Proto SoHo: Artist Developers in New York City

December 4, 2014 5:50 PM

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Several years ago, I co-authored Illegal Living: 80 Wooster Street and the Evolution of SoHo. The book tells the story of SoHo's founding as an artist community through the prism of 80 Wooster Street, Fluxhouse II, one of 16 artists' coops started by George Maciunas, the founder of the Fluxus art movement. The building was a magnet for the avant-garde who were drawn to Jonas Mekas' Cinematheque, a ground-floor space that hosted happenings, film screenings, dance and theater performances, concerts and art shows. The artists who occupied SoHo lofts did so illegally because the neighborhood, when they arrived, was solely manufacturing. You could work in your studio but you had to sleep elsewhere, the law said, although many hid their mattresses and broke the law. Only in 1971, with the new zoning that permitted live-work artist residences in SoHo, did their life become legal.

But artist owned and/or rented live-work spaces, some of them in cooperative buildings developed by artists, had originated over 100 years earlier as a Municipal Arts Society (MAS) walking tour of the artist' studio buildings, many on West 67th Street, led by Deborah Zelcer, revealed. Particularly i...

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