Archive for the ‘general’ Category

Where Everyone Knows Your Name: Placemaking and SoHo

May 6, 2017

Ken Schol Mon Levenson and another artist at Fanelli’s. Beer and coffee for breakfast. (Horizon Magazine)

Over the past few years, “placemaking” has become a buzz word in unrbanist circles. The term seems to have supplanted “community building” and “neighborhood enhancement,” terms with somewhat similar definitions, as the key to (re)vitalizing and unifying neighborhoods. As defined by Wikipedia:

Placemaking is a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces. Placemaking capitalizes on a local community’s assets, inspiration, and potential, with the intention of creating public spaces that promote people’s health, happiness, and well being.

Can you think of such a space that exists in SoHo? Do you wish we had more places like this to congregate and socialize? Karissa Lidstrand, who is completing her M.S. in Urban Placemaking and Management at the Pratt Institute, has kindly offered to write a guest post about placemaking and SoHo. The following is an extension of a finding from Chapter 3 of her thesis, Creating Seats at the Table: A Business Improvement District’s Methods for Evaluating Community Needs.

Figure 1: Food Restaurant on the corner of Prince and Wooster ca. 1973

The Struggle to Build Social Capital

When asked what community means to you, how would you respond? The term community can be very subjective. Some may think of their friends and family as their community while others may think more broadly. If you were to use that definition when thinking about community space would the result be a community center or something more private?  In SoHo community space has appeared in a variety of forms in part because of the neighborhoods land use.

Prior to World War I the manufacturing industry was booming in SoHo, as it was in many other cities across the United States. The cast iron architecture that lines the streets of SoHo was created in the late 1800s, influenced by the textile industry that located there. Legally these buildings were, and still are, zoned for manufacturing use. The manufacturing designation prohibited community facilities such as houses of worship, community centers, hospitals, and schools from being established.

It wasn’t until the textile industry gave way to foreign competitors after World War II that neighborhoods like SoHo began to see the effects of manufacturing leaving the inner city. Buildings occupied by factories in the 1800s later became vacant loft spaces post-1940. Not all manufacturing left SoHo at once, printing companies and warehouses moved into the upper floors, taking advantage of reduced rents and the large, open spaces.

The rapid decline of manufacturing in the neighborhood left the area inactive. The quick transition of SoHo to an artist community began in the early 1960s. A variety of artists saw the potential in the loft spaces as locations for their studios. Building owners rejoiced with the opportunity to rent their vacant spaces, even for a low price. As manufacturing declined and the artist community made this neighborhood their home, the lack of community facilities become more apparent.

In the twenty first century SoHo and New York City have experienced a significant amount of investment and population growth. This has impacted the composition of many neighborhoods, impeding efforts to strengthen “social capital,” the relationships between residents (old and new) and the people who work in the neighborhood.

Through interviews conducted with community stakeholders the lack of community space in SoHo was identified as a concern among a variety of stakeholder groups.

Yukie Ohta, a longtime resident of SoHo, reminisced of spaces where people used to come together when she was growing up and where she would take her children. Some of those spaces included Food and the Scholastic Store. Food was a restaurant on Prince Street where locals could grab a bite to eat, artists could find employment, and neighbors could converse. It was perfect for families because below the restaurant was a play group where parents could drop their children off to interact with other kids while they sat upstairs conversing with friends.

The Scholastic Store was a neighborhood staple where parents could take their children to read and hang out for hours without the looming pressure of purchasing anything in return. Finding places to take children has become a concern given that the only major outdoor space in the SoHo neighborhood is Vesuvio Playground. For those that live on the east side of SoHo closer to Lafayette Street, walking to Vesuvio Playground on Thompson Street is at least a 10 minute walk.

Interior of Mulberry Street Library (photo by New York Public Library)

Sherri Machlin, acting manager of the Mulberry Street Public Library Branch, discussed how community spaces are limited and that there needs to be more especially since the library is at capacity and has little room to grow.

Community space is more than just publicly assessable; it provides a level of comfort and facilitates interactions between community members. The lack of dedicated community space in SoHo has created a situation where residents have had to create their own.

When asked where people hang out today places like Broome Street Bar, Fanelli Cafe, Housing Works Bookstore & Café, and Elizabeth Street Garden come up. Parenting groups struggle to find places to meet and often choose the seating area atop Whole Foods on Houston Street.

