Associated Artists
George Maciunas
George Brecht
Dick Higgins
  80 Wooster Street, New York City
Gallery 1967 -
  New York USA
EVEN in the last quarter century of profound change, no neighborhood in Manhattan has been as utterly transformed as SoHo. From a backwater of decrepit lofts and low-tech industry, it has emerged as an expensive neighborhood of "spaces" shown proudly in magazines like Architectural Digest. If this rags-to-riches saga started anywhere, it was with George Maciunas's 1967 conversion of 80 Wooster Street, where, amid the limousines and expensive galleries, the shareholders in SoHo's original co-op loft are now having trouble with the cost of repainting the trim. In the 1880's and 90's, SoHo was experiencing a revival as dramatic as that in our own time. Scores of early 19th-century brick houses -- by that time converted to boarding or bawdy houses -- were being demolished for new loft and factory buildings. In 1895, the real estate firm of Boehm & Coon put up a seven-story warehouse at 80 Wooster Street, a grand, Renaissance-style work designed by Gilbert Schellenger. Boehm & Coon put their initials in a shield at the seventh floor, but there is no reason to believe the building was used for anything different from others in what was becoming New York's newest area of light industry. By 1931, the building was occupied by the Miller Paper Company, which remained there until 1967. In that time, SoHo saw little change. But artists began occupying lofts in increasing numbers all over the city, some in the huge, inexpensive spaces in SoHo. Living in a district zoned for manufacturing was illegal, so they jerry-rigged plumbing, avoided doorbells and blocked out windows to cover their presence. This changed in a big way in 1967 when Mr. Maciunas, a designer and artist, bought 80 Wooster Street from the Miller family. Mr. Maciunas had founded the Fluxus Group with Yoko Ono and other artists, and his idea was in the service not of real estate but of art. He envisioned an invasion of SoHo by artists through the communal purchase of buildings. With the help of a grant from the J. M. Kaplan Foundation he initiated it at 80 Woosterter Street, taking title as Fluxhouse Cooperative II. It appears that an earlier venture was not completed, and by all accounts this was the first such effort in SoHo. Charles Ross, a sculptor who still lives in SoHo, was one of the group that bought into the 50- by 100-foot building at $8,000 a floor. An informal allocation of shares and floors "sorted itself out nicely," he said. But it was too casual for some. Mr. Maciunas, who lived in the basement of the co-op while organizing others, ultimately embedded blades in his door so that no one could pound on it. He operated largely without permits and once chased a building inspector into the street with a samurai sword, said Mr. Ross. He also comingled funds from the accounts of various nascent informal co-ops not, it is largely agreed, for his own pocket, but to help establish other struggling buildings. He was really the father of SoHo. The 80 Wooster Street building was also famous as the headquarters of Jonas Mekas's Film Makers Cinematheque -- a locale for happenings and other events like Richard Foreman's Ontological Hysteric Theater. In 1971, the city legalized residential use of SoHo lofts, but for most early SoHo residents, 1973 was when urban frontier became tourist attraction, especially after a New York magazine cover story late that year. "One building quadrupled in price after the article," said Mr. Ross, "and it sold within a week." SoHo quickly became "a boutique zone," said P. Adams Sitney, professor of film history at Princeton University, who knew Mr. Maciunas. "Now it's just a tourist zone -- lots of purple hair." MR. MACIUNAS was hard to deal with, and continuing problems with disgruntled co-op buyers caused him to leave SoHo and the city in disgust. He died in Massachusetts in 1978. Accessed 12.08.2009 from
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