I went for a walk around SoHo earlier this week. If I’m in a certain mood, this isn’t always the wisest thing to do. There are specific neighborhoods that are known to particularly irk me right into a funk if I’m in the wrong mindset. It’s my own fault, really. Because I’m ultimately reluctant to let go of certain associations with these neighborhoods, the fact that their current incarnations no longer resemble or support those associations only serves to irritate me. It’s very silly, but I can’t seem to escape it.
Case in point, while walking east towards West Broadway from Thompson Street, I found myself standing on the top step of 157 Prince Street. Once upon a time, this basement level storefront was the home of Rocks In Your Head, a record store that -- during my distant adolescence and early adulthood -- played a sizably pivotal role in my development as an insufferable music geek. My pulse used to quicken in rapturous anticipation when I descended those steps. The fact that the address no longer plays host to Rocks in Your Head, but — adding insult to injury — is now the office of a goddamn real estate agency really burns my toast.
I stood on that top step glaring down into the space I used to know so well, although I’m not sure what I was really looking for. I must have been standing still there for some time, as a thick-necked gentlemen poked his head out of the door with a “can I help you?” expression. I thought about regaling him with my sepia-toned saga of his office space’s storied legacy — alluding to the day I found that rare Modern Lovers bootleg misfiled in the back or the black Circle Jerks t-shirt I’d procured there in the summer of 1984 or hearing “Thunder Kiss `65” by White Zombie there for the first time (courtesy of an advanced promo copy they’d just received) — but wisely figured he wouldn’t give the slightest whiff of a damn about any of that stuff. I said nothing and continued walking east.
As is the case with many other neighborhoods, most of the locations I once held dear in SoHo are gone. But it’s not just shops and bars and storefronts I miss, it’s the space and topography itself. The vacant lots that used to host flea markets are all built up, the street art is largely all scrubbed away, the galleries have been replaced by handbag boutiques and the endearingly rusty, gunky exteriors of all those old industrial buildings have been replaced by squeaky clean facades. It’s just not the same, but hasn’t been for quite some time. Why can’t I accept it?
As if on cue, I received a missive from my blogging compatriot Yukie Ohta (she of The SoHo Memory Project, which I’ve written about here, here and here). Yukie is in the process of putting together, in her own words, a “portable historical society that can navigate the bustling urban environment of today’s SoHo, showing a glimpse of its past.”
Sounds awesome, right? Here’s the full press release….
SoHo Native Raises Funds to Preserve Her Neighborhood’s Rich History
New York, NY April 1, 2015---Following up on the success of her blog, The SoHo Memory Project (www.sohomemory.com), Yukie Ohta, archivist, writer, and SoHo native, is setting out to raise funds to create a mobile historical society in partnership with The Uni Project, a nonprofit dedicated to creating pop-up learning experiences across the city. The endeavor will present SoHo’s significant and fascinating history to the public, and there are plans to establish it as permanent institution.
Throughout the month of May, Ms. Ohta will be raising funds to design and create a roving pop-up exhibition, displayed within a cart on wheels, in collaboration with the Uni Project. “The result will be a portable historical society that can navigate the bustling urban environment of today’s SoHo, showing a glimpse of its past,” she explains. “Knowing the story of our neighborhood and its significance in the larger history of New York City will enrich the experiences of SoHo residents and visitors alike and will influence how they interact with the people, streets, and ideas of SoHo.”
The exhibition will chronicle the evolution of the area from rural farmland to high-end retail hub, charting its cycles of development and thus placing current day SoHo in the context of New York City’s history. It will focus on the decades between 1960-1980, when SoHo evolved from a manufacturing and warehousing district to an artists’ community whose mythical image looms large in the public imagination. The displays will include objects, ephemera, photographs, sound, and video, as well as artwork from SoHo artists that will complement the various narratives on display. Ms. Ohta intends to use unconventional media in her exhibition design, including 3D printed miniatures, comic books, LP record jackets, family photo albums, a smelling station, and even Viewmaster viewers.
At the forefront of a new wave in exhibition design, the cart for this roving exhibition will be adapted from designs for portable reading rooms created for the Uni Project by Höweler + Yoon Architecture and operated by the Uni Project across New York City today. Lightweight and versatile, and able to go indoors as well as outdoors, the cart can show up in shops, cafes, and other publicly accessible spaces where people already gather in the neighborhood. Locations and times will be announced via social media, but most visitors will happen upon it by chance. According to Ms. Ohta, “The immediacy of the exhibition will allow for a visceral experience that will ideally linger with viewers as they go on with their excursions through SoHo and inform the way they interact with the neighborhood.” Uni Project Executive Director Leslie Davol says, “We’re excited to use our pop-up approach to help Yukie tell the story of SoHo in an engaging way, and we hope this will provide a model for telling the stories of other neighborhoods.”
Although there are archives throughout the world that collect the personal papers of significant artists and individuals who were SoHo pioneers, SoHo itself has no historical society dedicated to preserving its history as a neighborhood, nor is there any library or museum that tells its story. Ms. Ohta hopes that this exhibition is just the first step in finding a permanent home for The SoHo Memory Project.
To find out more, be sure to check out The SoHo Memory Project.