SoHo

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Coordinates: 40°43′29″N 74°00′00″W / 40.72472°N 74°W / 40.72472; -74

Cast-iron architecture on Greene Street

Template:Three other uses

SoHo is a neighborhood in the New York City borough of Manhattan in the United States. Prior to the mid-20th century, the area was known as Hell's Hundred Acres, and was described as an "industrial wasteland", busy with sweatshops and small factories in the daytime, but empty at night. Before that, it was an area with more bars and brothels than anywhere else in the city.[1] Artists began to move in to have large spaces in which they could both live and work, in what were called loft spaces. In 1968 artists and activists were forming an organization to legalize their living in a manufacturing zone. Seeking to identify their group geographically, they consulted a city Planning Commission map that described the area as "South of Houston", "Houston" being Houston Street. This was shortened to "SoHo", the group voted to call itself the SoHo Artists Association and the name for the neighborhood stuck.[2]

The neighborhood's association with the arts has expanded over time, and the area has become famous for destination shopping. It is an archetypal example of inner-city regeneration and gentrification, encompassing socio-economic, cultural, political and architectural developments.[3] It is also known as the SoHo Cast Iron Historic District because of the many buildings incorporating cast iron architectural elements.

Contents

Geography

A street in SoHo

SoHo is bounded roughly by Houston Street on the north, Lafayette Street/Centre Street on the east, Canal Street on the south, and West Broadway on the west, based on SoHo's unique M1-5a/M1-5b zoning. The SoHo-Cast Iron Historic District is contained within the zoned SoHo. Originally ending in the west at the eastern side of West Broadway and to the east at the western side of Crosby Street, the SoHo-Cast Iron Historic District was expanded to cover both sides of West Broadway and to extend east to Lafayette/Centre Streets. The lines are not straight, and some block-fronts on West Broadway and Lafayette are excluded from the Historic District. [4]

Although the SoHo Alliance [1], Community Board 2,[5] and the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP)[6] all agree that the western boundary of SoHo ends at West Broadway, some have claimed the area to extend west to The Avenue of the Americas (Sixth Avenue). However, the area west of West Broadway and east of Sixth Avenue is traditionally called the "South Village." The South Village does not share the same zoning nor has it the cast-iron architecture that helps define SoHo.

Cast Iron District and LoMEx

What became SoHo was to have been the locale of two enormous elevated highways, comprising the two branches of the Lower Manhattan Expressway. The highway was intended to create an automobile and truck through-route connecting the Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges on the east with the Holland Tunnel on the west.

The young historic preservation movement and architectural critics, stung by the destruction of the original Pennsylvania Station and the threat to other historic structures, challenged the plans because of the threatened loss of a huge quantity of 19th century cast iron structures, which were not then highly valued by the general public or contemporary business community. When John V. Lindsay became mayor of New York City in 1966, his initial reaction was to try to push the expressways through with political spin, dubbing the Robert Moses project the Lower Manhattan Expressway (or LoMEx), depressing some of the proposed highway in residential areas and stressing the importance of the artery to the city. Nevertheless, through the efforts of Jane Jacobs, Tony D'apolito and other local, civic and cultural leaders, as well as SoHo artist residents themselves, the project was derailed.

Artist studios and residences

After abandonment of the highway scheme, the city was still left with a large number of historic buildings that were unattractive for the kinds of manufacturing and commerce that survived in the city in the 1970s. Many of these buildings, especially the upper stories which became known as lofts, attracted artists who valued the spaces for their large areas, large windows admitting natural light and cheap rents. Most of these spaces were also used illegally as living space, being neither zoned nor equipped for residential use; yet, this zoning violation was ignored for a long period of time as occupants were using space that would have most likely been dormant or abandoned as a result of the poor economy in New York City during that time.

SoHo boasts the greatest collection of cast-iron architecture in the world. Approximately 250 cast iron buildings stand in New York City and the majority of them are in SoHo. Cast iron was initially used as a decorative front over a pre-existing building. With the addition of modern, decorative facades, older industrial buildings were able to attract new commercial clients. Most of these facades were constructed during the period from 1840 to 1880. In addition to revitalizing older structures, buildings in SoHo were later designed to feature the cast iron.

One of the galleries on a cobblestone street in SoHo.

An American architectural innovation, cast iron was cheaper to use for facades than materials such as stone or brick. Molds of ornamentation, prefabricated in foundries, were used interchangeably for many buildings, and a broken piece could be easily recast. The buildings could be erected quickly, some were built in only four months' time. Despite the brief construction period, the quality of the cast iron designs was not sacrificed. Previously, bronze had been the metal most frequently used for architectural detail. Architects now found that the relatively inexpensive cast iron could form the most intricately designed patterns. Classical French and Italian architectural designs were often used as models for these facades. And because stone was the material associated with architectural masterpieces, cast iron, painted in neutral tints such as beige, was used to simulate stone.

