|The Soho Weekly News began with modest intentions in October 1973. Founder and publisher Michael Goldstein once said he started the paper so that Soho residents could stop hanging fliers everywhere to let other residents know what was happening. In effect, it was a neighborhood paper meant to focus on local news, with the expectation of adding of local arts coverage. The first headline read "SOHO WINS LANDMARK FIGHT," a reference to a landmark decision that established a 26-block area of SoHo as, well, a landmark. Bounded by West Broadway on the west, Crosby Street on the east, Houston and Canal Streets, the area was "the first commercial district in the world to become a landmark," according to the cover story, which carried no byline. This designation, it went on to say, guaranteed that "the exteriors of existing buildings may not be altered without approval of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, and approval will not be granted unless the proposed change is in harmony with the Historic District."
This ruling represented a major victory against real estate interests, who wanted to be able to demolish smaller buildings to put up taller monstrosities. Those original buildings, with their now famous cast-iron facades and large ground-floor windows, were created in the mid-19th century, when the development of cast-iron technology made it possible to fashion facades with much taller and wider windows at street level than had previously been possible. Many of the buildings were created for exclusive establishments such as Lord & Taylor, Tiffany, and Haughwout's to display their goods in the newly spacious windows (the phrase "window shopping" was born at this time). Others were created for offices and fabric manufacturing firms, for whom the light admitted by those huge windows was a boon in an era when dim gaslight was the primary source of illumination. By the 1880s, as the fashionable area moved further north, many of these cast-iron buildings were converted to sweatshops. In the end, of course, the Realtors won, as they always do, and the prices of those modest buildings have long since skyrocketed. Their enormous ground-floor windows remain, however, in many cases reverting to their original use as grandiose display cases for exclusive goods.
Our first issue also contained our very own Gallery Guide; a review of Myra Friedman's biography of Janis Joplin, "Buried Alive"; a piece by Charles Bukowski; Jim Stratton's "Keeping Aloft" column; Rose Hartman's "In and Around"; an installment of Gilbert Shelton's masterful chronicle of hippie dementia, "Adventures of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers"; and, of course, an ad for Fanelli's, proclaiming it "The City's Oldest Bar" (Could that have been true? They weren't counting Fraunces Tavern?). The Fanelli family sold the bar in 1982 (the same year that a certain shortsighted British newspaper conglomerate demolished the Soho News itself) but the buyers shrewdly maintained the original name. Fanelli's kept many of us fed and watered during the early years of the paper's existence, and is still one of the only places where you can buy a reasonably priced drink in Soho.
2003 Peter Occhiogrosso
Helene Zucker Seeman and Alanna Siegfried. SoHo: A Guide. New York: Neal-Schuman, Inc., 1978.
Anderson & Archer's Soho: The Essential Guide to Art and Life in Lower Manhattan. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1979.
Steve Kahn. SoHo New York. New York: Rizzoli, 1999.