SoHo

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The Stone Bridge, from The Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York (1865)

The Stone Bridge, from The Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York (1865)

One of the many perks of working at New York Bound Books is that I get to pore through lots of rare books about New York, for research and just for fun.  I recently photographed a few for our catalog that included several image of old SoHo, and when I say old, I do not mean when Dean and Deluca on Prince Street old, I mean when Canal Street was a canal old.

Title Page of the Valentine Manual 1865

Title Page of the Valentine Manual 1865

The first image, of the Stone Bridge (see above) in 1800, is from the 1865 edition of the Valentine Manuals.  Officially titled The Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York, this series of books was commonly called the “Valentine’s Manuals” for David T. Valentine, the clerk of the Common Council who compiled the volumes that included the city’s annual reports and directories. (read more about Valentine Manuals here at New York Bound Books).

A little research produced an article entitled “The Old Stone Bridge at Canal-street and Broadway” by Capt. Walker Bicker in The New York Times about his memories of  the bridge and its environs in the early 19th century, published April 9, 1886:

Broadway was not paved beyond “the stone bridge” which stood where Canal-street now crosses Broadway.  This was a famous resort for us schoolboys.  It was considered “out of town”—all north beyond as well as the immediate vicinity was country, post and rail fences dividing the land into different sized parcels.  This bridge spanned a small stream which conveyed water from the Collect on the east side of Broadway (where now stands the Tombs) to the west side, where was an extensive meadow covering most of the ground from Broadway to the north River and from Lispenard-street to Spring-street.

Here’s another image of Broadway, just one block to the north, in 1824.

Corner of Broadway and Grand Street, 1824 from The Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York (1865)

Corner of Broadway and Grand Street, 1824 from The Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York (1865)

Perhaps even more enlightening than the Valentine Manuals is Edward W. Browning’s New York Real Estate Brochure that lists buildings, apartments, apartment hotels, tenements, and stores to be sold at public auction on June 17, 1929.

Edward W. Browning’s New York Real Estate Brochure

Edward W. Browning’s New York Real Estate Brochure

 

513-519 Broadway through to 84 to 94 Mercer Street from Edward W. Browning’s New York Real Estate Brochure

513-519 Broadway through to 84 to 94 Mercer Street from Edward W. Browning’s New York Real Estate Brochure

 

This brochure contains a lot for sale at “513-519 Broadway through to 84 to 94 Mercer Street,” a plot that contains three buildings on Broadway, two of which go all the way through to Mercer Street, that would bring in an estimated whopping $80,700.00 in rent when fully occupied, presumably annually.  I found a recent article on Curbed about a unit in this lot for rent today:

Hank Azaria, best known for doing his voices on “The Simpsons” (Moe, Apu, Chief Wiggum among others), told the Wall Street Journal that he’s renting out his loft at 84 Mercer Street for a cool $16,000 per month. For that moolah you get a 4,000 square foot loft with 3 bedrooms. He picked the place up from photographer and director Cindy Sherman for $4.25M back in 2005, but he plans to spend a lot more time on the West Coast.

If a renter will pay $16K per month for a loft, imagine how much one of those retail spaces fetches!  I pride myself on being pretty good at math, but I’m not even going to attempt to figure out the percentage of appreciation between 1929 and 2011.  (And I don’t know if Azaria is BEST known for his Simpsons voices, fantastic though they are.)

Last, but not at all least, here is a newspaper clipping from February 9, 1907 of a picture of The Hall of Science, “where the freethinkers foregathered seventy-five years ago.”

hall-of-sciencebway-central-hotel

This building on Broome Street (probably between Mott and Elizabeth)  was purchased for $7,000 by educational reformer Frances Wright in 1829. According to the Encyclopedia.com entry on Wright:

Commencing a career as a lecturer, she bought a Baptist church and renamed it the Hall of Science, housing a lecture hall, a secular Sunday school, and a bookstore for free-thinkers. Wright’s lectures challenged evolving concepts of domestic ideology when she explained the experience and ideals of Nashoba, criticized evangelical revivals, and advocated education and equal rights for women. Her favorite topic was educational reform. She proposed a “guardianship system” through which state government would establish district boarding schools, where Americans could be raised for social equality through a curriculum that instructed all children in free inquiry and the physical sciences. Wright found admirers in New York among the reformers and artisans who comprised the city’s Workingmen’s Party and who also advocated enlightened public education and such issues as the ten-hour workday, abolition of imprisonment for debt, and attacks on the privileges of banks and capitalists.

Three random items.  Three SoHo locales.  Three interesting stories.  All in a day’s work.

 

This post originally appeared on The SoHo Memory Project on December 12, 2012.

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A drawing titled “The Genius of Advertising” from an 1880 issue of the National Police Gazette shows men outside a brothel gazing at pictures of some of the attractions awaiting them inside (photo via The New York Times)

A drawing titled “The Genius of Advertising” from an 1880 issue of the National Police Gazette shows men outside a brothel gazing at pictures of some of the attractions awaiting them inside (photo via The New York Times)

During the early 1800′s, the posh shopping and dining neighborhood in downtown Manhattan called SoHo (which stands for SOuth of HOston), enjoyed  its previous heyday as a commercial destination for well-to-do New Yorkers.  By mid-century, however, while Broadway around Prince and Spring Streets remained for some time the “Fifth Avenue” of its day, bordellos began popping up on side streets, and the area soon became New York’s first red light district: Read the rest of this entry »

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As I was doing research for my blog, The SoHo Memory Project, I came across a a pulp-fiction paperback about SoHo.  Judging from the cover art, the novel, entitled Soho, was probably meant to appeal to readers in search of a good soap opera-style story, and it certainly delivers on that front.  It is a saga about an immigrant family whose rise to power parallels SoHo’s rise to prominence as a center of art and commerce.  The blurb on the back reads, “From Lower East Side merchants to high-powered international art brokers, three generations struggle for love, wealth and fame in thrilling…SOHO.”

Basically, Soho is about a bunch of good-looking, ambitious, passionate, people striving for success in twentieth-century New York.  The story is pretty mundane and bit stilted, but the novel’s landscape is actually quite interesting and well researched.  The details about early loft living and atmospheric descriptions of street scenes are astute and accurate.

The following is an excerpt from Soho, also cited by Richard Kostelanetz in his book, SoHo: The Rise and Fall of an Artists’ Colony, that is a particularly evocative passage describing Canal Street in the 1960′s:

Annie walked with Camille to the subway entrance, then strolled west on Canal Street, drawn by the activity on the sidewalks.  What she discovered, to her delight, was that a number of stores had, in effect, burst and spilled out into the street, so that their wares were displayed in irregularly ascending rows of trays and boxes—some resting on trestles,  some on other boxes—in the way that fruit and vegetables were arranged outside an old-fashioned greengrocers.  In front of one store were containers of vacuum tubes, condensers, transformers, loudspeaker cones—everything the radio or hi-fi enthusiast could require—the price of each item boldly stated on a hand-lettered card.  Another shop offered plumbing supplies—mundane objects that became exotic isolated out here on the street—and a third displayed sneakers, sandals, and several kinds of work boots, all crowded onto a kind of miniature bleachers.  A cascade of legal pads, ledgers, typewriter ribbons, old calendars, pencil sharpeners, ink pads, and desk lamps overflowed from an office supply company.  Nearby were rolls of garden hose, brass rods, hacksaw blades, nuts and bolts, hatchets, frying pans bathroom cabinets, casters, door handles, toilet paper holders—the contents of a hardware store that had been turned inside out—and next to that a cluttered assemblage of electric motors in all sizes and shapes.

(from SoHo, by C.L. Byrd, pages 129-130)

This passage describes all that I found so interesting as a child walking down Canal Street with my father to buy supplies for one of his construction jobs and lovingly portrays a street that was at once chaotic and orderly in its own way.  The “about the author” note says that C.L. Byrd is the pseudonym of two writers closely involved with the New York art world, and that seems plausible to me.

The most interesting aspect of this novel, however, is that it provides a glimpse into how outsiders, the suburban housewife or midwestern banker, would perceive SoHo if novels such as this one were their primary information source.  Although it is pretty accurate in its descriptions of everyday life in SoHo, it still paints a somewhat glossy and  romantic idea of what it was like to be a pioneer in loft living.  I guess the equivalent for me would be my perception of Dallas in the 1980′s being based on the trials and tribulations of JR and his posse.  The money, the power, the women.  I mean, quel drama!  By the way, does anyone remember, in the end, who actually shot JR?

 

*This post originally appeared on June 18, 2011 at The SoHo Memory Project

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