway, 3rd Floor. Decor by Mimi Gross. 2012

Douglas Dunn, choreographer, dancer and long-time resident of SoHo, recently shared with me a letter he wrote to Wendy Perron, also a choreographer and dancer, who is currently working on a book about Grand Union. Grand Union, in Perron’s words, was “a pivotal improvisation group that was unforgettable for downtown dancers in the 1970s.”

In his letter, Dunn shares memories of moving to and around SoHo, from apartment to loft to larger loft. His story captures SoHo’s evolving real estate landscape at the time, and also reads as a who’s who in modern dance. A fascinating story with beautiful photographs!

click on photographs below to view slideshow with captions


October 23, 2017

Hi Wendy,

During 1964/5, the year after graduating from Princeton, I lived on West 110th St., had a full time Welfare Job, studied Ballet at the Joffrey School, and attended New School night classes on the Psychology of Art with Rudolf Arnheim. It was too much, so….


247 Elizabeth Street

In the summer of 1965, I married and took a job teaching Spanish at The Gunnery School in Washington, Connecticut. I enjoyed the subject, but not the difficulty of having to motivate the students. After three years, in the spring of 1968, my wife (Ann Hentz), young son (Ethan Dunn) and I left that idyllic and isolating environment, and took up residence at 247 Elizabeth Street, between Houston and Prince, a 5th floor walkup. Little Italy was still Little Italy. Raw. The rent was in the low $200s. The one-bedroom apartment had been found by Steve (Shaw) and Bill (Bakaitis), two longtime friends who resided in tiny railroad apartments on East 9th Street near Avenue A, also raw, paying $37/month. By the fall, my wife and son, Ann and Ethan, went to live with her parents in South Bend, Indiana. Within a year, Sara (Rudner) moved in with me. She was full time with Twyla (Tharp), I with Merce (Cunningham).

Douglas Dunn at 508 Broadway before moving to 541 Broadway. (photo: Peter Moore, 1982)

In 1972, a friend of Sara’s, the painter Ben Schonzeit, let us know that the third floor at 508 Broadway, between Prince and Spring, had become available. We didn’t need a studio of our own, but I had a dream. The back wall of the loft was gone. Instead of buildings, there was the African Savanna, teeming with animals. Coming to understand, thus, that my dancing and my natural self were one, that I would be a dance artist for the rest of my life, I insisted that we move. In 1973, Sara left, taking a loft way west on Canal Street.


508 Broadway looking west before moving to 541 Broadway (photo: Peter Moore, 1982)

508 Broadway was owned by an aged couple who had run the ground floor as a dry goods store. Now living on our

508 Broadway

residential rent, they came in weekdays from Brooklyn and played cards in dim light. They were friendly. They charged $200/mo for each of the four floors above the store. After a few years, suddenly and without notice, the rent went way up. Unbeknownst to us, the building had been sold to Calvin Pearl, a Soho speculator. With his mother’s inheritance, he bragged, he had bought fifteen buildings, with the aim of flipping them and moving to Florida. We four tenants went to his office on Mulberry Street and begged him to sell to us. After a year, he did so, clearing $100,000.00. We each paid $49,000.00.

Off and on when Lucinda (Childs) was on tour, I rented her space at 541 (Broadway) in order to have a larger studio. We even performed Lazy Madge there for two weeks in the late ‘70s. (508 is twenty-two feet wide, 541 thirty-five.)  So I was familiar with the building. There had been a few Grand Union rehearsals in Trisha’s space earlier in the decade, and I had danced for her and with David (Gordon). Trisha (Brown), Lucinda and David had all moved to 541 in the early ‘70s, on the fifth, fourth and second floors respectively.

541 Braodway

On the third floor was a couple, the husband a concert pianist. I knew them slightly from my sojourns at Lucinda’s. Somehow, not from anyone in the building, I heard that they were selling. We spoke, arriving at a verbal agreement at $35,000.00. The next day, at their door with the cash down payment in hand, I was apprised that they had changed their minds and that the deal was off. I heard later that that morning at a building meeting there was talk of selling a vacant space on the Mercer side, and that an attorney present had recommended a price of $75,000.00. I had told the owners that I would be interested if later they decided to sell, but next thing I knew they had sold to a French couple, for how much I never heard.

