Posts Tagged ‘Mercer Street’

SoHo Walks of Fame

July 30, 2016

Mercer Street, November 2, 2012 after Hurricane Sandy

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

Images of SoHo appear on a daily basis in the media. Paparazzi shots of celebrities making their way down SoHo streets. Fashion shoots of supermodels preening on  SoHo streets. Portraits of luxury lofts for sale. Major motion pictures set in SoHo then and now. Commercials for products with SoHo as their backdrops.

As I was doing research for this post, something interesting occurred to me.  Many of the films I found were shot either on Crosby Street between Prince and Spring, or on Mercer Street between Houston and Prince.  Come to think of it, these two blocks, the first where I lived until I was five years old, and the other to which we moved in 1974 and where I still live today, have appeared countless times not only on film, but in print as well.  After some poking around, I came up with an inventory of media where these two blocks have appeared.  What makes them so appealing to photographers and film makers?  Or is it that every block in SoHo appears repeatedly in the media so I could have picked any two blocks at random?  One thing is for sure, it is not MY presence on these two streets that have made them alluring to visual artists over the years.  Then what is it?  Your guess is as good as mine.  Let me know if you have any ideas!

Photography

MNY76144

Berenice Abbott shot this mini-Hooverville on Mercer and Houston in 1935, during the Great Depression before SoHo was SoHo.

 

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

Thomas Struth caught the essence of 1970’s SoHo streets in this 1978 photo of the corner of Crosby Street and Spring Street looking north toward Prince.  I had already moved out by the time this was taken.

 

chanel ad

This Chanel ad, shot in front of my building on Mercer Street, appeared in Vogue, among other major fashion magazines, in the early 1990’s.  I always wondered why the paparazzi were photographing her from behind.  Note the photoshop job on the garage sign in the background.

Me and my sister playing on that same loading dock ca. 1976

Me and my sister playing on that same loading dock ca. 1976

 

christinahotel

And speaking of paparazzi, countless photos taken in front of the Mercer Hotel, where photographers camp out around the clock, have appeared everywhere.  Here, Christina Aguilera takes her dog out for a walk.

Mandatory Credit: Alequin/Bosch/INFphoto.com

Credit: Alequin/Bosch/INFphoto.com

In this December 6, 2012 photo from Just Jared: A grinning Taylor Swift and Harry Styles leave a party at Crosby Hotel  together.

Yukie and Mimi in the parking lot on Crosby, ca. 1974

This is a photo of me and my sister in ca. 1973 standing in almost the same spot at Taylor and Harry, back when it would have been absurd to even think about building a hotel in SoHo.

 

Album Covers

The back of Joni Mitchells' xxx album title title tile, photo taken n Mercer Street between Houston and Prince looking south.

This is the back of the album jacket of Joni Mitchell’s 1968 Song to a Seagull. The photo was taken on my block, outside 169 Mercer Street looking south.

 

Billy Joel

Growing up on Mercer Street, I owned and often played Billy Joel’s 1983 An Innocent Man.  Looking at the jacket photo, I had no idea that he was sitting on my block, on the steps of 142 Mercer Street at Prince, at what is now the Prada Store.

Music Videos

I was clued in to this  video by Alex at Flaming Pablum, who describes it as “an ancient, pre-Hip Hop Beastie Boys video wherein the fledgling foursome (back when future Luscious Jackson member Kate Schellenbach was still in their ranks) and their youthfully punky pals are depicted frolicking with juvenile abandon amid what looks likethe then-grimy, industrial streets of SoHo.”  Much of this video was shot on Crosby near Spring, where the parking lot used to be.

 

Sean at The SoHo Alliance recently sent me a link to this trés trés groovy video “On the Sunny Side of the Street” by Pizzicato Five, shot almost entirely in SoHo, a good portion of it on my block.  Anyone care to guess when it was filmed?  It’s pre-Mercer Hotel, there are shots of the Prince Street Station post office and Jerry’s is still there as is the Prince Street Bar.

Movies

stateofgrace27

Although I never saw the film, I remember when they were shooting State of Grace with Sean Penn, Gary Oldman and friends, which came out in 1990.  They must have done twenty takes of this scene until they got it just right.  They also shot a scene inside Fanelli’s, where these trigger-happy guys are headed.

