When someone you know tells you they recall the old SoHo days of the 90s’ please bring them a copy of this book Illegal Living.

There’s a terrific piece by Rosalyn Bernstein in the Huffington Post about the granddaddy of SoHo (so to speak) Shael Shapiro who co-wrote the book with Bernstein.

Built in 1895 by the real estate firm Boehm & Coon, 80 Wooster is a brick building with cast iron components on the east side of Wooster Street south of Spring that originally cost $105,000. Typical of its generation, it is a seven story warehouse building that was home to small manufacturers — doll factories, paper box and fabric recycling companies, often family businesses. It was home to the Miller Cardboard Company from 1931 to 1967 when it had become, like so many of its neighbors, functionally obsolete.

The founder of the Fluxus art movement, Maciunas, who was born in Lithuania in 1931, looked at the underutilized buildings and the moribund industrial neighborhood in 1967 and saw Fluxhouses — buildings where artists could live and work, sharing resources and creating art in studios of several thousand square feet that would cost a few dollars per square foot. It hardly mattered to Maciunas that living in these spaces, contrary to zoning regulations, was not legal.

Trained as an architect and graphic artist, Maciunas was an eccentric genius whose Fluxus manifesto spoke of purging the world of “bourgeois sickness,” and promoting a “revolutionary flood and tide in art.” Equally radical in life, he was driven by his vision to breathe life into the dead factories and he began to spread the word downtown, in smoky coffee houses and dark bars in Greenwich Village, at the Judson Dance Theatre, where the avant-garde hung out and performed, and in ads in the Village Voice. Artists flocked to see the buildings, many of them hitting up relatives and friends to borrow the $3,000 to $5,000 they needed to purchase the illegal living space.

God bless the old New York SoHo.

(2nd image: From Polaroid Portrait Series by Robert Watts, ca 1977. Getty Trust)

Advertisements