The SoHo Historical Society?

Loft For Sale - Copy for an advertisement, date unknown.  Sounds like a nice place.  And I think it was on West Broadway!

Loft For Sale – Copy for an advertisement, date unknown. Sounds like a nice place. And I think it was on West Broadway!

Ever wonder why SoHo doesn’t have a historical society or neighborhood association? I am forever grateful that we have the SoHo Alliance and SoHo Partnership. But I mean more like a place that preserves the cultural history of SoHo, what real loft living was like, what it was like to grow up in a loft not knowing that other children had doormen and elevators and carpeting, what it was like to raise a family while living illegally. Stuff like that.

Mike, Jane's husband, inspecting the installation of the first wall in the loft. (image: Cass Collins)

image: Cass Collins

Well, I have. I obviously think it’s an interesting story— I’ve been writing about it for the past 4+ years. And this blog will probably be around for years to come, even if I stop writing it today. But I think we need something more. Although there are archives throughout the world that collect the personal papers of significant artists and individuals who were SoHo pioneers, SoHo itself has no physical space dedicated to preserving its history as a neighborhood, nor is there any library or museum that tells its story.
sohotitleI’ve decided to do something about this lack. I will design an exhibition, for starters. This way, I’ll be able to see if others feel the same way I do. It will be an exhibition that chronicles the evolution of SoHo from rural farmland to high-end retail hub, charting its cycles of development and thus placing current day SoHo in the context of New York City’s history. I’ll focus on the 1970’s of course. The dirty golden years.

Rapkin Report: 1960's — “The South Houston Industrial Area” (also known as “The Rapkin Report”), maintained that while the number of businesses in the area had declined over the years, the old buildings still housed small industries that employed many low-income and minority workers and were also a still-viable tax revenue source for the city. (image: Thomas Struth 1978 via MOMA)

Rapkin Report: 1960’s —
“The South Houston Industrial Area” (also known as “The Rapkin Report”), maintained that while the number of businesses in the area had declined over the years, the old buildings still housed small industries that employed many low-income and minority workers and were also a still-viable tax revenue source for the city. (image: Thomas Struth 1978 via MOMA)

I am hoping that this exhibition is just the first step in finding a permanent home for The SoHo Memory Project. It will depend on how this first phase goes. I want it to be engaging to all people, to those familiar with SoHo’s history and to those who are visiting for the first time. I also want it to be a multi-media multi-sensory extravaganza, because an interesting story deserves an interesting retelling.

Map of the proposed Lower Manhattan Expressway (image: Vanshnookenraggen/Flickr)

Map of the proposed Lower Manhattan Expressway (image: Vanshnookenraggen/Flickr)

I think that knowing the story of our neighborhood and its significance in the larger history of New York City will enrich the experiences of SoHo residents and visitors alike and will influence how they interact with the people, streets, and idea of SoHo. People who come to SoHo these days have no idea whatsoever how SoHo became the shopping mall that it is today. If they knew, they might treat our neighborhood with a bit more respect. Is that wishful thinking?

bake sale june 1976Please stay tuned next month when I will reveal my BIG PLAN. It will be a lot of work, and will be asking you all for a little help, but I promise it will be worth it!!!

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16 Responses to “The SoHo Historical Society?”

  1. Hilary Guberman Says:

    Hi Yukie, this sounds very interesting, ambitious, and appealing. I’m such a huge fan of NYC, and am pretty wistful for the NY I grew up in (both in time and place), that the preservation and appreciation of its history or pockets of its history really speaks to me. I think you will find a lot of kindred spirits who are willing and able to contribute their memories and support to your endeavor.

    On another note, HOW ARE YOU? I hope you and your family are great, I catch glimpses through Arnaud’s Facebook posts. We need to make a plan to get together.

    xoxo Much love, Hilary

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  2. Bruce M. Foster Says:

    Good luck on that. Both in the hopeful and in the semi-sarcastic senses. What can I say? I’m a NYer, so everything drips in contradictions.

  3. Gloria Tarigo Says:

    This is a FANTASTIC idea! Would love to help. Please keep me posted. Was born in Greenwich Village and I am still here. Watched Soho transition with my own eyes. Thanks!

  4. Hanne Tierney Says:

    Please add me to this mailing list. Thanks, Hanne Tierney

  5. Jaime Gutierrez Says:

    Yes, Yuki. There is no doubt about it in my mind.
    I am the owner of SoHoNYC.com, and I have wondered the same thing for many years.
    I would love to do coffee and talk.
    Please get in touch 516-581-0520
    Jaime

  6. Steve Linn Says:

    Hi Yukie, I think what you are doing is fantastic and although I have lived in France for the past 22 years I lived and worked in SoHo from 1973 to 1993. I am a sculptor and I first lived at 510 Broome and West Broadway and then at 101 Crosby in that famous building with Clair Danes as a baby and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Anything I can offer for your project, I would be delighted.

    • Yukie Ohta Says:

      HI Steve-

      That’s funny- my husband did the reverse. He is a painter and he grew up in Paris but has lived in NYC for the past 20+ years. We were neighbors, I lived at 97 Crosby before moving to Mercer Street. If you have any photos from back then, please send them along. Please subscribe to the blog or follow me of Facebook and/or Twitter for updates!

      Cheers,
      Yukie

  7. wendy Says:

    Yuki, what an exciting idea. Give us advance notice so I can fly in from San Francisco for the exhibition!

  8. steveturtell Says:

    1954:

    They say your walls should look no different than your work, but that is only a feeble prediction of the future. We know the ego is the true
    maker of history, and if it isn’t, it should be no concern of yours
    Youth wants to burn the museums. We are in them–now what?
    Better destroy the odors of the zoo. How can we paint the elephants
    and hippopotamuses? How are we to fill the large empty canvas at the end of the large empty loft? You do have a loft, don’t you, man?

    Larry Rivers and Frank O’Hara
    “How to Proceed in the Arts

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