 

I am legend mercer

Here’s a heavily-CGI-ed shot of our block from I Am Legend, the 2007 film starring Will Smith as one of a handful of survivors in a post-apocalyptic New York City.

ghost crosby

And who can forget Ghost, the 1990 romantic thriller starring Partick Swayze and Demi Moore.  In this scene, Swayze’s character is shot right in front of my old house at 97 Crosby Street during an attempted robbery.

ghost cast mercer

This cast photo from Ghost was taken on my current block on Mercer Street, in front of the (now) Prada Store, where Billy Joel shot his album cover yeas before.

Basquiat

basquiat

Here, Jeffrey Wright as Jean-Michel Basquiat and David Bowie as Andy Warhol stroll down Crosby Street across the street from my old loft in Julian Schnabel’s 1996 biopic Basquiat.  Someone recently told me that Basquiat lived in our building at 97 Crosby about 10 years after we moved out.

My mom, my sister, and me standing in front of our building on Crosby Street, ca. 1975

My mom, my sister, and me standing on the same black in front of our building on Crosby Street, ca. 1975.

andy-jean-hi-rez-copy-1-1024x685

Here, the real-life Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol pose for a picture on my block on Mercer Street.  The Marc Jacobs store next door to my house used to be the Tony Shafrazi Gallery, where Basquiat and Warhol once had a joint show.

The poster for the Warhol-Basquiat show at Tony Shafrazzi, 1985

The poster for the Warhol-Basquiat show at Tony Shafrazi’s gallery, 1985

A version of this post first appeared on this blog on September 1, 2014

 

SoHo Walks of Fame

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

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

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

My Neighbor From Across the Street

August 6, 2011

AND I ALWAYS HEARD PEOPLE IN NEW YORK NEVER GET TO KNOW THEIR NEIGHBORS.

—Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Chris has “lived” in the New Museum Building across the street from me at least since the mid-1980’s.  Jon Bon Jovi lives in that building.  As does Jean-Georges Vongerichten.  But Chris’ life is very different from theirs, and so is his perspective.  Chris lives in the vestibule in front of what appears to be the service entrance to the building.  I can see it from my window.  He’s there year round, even in the most frigid weather.  When my husband moved in with us about four years ago, he could not bear to see Chris sleeping out in the cold and he went down to give him a blanket. Chris thanked him and then just tucked the extra blanket under his head.  Chris himself has told me that he is a “winter person,” which makes sense since he’s originally from northern Michigan, but still, that’s pretty hard core.

Chris has been around longer than both Jon Bon and Jean-Georges, and he’s seen our block change from a street-level perspective.  Long gone are the days when Chris was paid twenty bucks a week to sweep in front of the vacant building that now houses the Mercer Hotel because it got fined by the department of sanitation two or three times a week for all the urban debris out on the sidewalk.  Chris once told me that he was also invited to stay in the building if it was raining, and that he once had the whole fifth floor to himself, with (cold) running water and electricity.

We also recently chatted about what he calls “smash and grab.”  Remember people used to put “NO RADIO” signs in their car windows to let passersby know that there was no radio to steal inside the car?  In the early 80’s, our block would be littered with broken glass from all of the cars that had been broken into the night before.  I never really thought about HOW that was done, but apparently, the best way to do it is to take an old spark plug (that you could buy on the street on St. Marks) and break off the ceramic part to expose the innards and use it to smash a car window.  According to Chris, spark plugs are much more reliable than rocks.  Once a window was smashed, people would just grab whatever was there, and worry about the value of the items once safely out of sight.  Chris never said that HE used to do this, but that it was common knowledge that the practice is called “smash and grab.”

A lot of people complain.  It’s too hot, it’s too crowded, it’s too bla bla, but Chris seems to be always looking on the bright side, even if its just to say, “I woke up today,” or “At least its not raining.”  These things are very important if you live on the street.  But he never says he is too cold or that the rain woke him up in the middle of the night.