Two or three years went by. Mimi Johnson, whom I knew from Cunningham days and from Artservices, let me know that the French couple were selling. After considerable negotiation, and some resistance from my dance colleagues in the building, I bought in at $350,000.00. 1982.

Douglas Dunn Studio looking east at 541 Broadway, 3rd Floor (photo: La VOCE di New York, 2016)

As for 112 Greene Street, yes, several nights each week folks would gather there to eat, drink, smoke and dance. Another spot, every Thursday was Open House at Robert Wilson’s loft on Spring Street. Dancing to music was the thing, to Cat Stevens especially. When Andy DeGroat would appear, others would clear the space to watch him. And Robert himself would emerge late, dancing virtuosically on the edges of his Earth Shoes.

If you have more questions, while I still have memory…



for more information about Douglas Dunn visit

read a review of a Douglas Dunn performance in his 508 Broadway studio in the September 1974 issue of Artforum

listen to Douglas Dunn’s oral history interview for The New York Public Library

read “Shall We Dance?” about 537-541 Broadway

Small Town Rag

October 7, 2017

The other day, I was going through issues of The SoHo Weekly News for a research request and I came across the very first issue, Volume One Number One from October 11, 1973. I thought it merited a closer look, that it could tell us something about what our neighborhood looked like 44 years ago and also give us a glimpse of what the startup newspaper and its editor, Micheal Goldstein, had in mind at the very beginning.

The front page headline reads “SoHo Wins Landmark Fight,” announcing that SoHo had officially become the first commercial district in the world to become a landmark. The area is protected because of its large concentration of cast iron buildings dating back to the mid-19th century. Due to its landmark status, the exteriors of buildings in SoHo cannot be altered without permission from the Landmarks Preservation Commission. The article includes a humorous cartoon of what appears to be Abe Beame as Alice being asked by a faceless voice “Now let’s go over that part again, Alice, where you slipped and fell into the rabbit hole.” Beame, then City Comptroller, had reluctantly voted for landmarking the district, as he had many backers from the real estate industry in his bid for Mayor.

The article states that, “The effect [of Landmark status] should be to restrict harsh tourist glitter and restrain speculation in the 26-block area, which in turn will be a protective buffer to neighboring warehouse blocks.” Perhaps it did have that effect momentarily, but we all know how that turned out.

Inside the paper, there is an editorial note that lays out what the paper will be:

On the next page, in his very first “Keeping Aloft” column, Jim Stratton questions the need for the publication:

Does SoHo need a newspaper? I’m doubtful, but I’m still open.

The previous effort, the SoHo Statement, failed because it attempted to sell SoHo to the Village the way the Village Voice sells the Village to the rest of the world. We didn’t need that then we don’t need it now.

If the effort of this newspaper is confined to selling a neighborhood to itself, as I’m told it will be, there may be more basis for its existence.

In the end, The SoHo Weekly News took us into the 80’s, ceasing publication in March 1982.

This issue of the paper includes a listings section called “Galleries, etc.” and for the record, the following galleries were listed:

From “In and Around” (click to enlarge)

Warren Bendek
Leo Castelli
Paula Cooper
Cunningham Ward
J.H. Duffy & Sons Ltd.
Andre Emmerich
First Street
John Gibson
55 Grand
Green Mountain
O.K. Harris
Nancy Hoffman
Hundred Acres
Max Hutchinson
Let There Be Neon
Levitan I and II
Louis K. Meisel
55 Mercer
The Open Mind
Prints on Prince Street
Paley and Lowe
Prince St. Gallery
Rabinovitch and Guerra
SoHo 20
Winter Gallery
James Yu

Illustration from “Notes from a Dirty Old Man”

There is also a gossip column of sorts, a bold face names section entitled “In and Around” that reports tidbits of news about local residents and businesses, including that “JOHN CHAMBERLAIN’S favorite fantasy is to open the largest bar in Soho on the order of Le Cupole (sic) in Paris.”