There was a profusion of cast iron foundries in New York, including the major firms of Badger's Architectural Iron Works, James L. Jackson's Iron Works, and Cornell Iron Works.

Since the iron was pliable and easily molded, sumptuously curved window frames were created, and the strength of the metal allowed these frames considerable height. Thus, the once somber, gas-lit interiors of the industrial district were flooded with sunlight through the newly enlarged windows. The strength of the cast iron permitted high ceilings with sleek supporting columns, and interiors became more expansive and functional.

During cast iron's heyday, many architects thought it to be structurally more sound than steel. It was also thought that cast iron would be fire resistant, and facades were constructed over many interiors built of wood and other inflammable materials. But, when exposed to heat, cast iron buckled and later cracked under the cold water used to extinguish fire. In 1899, a building code was passed mandating the backing of cast iron fronts with masonry. Most of the buildings which stand today are so constructed. It was the advent of steel as a major construction material that brought a rapid end to the cast iron era."

Historic district

Another historic building on Wooster Street.
West Broadway runs along the western border of SoHo.

As the artist population grew, the city made some attempts to stem the movement, especially concerned about the occupation of space that did not meet residential building codes, and the possibility that the space might be needed at some time for the return of manufacturing to New York City.

Pressured on many sides, the city eventually gave up on attempting to keep the district as strictly industrial space and in 1971 permitted certified artists to reside and work in their spaces. The area received landmarks designation as the SoHo-CastIron Historic District in 1973.

The historic district is officially bounded by Houston Street, West Broadway, Canal Street and Crosby Street. It is noted for the elaborate cast-iron architecture of many of its buildings, most of which date from the late 19th century. These buildings originally housed warehouses, factories and sweatshops. It is also noted for its cobblestone streets.

The neighborhood rose to fame as a neighborhood for artists during the 1960s and 1970s, when the cheap spaces vacated by departing factories were converted by artists into lofts and studios. SoHo's lofts were especially appealing to artists because they could use the wide spaces and tall ceilings that factories and warehouses required to create and store their work. During this period, which lasted into the 1980s, living in SoHo was often of dubious legality, as the area was zoned for light industrial and commercial uses rather than residential, and many residents had to convert their apartments into livable spaces on their own, with little money. However, beginning in the 1980s, in a way that would later apply elsewhere, the neighborhood began to draw more affluent residents. However, due to rent protection and stability afforded by the 1982 Loft Law, in addition to the fact that many of the artists owned their co-ops, many of the original pioneering artists remained despite the popular misconception that gentrification forced them to flee. Many residents have lived in the neighborhood for decades. In the mid-90s, most of the galleries moved to Chelsea but several well known galleries remain including The William Bennett Gallery, Franklin Bowles Gallery and Pop International Gallery.

SoHo's location, the appeal of lofts as living spaces, its architecture and, ironically, its "hip" reputation as a haven for artists all contributed to this change. The pattern of gentrification is typically known as the "SoHo Effect" and has been observed in several cities around the United States. A backwater of poor artists and small factories in the 1970s, SoHo became a popular tourist destination for people looking for fashionable (and expensive) clothing and exquisite architecture.

SoHo's boutiques and restaurants are clustered in the northern area of the neighborhood, along Broadway and Prince and Spring streets. The sidewalks in this area are often crowded with tourists and with vendors selling jewelry, t-shirts, and other works, sometimes leaving no space for pedestrians to walk. SoHo is known for its commercialization and eclectic mix of different boutiques for shopping, including Prada, G-Star Raw, Bloomingdale's, H&M, Marc Jacobs, Chanel, Victoria's Secret, Puma AG, Dolce & Gabbana, Urban Outfitters, Apple Store, J. Crew and Calvin Klein. Yet, the southern part of the neighborhood, along Grand Street and Canal Street, retains some of the feel of SoHo's earlier days. Canal Street at SoHo's south boundary contrasts with the former's posh shopping district in offering electronics and cheap imitation clothing and accessories.

Nearby neighborhoods include:

See also

Notes

  1. Shefttell, Jason "The Changing Face of SoHo" New York Daily News (January 23, 2009)
  2. The name "SoHo" is the model for other new neighborhood acronyms in New York City, such as NoHo, for "NOrth of HOuston Street", TriBeCa ("TRIangle BEneath CAnal Street"), Nolita ("NOrth of Little ITAly"), NoMad ("NO of MADison Square Park") and DUMBO ("District Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass").
  3. SoHo, New York - Mixed Use, Density and the Power of Myth Barr, Alistair - Architect
  4. http://www.nyc.gov/html/lpc/downloads/pdf/maps/sohodextmap.pdf
  5. "Home Manhattan Community Board No. 2". Nyc.gov. http://www.nyc.gov/html/mancb2/html/home/home.shtml. Retrieved 2010-06-01. 
  6. Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. "Home". GVSHP. http://www.gvshp.org/_gvshp/index.htm. Retrieved 2010-06-01. 


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