I know Chris about as well as I know most of my other long-time SoHo neighbors.  On a cordial basis, without too much personal stuff mixed in.  I’ve never asked him what he’s reading or where he goes on his bike. He sees me off when I get in a car to go to JFK, but he never asks where I’m going or how long I’ll be gone.   I respect his privacy, as he respects mine, although during cold nights, I sometimes peek out of my window to see if he’s there, and if he is, I make sure to notice that he gets up in the morning.  I’m a reverse peeping Tom.  I don’t want him to know that because I don’t think he’d like to know that someone is looking out for him or watching him, even though he is and has always been looking out for us neighbors and watching us.  In 1995, New York Magazine featured Chris in its annual salary survey and reported that he makes $24,000 per year panhandling on the corner of Bleecker and Broadway.  I guess that would be gross as well as net.  That’s more than I made in 1995, so maybe he does okay, or maybe even better than okay.  But I will probably never know because, although Holly Golightly may say otherwise, New Yorkers never really get to know their neighbors.

Getty Images

July 2, 2011

Mercer Parking Garage in the mid-1980's

I had a recurring dream (nightmare?) when I was a teenager.  I was being chased by a faceless someone.  As I turned the corner onto my block, I saw Willie standing in front of the Mercer Garage so I ran up to him and he said something like, “It’s okay.  You’re safe here.”  Since then, whenever I see the garage or Willie, who has worked there since 1983, I feel safe.

I recently spoke with Jay, the owner of the garage, and found out that his family has a long history in SoHo and on Mercer Street, WAY longer than my family.

The building at 165 Mercer Street was originally a factory but was converted to a parking garage when automobiles began to be popular.  Apparently, during prohibition, there was also some bootlegging going on in the building as well.

An FBI photo of the Mercer Parking Garage when bootleggers and cars shared space upstairs

Back in the 60’s, Jay’s father, Calman, an auto mechanic, bought the building, and he and his brother, Jay’s uncle Morris, who had worked in an embroidery workshop down the street since just after WWII in what is now the Donald Judd building, ran the garage, which used to sell Getty gasoline.  Calman would work the morning rush at the garage and then leave to work at an auto body shop on Bleecker and Lafayette (where Pinche Tacqueria is now) all day and then he would come back to the garage to work the evening rush.  He would take Saturdays off,  and then on Sundays, when the garage was closed, Jay would come in to the city from Brooklyn with his father and mother.  His father would go to the shop to work on cars he didn’t get to during the week while his mother would clean and sweep at the garage.  Jay would go across the street to the former NYU playground (see my post on the playground here) to play pickup basketball games and then in the evening the whole family would go to Chinatown for dinner.  That was their Sunday ritual.

I did not know Calman, but I have only fond memories of Morris, who passed away in 1991.  He always greeted me and my family cheerfully, and on spring and summer evenings in the 1970’s, I would sometimes sit with a friend on the bench outside his garage and practice the songs we learned in our chorus.  Morris would come out of his office applauding and give us each fifty cents for our “beautiful” singing.  Fifty cents could buy us a slice of pizza, a subway ride, or a boatload of candy, so, to us at least, it was a substantial chunk of change.

Back then, the garage’s clientele was mostly comprised of commuters coming in to SoHo to work at the factories and offices. The garage workers knew all of their customers, as they were mostly monthly parkers who would come in every weekday.  They were Monday morning quarterbacks who would talk sports and chat and there was a real camaraderie, a sense of community, at the garage.

By the early 1980’s, most of the factories closed and the clientele began changing.  There are still some monthly customers, but Jay says that there are more and more “transients” who remain anonymous.  Lunchers.  Shoppers.  Weekend partyers.  The garage is open late on Saturday nights to accommodate the dinner crowd, but they still close at 7:30 pm on weekdays, which gives them just enough time to get all the cars out and the trucks in.

Business is down due to the recession.  People are choosing to just stay home.  But Jay says he would never sell.  I’m sure he knows just how valuable his building is, that it could become the first Walmart in NYC, but he likes running a business and he plans to pass it along, just as it was passed along to him.

I find it reassuring to know that as long as I live on Mercer Street, I will always have my safe haven from my faceless pursuer.  I always woke up before I could see who he was—Sam Walton, perhaps?


%d bloggers like this: