Soho in Downtown Manhattan

Not to be confused with the London neighborhood of the same name, SoHo in Manhattan is known today for upscale shopping and trendy restaurants, but it wasn’t always that way. SoHo—which stands for South of Houston Street—has gone through many transformations over the centuries and still holds its fair share of secrets. From the neighborhood’s past as the city’s red-light district to an extremely valuable piece of real estate filled with 280,000 pounds of dirt, here are nine of the most fascinating secrets of SoHo.

1. SoHo was once New York’s Red-Light District

Broome Street, Nos. 504-506, Manhattan. Photo by Berenice Abbott via the New York Public Library’s Digital Collections.

In the mid-1800s, long before SoHo became a bohemian artist enclave, it was New York City’s most prominent red-light district. At the time, Broadway was a major shopping thoroughfare (much like it is today), and brothels started popping up on the side streets leading off it.

Guidebooks were published offering gentlemen suggestions on the best (and worst) houses of ill repute. The Gentlemen’s Companion, published anonymously in 1870, refers to Greene Street as “a complete sink of iniquity” but recommends an establishment at 84 W. Houston Street, where “Everything here is arranged in the first style, while the bewitching smiles of the fairy-like creatures who devote themselves to the services of Cupid are unrivaled by any of the fine ladies who walk Broadway in silks and satins new.”