4. SoHo was once called “Hell’s Hundred Acres”

Broadway near Broome Street in 1935
Broadway near Broome Street, Manhattan by Berenice Abbott via the NYPL Digital Collections.

In the early 1900s, the aforementioned brothels and speakeasies began to drive out the well-to-do New Yorkers, leaving this formerly thriving commercial and entertainment area neglected. After World War II, many of the textile factories that had set up shop here in the 1800s moved to the South, leaving huge industrial buildings vacant. Many storefronts and buildings remained abandoned for decades, while others were replaced by warehouses, printing plants, and parking lots, leading to a decline in the area which would empty out at night. By the 1950s, some started calling SoHo “Hell’s Hundred Acres.”

The abundance of spacious lofts and cheap rents started attracting artists like Gordon Matta-Clark, Donald Judd, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Marilyn Minter to the neighborhood. In the early 1970s, many artists illegally lived in the old warehouses, which weren’t zoned for residential use and often lacked basic amenities like plumbing, heat, and electricity. According to the New York Times, “Artists were required by the city to post warning signs on the exterior of these buildings that read A.I.R. — Artist in Residence — so if there were a fire, the fire department would know to rescue them.”