Monday, October 24, 2011

A Walk Up Greene Street, with a Little SoHo History and Class Warfare Thrown In

Second in a series on the fascinations of wandering New York.

We had another lovely day here in New York on Sunday, so I decided to go back to Occupy Wall Street and donate some apples -- redistribution of income at work! I arrived right at lunchtime, and was impressed by the pasta and salad the protesters were serving to anyone who wanted a bite. It was just as nice a meal as those offered by the soup kitchen that my church runs (Sundays at 2 p.m. in the church basement, should you need a bite), and all prepared without a real kitchen, as far as I could tell. I also saw the library, full of books on all subjects for all ages:

I missed seeing Screwy Decimal, but she has a picture of the children's library sign specifically. 

A block north stands the Freedom Tower, also known as One World Trade Center. It will be the tallest building in the United States when it's completed, at 1,776 feet. I don't feel particularly enthusiastic about this, nor do most New Yorkers that I know (who are not Larry Silverstein). But Mr. Silverstein must needs be satisfied, and so up it goes:


From there I walked north to SoHo. "SoHo" is an abbreviation for "South of Houston Street" (the street is pronounced "How-ston," not "Hew-ston," for anyone who wishes to sound like a local), and roughly covers the area between Houston Street to the north, the Bowery to the east, Canal Street to the south, and the Avenue of the Americas to the west. It has been through many, many iterations as a neighborhood, beginning in the Victorian era, when most of its famous cast-iron buildings were constructed:


As manufacturing moved out throughout the twentieth century, artists moved in, spreading south from Greenwich Village and taking over the light-filled lofts for studio space and cooperatives (that link is worth reading if you're interested in nutty artists or New York history):


Where artists go, galleries open; where galleries open, rich people come; and where rich people come, luxury shops follow. And as a result, forty years after Fluxhouse closed, Soho is one of the best neighborhoods in New York to shop for European clothes and modern furniture design -- if you're in the 1%, as the good stuff doesn't come cheap. I loved these coffee-cup sculptures, each one bigger than my head, at Adriani & Rossi (a mere $250 each):


Across the street was a doubled reminder of the neighborhood's origins:  a sign over the receiving door of the long-gone Baker Brush Company, presumably from when brushes were manufactured in SoHo; and a piece of fascinating street art over it -- a totem-like collage face: 


At the corner at 89 Grand Street stood Ingo Maurer, a lovely lighting design store. Wouldn't it be fun to have this exploding-dishes chandelier over your table at a dinner party? It would make your guests feel like anything could happen.


More street art on the next block:


And in an alcove in front of an empty storefront:  a carefully arranged pile of plastic and some sheets, meaning that this is probably someone's bed.

That someone sleeps on the sidewalk on the same street as a $250 coffee cup sculpture, or this Gaga-worthy fur coat at Isabel Marant, is the same kind of injustice that has led the Occupy Wall Street protests to exist.


At the same time, I confess I love the goofiness of this coat (and the chandelier, and the coffee cups) -- not as something I'd wear or need to own myself, but as a beautiful thing that gives delight. So I don't really want all these things to go away. . . . Only for that sleeper on the sidewalk, and everyone, to have proper housing, and a job, and regular meals, and medical care, before a woman actually spends over a thousand dollars on a coat that makes her resemble a yak.

How to solve this problem equitably, I do not know.

So. More haunting graffiti, on the base of a lamppost:


And just like Crosby Street, Greene Street is paved mostly in brick:

Right across the street from Isabel Marant is one of my favorite places to window shop:  SICIS Next Art, an Italian furniture maker that is frankly, joyously crazy -- the interior-design equivalent of Agatha Ruiz de la Prada.


My favorite thing I've ever seen there was a mosaic bathtub shaped like a high heel, where the bather sat in the toe and water poured down the arch.

At 107 Greene is another favorite place to browse -- the Taschen bookstore. Taschen makes gloriously nutso, beautiful, and huge art books. (Also art-porn collections, should that be your thing.) I go there to marvel at the specs of their books -- the size of the bindings, the quality of the paper, how no expense is spared in foil or glossiness or embossing. The shop functions almost like a book museum, as you can see:

Magda Sayeg likes to wrap things in knitting. You can see her work right now outside the Apple Store (currently undergoing renovation) at the corner of Prince & Greene. 

There's also a knitted bicycle at the base of Greene Street, outside the ACNE clothing store. (Yes, that's the brand's real name; it stands for Ambition to Create Novel Expression, and it's a Swedish line. Presumably they didn't know what it meant in English.)

If you look up from the tricycle, you can see another wonderful piece of art, the marvelous trompe-l'oeil ironwork at 112 Prince Street:

And here's the view back down Greene St. from Houston -- which you all know how to pronounce now, yes? Yes.

I really enjoyed doing this -- the walk, the pictures, the sheer pleasure of looking for and at beautiful and interesting things, all on a sunny, crisp autumn afternoon. Thank you for sharing my stroll!


  1. Thank you for sharing your wonderful stroll and all the great photos of New York City!

  2. Kristin McIlhaggaOctober 25, 2011 9:02 AM

    Cheryl -
    Thank you for sharing your lovely walk. I made my first visit to NYC 2 years ago and am now certifiably obsessed with it (according to my husband). I can't wait to come back and have fantasies about moving there. I love the variety of images, textures, experiences and perspectives you painted with your words and photographs.

  3. So fun, Cheryl. Thanks for sharing! This brings back such a happy memory of my first and only trip so far to NY. Just being on its sidewalks was my favorite part.

  4. Entertaining and enlightening.
    Soho, who knew? You know, that's who.

  5. Lovely! Thanks CK!

  6. I've never visited New York City, nestled as I am between San Francisco and(OR)Portland. Thank you for making me wish to do so.