Then there’s the section called “Notes of a Dirty Old Man” that features a characteristically funny/strange short story by Charles Bukowski entitled “The lady, the skeleton, the drunk and Monk” that appears to also be illustrated by Bukowski.

Then there is the form you can use to sign up for a subscription, $8.00 for one year or $13.00 for two. But what’s interesting about this is the short classifieds-style blurb surrounding the form with the headline “Husbands Wanted!!!!!!” You will just have to read that one for yourself, it’s too difficult and bizarre to paraphrase.

Also included are a book review, an exhibition review, and an article about neon signs and symbols by Rudi Stern, neon artist and founder of the gallery Let There Be Neon.

The thing about this issue that gives me the deepest sense of the SoHo vibe in October 1973, however, is the advertisements from local businesses.

Fanelli’s with it’s old-school telephone number CA 6-9412:


O.K. Harris. Need they say more?


Remember the Ballroom?


Since we didn’t have any grocery stores, Pioneer boldly advertises that they will deliver to SoHo:


And of course the industrial businesses:

When it comes down to it, The SoHo Weekly News started out as a small town paper. Local news, gossip, listings, ads, coupons (and a classified call for husbands from a polyandrous Tibetan woman). Because that is what SoHo once was, a small town that tried to restrict harsh tourist glitter and restrain speculation. Ahem, speaking of rabbit holes…



SoHo Memory Profile: Dickie Landry’s New York

September 2, 2017

Richard “Dickie” Landry (photo copyright Andre Comeaux)

“People can be uncomfortable when you do a lot of things.” —Dickie Landry

True Renaissance man and renowned jazz saxophonist Richard “Dickie” Landry is so much more than his first claim to fame. Dickie has performed his music throughout the world and was a seminal member of the Philip Glass Ensemble. He is also well-known for his photography, a medium he found almost by accident, and is now gaining much recognition as a painter. To add yet another item to this list, Dickie oversees an 80-acre pecan farm in Cecilia, Louisiana. And, in a pinch, Dickie also plumbs.

Landry’s solo concert at the Guggenheim Museum

As he says in my interview with him below, Dickie only lived in SoHo for 6 months in its early heyday, but he was an integral part of the SoHo arts community of the 1960’s and 1970’s. The catalog from his 2014 photography exhibition Dickie Landry’s New York: 1969-1979 at the Paul and Lulu Hillard University Art Museum of the University of Louisiana documents these years through many wonderful portraits of his friends and co-conspirators including Keith Sonnier, Philip Glass, Robert Rauschenberg, Joan Jonas, and Moondog, among many others. Click here to see Dickie’s photographs.

To get a fuller understanding of Dickie’s full body work and what it was like to be in the New York art world of the 70’s, do watch the film “Dickie Landry’s New York Stories” by Tabitha Denholm (see below) and visit Dickie’s website. 

Interview with Richard “Dickie” Landry for The SoHo Memory Project

1. What brought you to New York, and SoHo specifically, and where did you come from?

I first went to NYC in 1956, I was right out of high school.  I drove with a friend in his 1956 red and white Corvette.  No interstates in those days, 30 hour drive.  When we arrived in the city we drove straight to the famous Jazz club “Birdland.”   Saw Miles Davis, Bud Powell, Philly Jo Jones and others.  As I was a total jazz freak, I was hooked on the city.  I went back a few summers after that and heard just about everyone who was someone in the jazz world.  I did not know anything about SoHo in those days.

I came from the small village of Cecilia, Louisiana.

Philip Glass “Glass in the Sky” (1977) by Richard Landry
Philip Glass at a performance for Art on the Beach on the World Trade Center landfill in the Hudson River. I catch a skywriter writing an ad for a glass company,

2. What was everyday life like in SoHo back then?

Every day life was a struggle to keep ahead with $. I did what ever I had to to survive.

I worked with Phillip Glass as a plumber and as a performer in his newly formed ensemble,  I also worked with Richard Serra. Photographed Nancy Graves, Joan Jonas, Keith Sonnier, Lawrence Weiner, Steve Reich, Jon Gibson, Mabou Mines, Robert Wilson.  I also  traveled the world with Robert Rauschenberg opening his exhibits with my solo saxophone.

