Gateway-to-soho-599 broadway-forrest-myers-Stephanie-Geier-NYC-Stephanie-GeierThe Gateway to Soho at 599 Broadway

The bright blue, eight-story art piece adorning a wall on 599 Broadway certainly stands out among the surrounding buildings and billboards, catching the eye of pedestrians. Unknown to many of them, however, this piece, called “The Gateway to Soho” (or “The Wall”), actually has a rocky history and even became the subject of a federal lawsuit.

Forrest Myers constructed The Gateway to Soho in 1973 with 42 evenly spaced green aluminum bars attached to 42 steel braces. These pieces are set against a blue background covering about three-fourths of the building’s wall, representative of a type of wall that exists along Houston Street because of a street widening that removed rows of existing buildings. Gateway to Soho’s simple design yet large presence make it a minimalist work, commissioned by the building’s initial owner, Charles Tannenbaum, to cover the building’s unattractive joists.

Gateway_to_Soho_close up_Forrest Myers_599 Broadway_NYC_Untapped Cities_Stephanie GeierThe Gateway to Soho is made of 42 green bars on a blue background.

Its story reveals tensions that can occur between property owners and the government over art. In 1997, the building’s new owner wanted to replace the piece with a billboard, and also claimed the piece caused leaks. However, the Landmarks Preservation Commission said taking it down was prohibited despite the owner’s protests that they were violating his first amendment rights and not providing compensation for using his property. Mr. Myers filed a federal lawsuit that year.

The Commission allowed the artwork to be removed in 2002 with the terms that the owners would put it back up after fixing the leakage. However, by 2004 the owners still hadn’t replaced it, so the city sued them. However, the next year a judge ruled in favor of the owners, citing the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990.

Gateway to Soho-The Wall-plaque-Forrest-Myers-Stephanie-Geier-Untapped Cities-NYCA plaque near the art piece

In 2007, the city and the owners compromised that the building’s exterior would increase 30 feet, allowing the artwork to be installed 18 feet higher and creating space for advertising closer to the ground. In addition, the piece would receive special lighting, which excited Mr. Myers. These changes are apparent in the current piece.

According to the owners, dedicating the entire wall to advertisements and billboards instead of the artwork could create $600,000 in advertising revenue annually. While the The Gateway to Soho still stands strong today, it does show the conflicts between the goals of art and commerce that can arise.

Next, try Discovering the Cast-Iron Buildings of SoHo with the Center for Architecture Foundation and 10 Historic Luxury Buildings in NYC’s Soho and Tribeca. Get in touch with the author @sgeier97