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.



SMP Year Seven: The SoHo Memory Keeper

December 3, 2016
The Cheese shop, Giorgio DeLuca’s first foray into the food business. He had been teaching High school in Brooklyn. His father was in the olive trade and knew a few people in cheese. He connected with Dean after a while creating Dean & DeLuca and a whole new kind of experience. (Ben Schonzeit)

The Cheese Store, Giorgio DeLuca’s first foray into the food business. He had been teaching high school in Brooklyn. His father was in the olive trade and knew a few people in cheese. He connected with Dean after a while creating Dean & DeLuca and a whole new kind of experience. – Ben Schonzeit

Another year gone with the wind. Can you believe that we have been preserving SoHo memories for six years, since January 1, 2011? They have flown by so quickly, and we have accomplished much, but there is still more to do!

Before embarking on year seven of The SoHo Memory Project, I would like to take a moment to reflect on highlights from this past year.

In 2016, we took the SMP Portable Historical Society out fifteen times to various venues around SoHo, including Judd Foundation, The Drawing Center, The New York Public Library, and Vesuvio Playground to name a few.


The SoHo Memory Project Portable Historical Society at the Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation in May 2016

Great press and social media mentions stirred up much interest in our interactive exhibit and I was invited to speak about this project to staff, curators, and students from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Sotheby’s, Princeton University, and NYU, among others.

detour-sohoThis fall, Detour came out with “SoHo: Artists in Residence”  a GPS triggered audio tour of SoHo that I narrate, and that also includes the voices of Roslyn Bernstein, Susan Brundage, Ken Hiratsuka, Brett Littman, Robert Morris, Barbara Rose, and Shael Shapiro. This one-hour tour takes you through the streets of SoHo while I point out little-known historical sites that are “hidden” in plain sight. I also tell personal anecdotes about what it was like to grow up in artists’ SoHo.

All in all, SMP had a very successful, public-facing year. Thanks to all of you who came out to visit with us in 2016.

A sampling of ephemera to be included in the SoHo Memory Keeper
(click on image to enlarge)

Looking ahead to 2017, I am pleased to announce that this January, I will launch a new digital initiative called The SoHo Memory Keeper, a (hi)storytelling nexus of resources related to SoHo (past and present, digital and analog) and a new digital model for preserving neighborhood history.

The Memory Keeper will be an immersive, interactive, digitally-based multi-media archive of resources on the artistic, cultural, social, political, urban history of the area that is now called SoHo, from colonial times through the present with a focus on the decades between 1960-1980, when SoHo was a thriving artists community.

A sampling of the oral histories to be included in the SoHo Memory Keeper (All excerpts produced by The SoHo Memory Project with interviews recorded by StoryCorps, a national nonprofit whose mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the stories of our lives.)

In addition to presenting stories and first-person accounts, the Memory Keeper will provide access to a wide variety of source materials including photographs, maps, municipal documents, academic papers, newspaper and magazine articles, artist archives, oral histories, books, websites, film and video. It will also serve as a prototype for use in other neighborhoods to preserve local history in a flexible and universally accessible format.

I’ve already begun digitizing and cataloguing the SMP archive, and I have also brought on a great technical team who will be building the architecture of this new interactive archive that will eventually replace this one and will provide worldwide access to resources related to SoHo. A designer will be brought on board once all of the back-end stuff is finished to create a dynamic and delicious interface geared toward use by the general public.

I am in the process of applying for grants to help fund this initiative, but to make up the balance, I am appealing to you, the many friends of SMP, to consider making a year-end tax-deductible contribution to The SoHo Memory Project that will ensure that the Memory Keeper will not only present SoHo history as never seem before, but will become a template that other neighborhoods around New York City can use to create their own Memory Keepers. An ambitious goal, but certainly achievable with your help!

Thank you for a wonderful year and I look forward to seeing you all in 2017!

give online now button copy

When you click “give online now,” you will be taken to a donation page for the Uni Project and your contribution will be marked for the SoHo Memory Project. The Uni Project is a 501c3 nonprofit and serves as the fiscal sponsor of the The SoHo Memory Project, so your donation is tax deductible.

