Theses Master's

SoHo: Beyond Boutiques and Cast Iron: The Significance, Legacy, and Preservation of the Pioneering Artist Community's Cultural Heritage

Ranney, Susie

Fifty years ago, though the buildings stood, "SoHo" did not yet exist in name or concept. Instead, the area referred to by some as "Hell's Hundred Acres" was considered to be a dying, industrial relic filled with unappealing buildings. Today, though built landscape of SoHo has largely remained the same, SoHo is synonymous with success, affluence, and upscale retail and loft real estate. Even those with prior familiarity with the past fifty years of history in SoHo must actively search for clues to this shift when walking the streets of SoHo-Cast Iron Historic District in the present day. For the historic preservation field, SoHo stands as one of the pivotal successes in securing the perpetual protection and regulation of a significant historic landscape and proving the value of preservation to the city and broader culture. Yet standing in the midst of this Landmark Historic District, there is little to remind us of the particular community that directly contributed to the survival of the district. The intent of this thesis is to use a critical study of the span of preservation intervention in the SoHo district of Manhattan to inspire the responsible stewardship of the early artist community's cultural heritage in the public memory and the physical environment of SoHo. This thesis also raises awareness that SoHo embodies concerns beyond its district boundaries: the belittling of the early artists' SoHo provides but one example of a community whose cultural and physical heritage has been overlooked due to factors (often) beyond its control and calls attention to the particular vulnerability of artist communities to fall victim to such neglect (typically in the very landscapes that they helped to revive). While much of the physical landscape of the early artists has indeed been irrevocably deprived of its authentic character, preservation of the community's memory and cultural heritage is not a lost cause. The thesis concludes with suggestions for interventions within the current preservation frameworks as well as how the preservation system might be improved to better accommodate historic artifacts with multiple layers and types of significance, a critical consideration as both the heritage artifacts and their designations mature.



More About This Work

Academic Units
Historic Preservation
Thesis Advisors
Bentel, Paul L.
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
June 5, 2012