Hung out a lot at 112 Greene St., it was the hang out for many artists. It was one of the first alternative spaces in the city.  It was owned and run by Jeffery Lew.  The space was open 24 hours a day and artist could do whatever they wanted to do in and with the space.

When I first moved to the city I lived at 98 Horatio St. in the West Village, a couple of blocks from the New Whitney.  Then I moved to a sublet on Grand for six months.  Chinatown at 10 Chatham Sq. for six years. Then to Thames St. 2 blocks from the Trade Towers, this building was destroyed by fire in 1978.  I then moved to 125 Cedar, 8th floor.  The building was directly across the street from the South Tower of the World Trade Towers.  I had the apartment for 24 years.  I moved to Louisiana several months after 9/11.

My hangouts were, Max’s Kansas City, Studio 54, One Fifth Ave (where ever Micky Ruskin had a club and or restaurant.)

2.  What is one of your most vivid memories of living in SoHo in the early days?

Memories of SoHo…..the late night parties in artist lofts.  The grimy streets, Fanelli’s

4. What do you miss most about (old) SoHo?

The incredible number of art galleries and my friends.

5. What do you miss least?

The new SoHo boutique ville!

Pig Roast Party (from left to right): Lee Jaffe, Dickie Landry, Phillip Glass, Lee Brewer, unknown, Robert Prado, Robert Prado’s wife (I think), Gordon Matta- Clark. Photographer Unknown. (photo: Carol Goodden)

6. What is going on in this photo (above) of you and your friends standing in what looks like a pile of rubble?

We are enjoying roasted pig that Gordon Matta-Clark cooked that day for the 80th year celebration of the Brooklyn Bridge.  It was an art event sponsored by Alanna Heiss’ (founder of P.S.1). She invited a number of artists and musicians to install and perform their works.

Gordon Matta-Clark and his partners, co-founders of FOOD, in front of what was to become one of the first restaurants in SoHo (photo by Richard Landry)

7. How did you come to take the now-iconic photo of Gordon Matta-Clark, Tina Giroud, and Carol Goodden outside Comidas Criollas during the construction of Food?

I was married to Tina Girouard at the time and I had also was working with Gordon.  I was photographing his work and also helping him cut the buildings.  That photo was taken the first day they got the keys to enter the building to start constructing.  The writing on the photo is in Gordon’s own handwriting.

8. Where do you live now and what are you up to these days?

I live in Lafayette, Louisiana where I am close to my 80 acre pecan farm in Cecilia, a fifteen minute drive. The farm maintenance is lot of work but I call it fun. I am busy with my photograph and painting shows.  Recent shows:  Fort Gansevoort Gallery in NYC and a retrospective exhibit of all my work, photography, paintings, drawings and videos at the University Art Museum at Laramie, Wyoming.

This summer (2017) I will be working with Robert Wilson as a composer on the play Oedipus Rex with workshops at his Watermill Center summer of 2017.  Rehearsals begin in April and premier in October 2018 in Vicenza, Italy in one of the oldest theaters in Europe, Teatro Olimpico. The theater was built in 1585.

Dickie Landry’s solo painting exhibition at Fort Gansevoort Gallery in 2016 (photo: Richard Landry)

In May of 2018 I will be performing my Catholic Mass, “Mass for Pentecost Sunday” at the Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas.  I was commissioned to compose the Mass by Dominique DeMenil for the opening of her collection, The Menil Collection in 1985.  The re-creation is part of their 30th year celebration of the opening of the museum.

In March of 2018 I will be performing a saxophone solo concert in the Byzantine Fresco Chapel.

In the meantime I am trying to keep up the farm from the weeds and grass that grow like crazy in the humid, hot South Louisiana summers.


Dickie Landry’s New York Stories
A film by Tabitha Denholm

The filmmaker delves deep into the life and work of saxophonist and photographer Dickie Landry, whose ingenuity and artistry knows no bounds. Read the full feature on NOWNESS.


