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Soho, Manhattan, 10030




SoHo is a neighborhood in the New York City borough of Manhattan in the United States. Originally associated with the arts, it has since become famous for both destination shopping and its downtown scene. It is an archetypal example of inner-city regeneration and gentrification, encompassing socio-economic, cultural, political and architectural developments.


The name is a blend of "South" and "Houston" from "south of Houston Street", and has no relation to the Soho area of London, England. The name originated in 1968 when artists and activists were forming an organization to legalize their living in a manufacturing zone. Seeking to geographically identify their group, they consulted a Department of City Planning map that described the area as 'So. Houston'. The group voted to call itself the SoHo Artists Association, and the name stuck. Its name is the model for other new neighborhood acronyms in New York City, such as NoHo, for North of Houston Street, TriBeCa (Triangle Below Canal Street), Nolita (North of Little Italy), and DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass).


It is also known as the Cast-Iron Historic District because of the many buildings incorporating cast iron architectural elements.




It is bounded roughly by Houston Street on the north, Lafayette Street on the east, Canal Street on the south, and Sixth Avenue on the west.


It should be noted that Encyclopedia Britannica's 1956 article on “New York (City)” states that the southern border of Greenwich Village is Spring Street. If Britannica was correct in 1956, then SoHo has subsumed two blocks of the South Village’s traditional borders if 6th Avenue (aka Avenue of the Americas) is taken as the western border of Soho. But since cast iron buildings stop at West Broadway there is ample evidence to suggest that SoHo's borders are those described in the paragraph below.


Based on maps provided by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission and the Department of City Planning, SoHo's borders are most accurately drawn at Houston Street to the north and Canal Street to the south, Crosby Street to the east and West Broadway to the west, since the SoHo Cast-Iron Historic District as well as SoHo's unique M1-5a/5b zoning delineate these boundaries. The Landmarks Preservation Commission is currently considering a proposal by the Metropolitan Chapter of the Victorian Society to expand the SoHo Historic District to include the east side of Crosby Street and the west side of West Broadway.


Although the SoHo Alliance , Community Board 2 , and the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation(GVSHP) declare that the western boundary of SoHo ends at West Broadway, some believe the area extends west to 6th Avenue. The neighborhood to the west of West Broadway has traditionally been called the South Village, which reflects the 1956 Britannica cite. In 2003 GVSHP published a well-researched study on the South Village culture, history and geography. In 2007 it submitted a proposal to the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission to designate the area between West Broadway and Sixth Avenue as the South Village Historic District. In June, 2009, the Landmarks Preservation Commission calendared a portion of the proposed district. The South Village neighborhood was also still listed on Manhattan subway maps as recently as 1999. East of Lafayette Street is the northern part of Little Italy, now more commonly called Nolita.


Some identify the area to the West of Sixth avenue and East of Greenwich Street as 'West SoHo'-- The area has a distinctly different architectural feel and a very different array of ground level retail, however, and as early as 1999 many people started calling that area Hudson Square.


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, George Maciunas and other local leaders, the project was derailed and abandoned.


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.




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."




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 Cast-Iron 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. There are even a few small factories that have managed to remain. Canal Street at SoHo's south boundary contrasts with the former's posh shopping district in offering cheap imitation clothing and accessories.





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