Here’s a post that sprang out of another entry I’ve been slowly composing. While the latter is intended to extoll the merits of a certain album, this former was inspired by the recollection of a photograph first spied in an ancient issue of SPIN. I flirted with the idea of making it another ‘photo quiz,’ but being that I’m 99% certain the location in question simply does not exist anymore, it seemed like a futile concept. Here, then, is that post.
At the risk of belaboring the obvious, prior to its current incarnation as a pricey shopping district and hotbed of exceedingly exclusive real estate opportunities, SoHo used to have a lot more light and space. Back in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, between its signature, old industrial buildings, there were gaps, lots, passages and alleys. While obviously ideal for parking, these spaces also handily acted as destinations for flea markets, courts for impromptu sporting events, wildly convenient short-cuts and, as everywhere else in the neighborhood at the time, giant, outdoor canvases for rampant street art.
Here in 2016, most of the lots have been gobbled up by real estate developers looking to squeeze in a new, “tony" (god I hate that fucking adjective) condo. Formerly wide open corners that allowed the sun to stream in between SoHo’s famously narrow byways are now occupied by imposing glass fortresses. But, again, `twas not always this way.
To my recollection, there were two distinctive, mid-block passages, just south of Houston Street, that survived at least into the 90’s. One was between Mercer and Broadway (which, just prior to becoming the home of the Scholastic building, looked like this). The second one was between West Broadway and Wooster, just above Prince Street. These weren’t proper “alleys,” mind you (they were not named), but rather simple, brick-facaded gaps between buildings that came into being after previous structures had been razed or simply collapsed. The photo below, I believe, is of this second gap between West Broadway and Wooster, taken circa 1986.
The origin of this photo is the January 1987 issue of SPIN. It was featured (and strangely uncredited) in tandem with a review of New Order’s fourth studio LP, Brotherhood. Still a devout reader at the time, I remember cutting this photograph out of the magazine during my sophomore year at college and taping it to my wall. It resonated not only because it was a stylish photograph of New Order (that’s lead singer/guitarist Bernard Sumner in the foreground), but because I recognized the brick facade he’s pictured in front of. That facade — complete with painted silhouettes — was within the passage between Wooster and West Broadway in SoHo.
SPIN’s photographers frequently shot their subjects around NYC. As such, my dorm walls were covered with similar pics of bands like the Cro-Mags, the Pogues, Sonic Youth, Robyn Hitchcock and the Butthole Surfers, all snapped in photogenic Manhattan locations.
Anyway, the frustrating thing about this is that, honestly, there’s really no way to prove my postulation that this photo was shot where I say it was. I do know some photographers and bloggers with an equal zeal for the SoHo of yesteryear that may be able to corroborate, but it seems unlikely that we’d be able to definitively verify the assertion. Until I find more evidence to back it up, you may just have to take my word for it, alas.
Today, that brick-faced passage between Wooster Street and West Broadway is occupied -- on the Wooster side -- by a new building with the address of 139, which hosts a North Face outlet on its ground floor. On the West Broadway side, it's 455 ... home, I believe, to a nail spa called Think Pink.
Here, meanwhile, is New Order from the same era....