You may also mail a (non-taxable) donation to:

The SoHo Memory Project
159 Mercer Street, #4E
New York, NY  10012

Please make checks payable to The SoHo Memory Project

CROSBY STREET, a film by Jody Saslow (1975)




Go With the Flow: The Water Towers of SoHo

October 1, 2016

Water Towers at Sunset (photo: Ingrid Cusson)

Water towers are a common sight in New York, especially in SoHo. Wherever you are, if you look up, chances are you’ll see at least one, if not a small forest of them dotting the skyline.  They are certainly a mainstay of SoHo’s architectural landscape. Although I grew up seeing them every day, I never really knew if or how they worked.  Do all of those wooden containers still hold water?  And if so, how does the water get in, and then out again? (more…)

Welcome to Year Six: The SoHo Memory Project in 2016

January 2, 2016
The SoHo Memory Project Portable Historical Society is ready to roll!

The SoHo Memory Project Portable Historical Society is ready to roll!

On January 1, 2011, I started writing this blog without a clue about where it would lead. I began almost grudgingly, thinking that someone ought to be preserving SoHo’s important and endlessly interesting history, but not me. Five years later, I am very happy that I took the plunge, as this project has only reinforced my conviction that preservation in all of its forms is not only important, but essential to how we situate ourselves in the present and how we envision our future.

2015 was a very busy year for The SoHo Memory Project. After a successful Kickstarter fundraising campaign and a fabulous article by Kyle Spencer in The New York Times, my project expanded in leaps and bounds, keeping me busy with exciting new developments. Here’s an overview of what’s to come and nja recap of highlights from the past few months.

Many thanks to all of you for your continued support in input!


The SoHo Memory Project Portable Historical Society

A visitor watches a film at the SMP Portable Historical Society

A visitor watches a film at the SMP Portable Historical Society

It’s finally finished and ready to hit the streets! Thanks to a grant from the New York Council for the Humanities, The SoHo Memory Project Portable Historical Society will be popping up at SoHo Arts Network (SAN) member organizations throughout 2016 beginning with four dates at Judd Foundation in January and February. The Judd sessions require a reservation, and we are currently fully booked, but the mobile museum will be at The Drawing Center two weekends in February and March, open to all:

Saturday, February 20, 12-4pm
Sunday, February 21, 12-4 pm

Saturday, March 5, 12-4pm
Sunday, March 6, 12-4pm

For a full schedule of events, please click here. I hope to see you at one (or more) of these sites in 2016! (more…)

Moving Forward Toward the Past

May 31, 2015
420 West Broadway back when it was the center of SoHo's gallery scene in the early-1970's

420 West Broadway back when it was the center of SoHo’s gallery scene in the early-1970’s

We did it!  And we did it SoHo style.  Everyone in our community came together this past month and gave what they could to fund The SoHo Memory Project’s Portable Historical Society through Kickstarter.  We could not have done it without each and every donation.  Thank you all so much for your support!

Things are moving forward! I am already busy thinking about how to adapt the Uni Project’s Portable Reading Room to accommodate a fabulous exhibit about SoHo.  I am compiling a list of possible popup spots. I’m talking to people about donating items to our archive.  I am meeting with old-timers as well as newcomers with stories to tell.

I will be spending the summer making plans and making contacts and making new SoHo friends so that we can hit the ground running come Fall. If all goes well, our portable historical society will begin popping up around SoHo in Spring 2016, with possible previews this coming winter. (more…)

The SoHo Memory Project Goes on The Line

February 17, 2015

logo_theline_small-343399d9e012f9840403744ed6171138medium_ED_CH_v1.72_SOHOHISTORY_YukieOhta  Last month, I was interviewed by The Line about The SoHo Memory Project. Read the article, and check out all of the great things happening at The Line and at their loft on Greene Street, The Apartment!

The SoHo Memory Project:
A Conversation with Yukie Ohta

FYI: Dr. Videovich

November 9, 2013
davidovich_drv79The work of multidisciplinary artist and friend of the SoHo Memory Project Jaime Davidovich will be exhibited at Churner and Churner through December 21.  Davidovich was a founding member of Cable SoHo (1976) and founder and president of the Artists’ Television Network (1978-1984).  Take advantage of this opportunity to see “Dr. Videovich, specialist in curing television addiction,” in action!