The Three Rs: Reminiscences, Reflections, and Ruminations

August 5, 2017


Jean-Michel Basquiat’s tag SAMO on a wall.

Happy summer everyone! Thanks to all of you who have filled out a “SoHo Profile” over the  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 your memories of old SoHo.  I thought I’d share some of them here anonymously.  Although I have 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. At the end of this post, I’ve included links to recent pieces on SoHo and old New York!


Playing on the platform in front of our building on Mercer Street

What do you miss most about SoHo in the 1970’s?

Feeling of discovery.

I still love the old buildings, the urban landscape. I’m sad it’s so commercialized. I loved the remoteness, the outlaw feeling. I remember going home from the bar at night, walking down the empty center of the street instead of the sidewalk, because it was safer.

The edgy, avante garde feel.

The deserted streets, the cobble stones, I remember the 18 wheelers.

The desolate feeling.  Soho was a neighborhood then. The Italians on Thompson Street. The kids all met at the park.

All the galleries and how remote it was from the rest of Manhattan.

508 Broadway, Saul Feifer Hats and Caps. (image: Ben Schonzeit)

Its spontaneity, the creative use of space, the community of artists, the vacant lots that we’d hang out in, too many things to list.

Art Galleries and the way everyone was involved in making art.

The quiet of the streets, the look of almost desolation on the weekends.  The feeling that we could go anywhere and do anything and explore any corner of the neighborhood as young children like you might expect in a quiet town in the suburbs.

The vast emptiness and community.  The light, the rents, knowing almost everyone, the creativity, the architecture, the empty cardboard fabric spindles put out as garbage that my brother and I would sword fight with.  Dean and DeLuca being a cheese shop.

Cheap space and privacy with a sense of ‘small town’ community.

Bleecker Street Cinema, the lack of chain stores, the feeling that this was real NYC, the Greek Restaurant on Bleecker, the fact that is was really a small town in a big city.

I miss how it was a real neighborhood and not just the pretentious commercial district it has become.

Tight knit community, space to walk and breathe.

Read the rest of this entry »

SoHo Swan Song

July 1, 2017

Today’s guest post is by my (former) neighbor Michael Gentile, who recently moved out of SoHo after being in, out, and around the neighborhood for the last 30 years. He expresses the sentiments of a growing number of long-time residents who lament the fact that SoHo has transformed to a point of being unrecognizable to them. I wrote about my own coming to terms with this fact a while back in my post “Where is New York?”  Here, Gentile weaves the neighborhood’s long history into his observations of present day in this swan song to the neighborhood he once called home.

Soho’s Not So Grand

A NYC neighborhood in flux

Soho’s current sugar high is a real buzzkill. This neighborhood, New York City’s birthplace of hyper-gentrification, originally called “Hell’s Hundred Acres,” houses the most breathtaking, fully restored 19th-century cast-iron building facades in the world. Fortunately, the successful efforts of architectural historic preservation and community boards have saved many buildings. However, Soho’s history has become diminished and lost with the results of the neighborhood’s ever-changing crossover, which gives comfort to the crowds seeking out sameness, but at a cost.

The enthusiastic transition to megastore retail, restaurants, hotels, and condominiums has claimed victims. Former loft residents, factory workers, artists, and political radicals vanished, and were not included in the neighborhood’s future.

A walk through Soho today is difficult. It’s an atmosphere of vulgarity: wayward tourists, distraught models, fist-bumping high-fivers, girly gigglers, techno design geeks, backward-cap bros, and vacuous throngs from all over, filling the streets.

Is creativity still at work in Soho? Sort of. On the steps of Prada, lifestyle and image are crafted. Supreme hoodie kids on Adderall snap iPhone selfies while sipping $17 hemp smoothies. At the Mercer Hotel across the street, anxious Twitter users wait, hoping to catch a glimpse of a fleeing Kardashian. On the sidewalks, fashion wannabe Snapchatters hurriedly clip-clop to double-parked, glossy-black, Suburban Uber-Lyfts. Flag-raised tour guide groups shuffle along, overflowing into the streets. Soho’s a playground for the wealthy, who look poor and shop rich.

