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Illegal Living: 80 Wooster Street and the Evolution of SoHo Paperback – July 1, 2010

4.8 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 300 pages
  • Publisher: Jonas Mekas Foundation (July 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 6099517200
  • ISBN-13: 978-6099517209
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 9.4 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #598,336 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
This is an intriguing history of New York's Soho as shown by the history of one building which started its life in the late 19th century as a general purpose commercial building and evolved to become the genesis of New York's famous Soho. An insider's look at the people and politics who transformed a gritty neighborhood of dying factories and warehouses into one of the world's hot spots for fashion and luxury. Well written and painstakingly researched, it reveals the efforts of the diverse personalities involved in creating an affordable home for artists to live and work (and incidentally shows that getting a group of artists to work together on a cooperative endeavor ranks right up there with herding cats on the challenging task scale).
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Format: Paperback
Before the Apple store, before Balthazar and Prada and Marc Jacobs, there was the SoHo of its early artist homesteaders -- illegals who who squatted in the abandoned lofts of the factory district south of Houston Street, hiding behind blacked-out windows and tapping into water and power lines. But in 1967, one of their more visionary brethren, George Maciunas, bought a seven-story warehouse long home to the Miller Paper Company at 80 Wooster Street and turned it into an artists's commune, a beacon for the avant-garde that drew the likes of Yoko Ono, Andy Warhol, Philip Glass, Allen Ginsburg, Nam June Paik, to name a few. This is the engrossing tale Rozlyn Bernstein and Shael Shapiro tell in their lavishly illustrated book, "Illegal Living." As a lover of SoHo's cast iron architecture and cobblestone lanes, I was enthralled by their rich account.
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Format: Paperback
More than 300 pages about a Soho building packed with complexities and minute details about who did what, when, how and why, could be a painstaking and boring read but this book is just the opposite! A book not to miss if you are interested in urban history, New York, and the Soho art scene before it became chichi. This is a very fine example of bringing the life of a building back to life.
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Format: Paperback
What a beautiful book! A wonderful evocation of a time and place that still seems part of my world. I loved what Jonas Mekas said at the book launch, in response to the shouted comment: "What went wrong?" He answered: "Nothing went wrong."
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Format: Paperback
George Maciunas bought 80 Wooster Street in 1967 for $105,000, as an artists’ cooperative, sort of like an artist colony in the city. The building would contain apartments, art studios, the Jonas Mekas cinemateque in the basement, and most of it was illegal. Soho at the time was zoned for industrial space, so the apartments were not allowed. But thanks to a slogging city, the building inspectors didn’t try that hard to root the dwellers out. Thanks as well to a slogging city, the effort to rezone the neighborhood took another decade.

Like many artists of the era, Maciunas trained in architecture, later entering the avant-garde Fluxus arts movement that included Yoko Ono, John Lennon, and scores of artists who would move into Soho. He would go on to buy 10 more buildings, turning all of them into artist co-ops, and I stress co-ops, because this was about profit. This was a time before the easy-credit loans, and Maciunas needed to line up buyers in order to close the deals. The upfront purchase of the floors, and the low monthly maintainance, would pay off the loans. By the 1980’s, many of the artist would cash out.

There were several more of these artist cooperative buildings in the area, including White Columns (which has since moved) and 112 Greene Street. Originally, the city allowed each factory building to have only two people living there, and the building had to post a sign that said A.I.R. meaning “artist in residence,” to let the fire department know if someone might be sleeping up there. But the new Soho buildings had many residents, and this led to years of wrangling with the city. I can’t really blame the building inspectors; the neighborhood’s police and fire service was meant for industry, not residents.
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