Jaime Davidovich: Museum of Television Culture

November 07, 2013 – December 21, 2013
opening reception: Thursday, November 7, 6-8pm

Churner and Churner
205 10th Avenue (between 22nd/23rd Streets)
New York, NY 10011

Churner and Churner is pleased to present “Museum of Television Culture,” an exhibition of single-channel video and installation work by Argentine-American conceptual artist and television-art pioneer Jaime Davidovich. The exhibition focuses on the uneasy interrelationship of mass media, electronic art practice, and traditional institutional exhibition; specifically, the overlooked historic role of cable programming experiments in early video art.

Jaime Davidovich is the creator of legendary downtown Manhattan cable television program The Live! Show (1979-1984).  Billed as “the variety show of the avant-garde,” The Live! Show was an eclectic half-hour of live, interactive artistic entertainment inspired by the Dada performance club Cabaret Voltaire and the anarchic humor of American television comedian Ernie Kovacs. The program featured interviews and performance work by visiting artists, including Laurie Anderson, Eric Bogosian, Tony Oursler, and Michael Smith, along with musical performances, ersatz commercials, and viewer participation via live call-in segments. Presiding over the show’s disparate collaborative elements was Davidovich’s own satirical character, “Dr. Videovich, specialist in curing television addiction,” whom the New York Times’ television critic John J. O’Connor described as “a persona somewhere between Bela Lugosi and Andy Kaufman.”

Among other strategies for soliciting viewer participation, Dr. Videovich addressed his audience directly with a home shopping segment, the “Video Shop,” where he advertised his collection of “Videokitsch,” a mix of store-bought novelties and self-designed limited edition objects depicting television sets in the form of savings banks, cookie jars, planters an wind-up toys. These items, along with episodes of The Live! Show, will be on display at Churner and Churner.

“Museum of Television Culture” demonstrates that, despite the program’s absurdist tone, The Live! Show had a serious ideological agenda. It was an explicit effort to eliminate the curatorial mediation of museums and galleries by presenting works directly to the public at home through the new medium of cable television. In this way, The Live! Show was far ahead of its time, anticipating the ubiquity of interactive media and unfettered content distribution in the digital age. By staging elements of mass-communication in the institutional context of the gallery – a site Davidovich’s original work was intended to sidestep through this direct-to-the-public mode of presentation – Davidovich’s concept comes full circle, in a renewed investigation of the role of ephemeral electronic works in the art world.

An illustrated catalog with essays by Ian Wallace and Leah Churner will accompany the exhibition.


Tuesday – Saturday, 11 am – 6 pm, and by appointment

(212) 675-2750


Jaime Davidovich is a multidisciplinary artist whose work encompasses painting, photography, video art, television art, installation, and media activism. Best known as a pioneering advocate for artist-run, local cable television programming, Davidovich was a founding member of Cable SoHo (1976) and founder and president of the Artists’ Television Network (1978-1984). Davidovich was born in Buenos Aires in 1936 and moved to New York in 1963. He was educated at the National College of Buenos Aires, the University of Uruguay, and the School of Visual Arts, New York.

Davidovich is the Joan Mitchell Foundation’s 2013-14 Creating A Living Legacy (CALL) Artist. He is also the recipient of three National Endowment for the Arts Visual Arts Fellowships, for the years 1978, 1984, and 1990; and two grant awards from the Creative Artists Public Service Program, New York State Council on the Arts, for 1975 and 1982. In 2010 he was honored with a retrospective exhibition at ARTIUM, Centro-Museo Vasco de Arte Contemporaneo in Spain. Other solo exhibitions include Cabinet, Brooklyn, New York; MAMBA: Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires; Vanguardia, Bilbao, Spain; and the American Museum of the Moving Image, Astoria, New York. Davidovich has participated in a wide range of group exhibitions, at institutions such as J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; 2007 Bienal de São Paulo, Brazil; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, Spain; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Long Beach Museum of Art, California; and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Davidovich lives and works in New York.

Top Ten

September 7, 2013

Here’s my top ten list of quirky things about everyday life in SoHo in the 1970’s (in no particular order):

A typical doorbell system (photo: Jaime Davidovich)

A typical doorbell system (photo: Jaime Davidovich)

1.  You did a lot of yelling.  Most people did not have doorbells, so you had to scream up to a loft to let someone know you were there (and they would then throw you a key in an old sock so you could open the door).