Dystopian nightmare or growing pains? Depends on who’s talking. Soho’s present state could be perceived as a negative development in New York culture.

Business leaders, city planners, and politicians always get worked up over the idea of development. Real estate developers’ rote answers offer little comfort to the continuing gentrification problems, high rents, and empty storefronts. It’s disingenuous, hand-feeding the public a generic shopping experience structured at a marketing meeting by executives wanting to up their game. What’s the point? Money.

The daily crime scares some away. The setting is perfect. Picture any typical over-priced, high-end boutique. Enter a motley European couple—exit a pair of pricey Manolo Blahnik heels. The thieves blend into a sea of humanity.

When a grand larceny occurs, sometimes an ad-hoc protocol follows: the store empties, the staff blocks the sidewalk, the shop is put on lockdown, bummed-out employees light up and smoke. Everyone looks down, tapping away on their devices, calling the corporate office or making dinner reservations.

The NYPD set up a defensive move during peak periods: street patrols and a mobile processing “jail” station at Prince and Greene Sts. Supply and demand—where there are crowds, there are highly-organized criminals.

But crime is nothing new to Soho. During the 1860s, Mercer St. was part of the City’s “ten-cent houses” and the first red-light district, including Mrs. Van Ness’ number 149 brothel, filled with discreet prostitutes. On the same block, the recently closed, soon-to-be condo, the Mercer-Houston Street Garage, originally operated as a horse boarding stables. Then, in the 1930s as a parking garage, it housed Joseph “Black Lefty” Lapadura’s lively bootlegging operation until the FBI discovered it.

However, Soho’s most infamous moment might be the day young Elma Sands’ dead body was found underground, floating at the bottom of a Lispenard Meadow well. The well is still there, now at 129 Spring St.

It was the cold night of December 22, 1799, when Miss Elma planned on eloping with Levi Weeks. Mr. Weeks, a carpenter, was later charged and tried for her murder in 1800. His lawyers were Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. It was the first recorded transcript murder trial in the United States, and the jury acquitted Weeks in only minutes. Some say the spirit of Elma Sands still roams the streets of Soho at night.

And then there are the many non-rent-paying “tenants” who’ve endured these changes and flourished: rats, estimated at 100 million citywide. One thing’s for sure, the rodents are enjoying themselves every night, running around and jumping on tied-up cardboard boxes.

Meanwhile, a sleepy Soho pauses and moans a collective sigh during the few precious moments before dawn. A walk at sunrise might turn your head for the wrong reason. Curled up in Tiffany & Co.’s elegant Greene St. doorway, a homeless person snores away. Garbage trucks barrel down the soot-stained Belgian block streets. Seafood, dairy, florist, and bakery vendors make deliveries. A dog walker silently passes a jogger in the brightening gray light. It’s all a reminder that there are no dead ends in Soho, just detours.

This story first appeared on

UPCOMING EVENT: New Documentary Film About SoHo

June 11, 2017


THE KARAMAZOFFS: A Walk on the SoHo Years
A documentary film

Directed by Juan Gamero & Carmen Rodríguez
86mins l Drama l US Premiere

Tuesday, June 20, 2017 from 6:00 PM to 7:45 PM (EDT) at the SOHO International Film Festival

For tickets and info, please click HERE



View the trailer:

Synopsis: In the 1960s, the abandoned factories of New York’s SoHo were occupied by artists from around the world, transforming this neighbourhood in the heartland of art experimentation, with the boom of open studios, conceptual art, happenings, performances and video art.  The Karamazoffs is a group of recognized artists from Barcelona (Muntadas, Miralda, Zush and Robert Llimós, among others) who started their careers in New York in the early 70s and forged a long friendship that still exists today. Together with other pioneers from that era, like Jonas Mekas and Jaime Davidovich, they recall the origins and the rise and fall of one of the most colourful periods in contemporary art. With the help of exceptional vintage footage featuring Charlotte Moorman, Yoko Ono, Nam June Paik, Fluxus, Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, Andy Warhol, Mekas, Davidovich, SoHo cable TV, George Maciunas, Laurie Anderson and The Karamazoffs.


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