2.  You did a lot of climbing.  There was no need for Stairmasters in SoHo.  Many buildings had freight elevators, but often they were not on the ground floor when you came home, so you would end up walking up many many flights of stairs, and with fourteen-foot ceilings, that’s a lot of climbing.

Dumpster diving on Mercer Street, ca. 1977

Dumpster diving on Mercer Street, ca. 1977

3.  You did a lot of schlepping.  Since there was often no regular trash pickup, you often had to drag your trash to the nearest place that did have pickup service, and you also found yourself dragging a lot of stuff home that you found in the trash that you could use either to furnish your home or use in your artwork.

Grand Union on LaGuardia Place

Grand Union on LaGuardia Place

4.  You did a lot of walking.  There were virtually no stores in SoHo so you had to walk pretty far to get the newspaper, groceries, or supplies.  No takeout, no delivery, except for the US Postal Service, and even that was sketchy at times.

5.  Your bathroom was higher that the rest of the rooms in your house.  Because loft spaces were not originally meant for living, residents had to bring in water and sewage pipes to build a bathroom.  This meant running pipes along the floor and building a platform to cover them so that your bathroom was a foot higher than the rest of the rooms in your house.

6.  Your outerwear was not just for the outdoors.  Proper and consistent heat was certainly not a given.  Lofts were in commercial buildings where, even if it worked properly, the heat was on during business hours only and was turned off over the weekend, so one often had to wear an overcoat in the house to stay warm.

foxpolicelock7.  You knew nobody would break down your door.  Most lofts had metal doors with police locks with a knob in the center of the door that, when turned, would push metal bars outward on both sides, creating an unpickable, un-crobarable, and maybe even unblastable seal.  But nobody back then had that much worth stealing anyway.

8.  You knew when your upstairs neighbor was having a midnight snack.  The floors in most of the loft buildings are hollow, so the sound of a person walking on the floor above you is distinctly audible especially at night when there is no ambient noise to mute it.  Without wall to wall carpeting, sound carries pretty far in these buildings.  You not only knew when Jack from upstairs went to get a beer from the fridge or was taking a shower, but also when his mother called and what his taste in music was.

neighbor9.  You actually knew your neighbors.  And they say New Yorkers are anonymous.  There were so few people living in SoHo back then that you pretty much knew everyone else who lived near you, if not by name, then at least by sight.  Often, especially on weekends, the streets would be deserted, so it was a treat to run into someone you knew.

Crosby Street & Spring Street, 1978 (Photo by Thomas Struth)

Crosby Street & Spring Street, 1978 (Photo by Thomas Struth)

10.  You had to give taxi drivers directions to your house.  Not that that many people in SoHo were taking taxis back in the day, but if you found yourself in a cab, the driver most likely did not know how to find the corner of Spring and Crosby.  SoHo was a no man’s land requiring a compass for orienteering.

Does anyone have anything to add?

 This post originally appeared on May 28, 2011

Frieze Frame: FOOD 1971

April 27, 2013

FNY_CATAt this year’s Frieze Art Fair New York on Randall’s Island from May 10-13, there will be a FOOD pavilion—not food as in food court, but a “re-enactment” of FOOD Restaurant in SoHo!

Every day a different artist will cook.  This is the program (11 a.m. to 7 p.m.):

Matthew Day Jackson (Thursday) May 9
Carol Goodden (Friday) May 10
Jonathan Horowitz (Saturday) May 11
Tina Girouard (Sunday) May 12

Some of you will remember Carol Goodden, co-founder of FOOD with Gordon Matta-Clark in October 1971, who will be present at Frieze to prepare some of her famous delicious, hearty soups.  Born in London, during WW II, Goodden was all too familiar with the personal project of how to stay warm in houses without central heating.  Besides steeping in a hot bath, there was the method of internal warming – via hot tea, porridge, or soup.  Soups offer fabulous nutrition and stick with you better than tea or porridge.  But mainly the conception of any soup can excite a good cook’s imagination.  They can be used as “paintings” to decorate the table with a colorful carrot soup, or dark greens with whites – aromatic.  They can be beefy, grainy, thin, gingery, heavy for winter, cool and crisp for the summers, even fruity. (more…)

PS3’s Legacy of Innovation, Independence, and Community

January 19, 2013


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