Category Archives: Soho

New York/Trump Soho

Trump Soho Hotel seen from Hudson Street (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

From the start the Trump Soho Hotel was an illegal operation, a money laundering scheme for Russian money. The Trump organization skirted zoning regulations, but the city of New York did not enforce the rules. Ivanka and Donald, Jr. lied about sales figures, but the attorney general did not prosecute. They got away with it for almost ten years.

But eventually, the Trump name became a liability — even out of town sports teams refused to stay there. The apartments did not sell. The rich and famous had other less problematic options. Now, the Trumps are cutting their losses and cutting loose the property.

From the New York Times:

Before it broke ground, protesters took to the streets, chanting “Dump the Trump” and complaining that the skyscraper would break zoning rules. Then, in 2008, a worker fell 42 stories to his death during a construction accident.

In November 2011, the Trumps and other defendants paid 90 percent of $3.16 million in deposits to settle claims from buyers of condominium units that Mr. Trump, his children and others had inflated sales figures in what turned out to be a struggling project. The Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr., was pursuing a criminal investigation into the same issue, The New York Times reported last year. Some prosecutors felt they had enough evidence to build a case, but Mr. Vance declined to pursue charges, several news organizations reported last month.

At the same time, a separate lawsuit alleged that the project was backed by felons and financing from Russia. Felix Sater, a Russian deal maker, felon and F.B.I. informant, had helped facilitate the deal, the lawsuit said.

New York/1977

A recent comment on my blog led me to do some research on the time when I first put down roots in New York. It was the summer of 1977, and I had just come by train to the city arriving before dawn, and parked myself in an all night coffee shop in the West Village waiting for the Village Voice to be thrown off the truck. It was 60 cents back then, which was kind of expensive when you think about it, but it was the indispensable weekly at that time, and if you were looking for a place to live downtown, you had to get the Voice for the classified ads.

Village Voice real estate classifieds in 1977

Since I was going to be studying at Cooper Union in the East Village, I was looking for a place on that side of town. And it needed to be a sublet because I was only at Cooper as a one-semester exchange student. I skimmed dozens of ads, most of which were advertising apartments for $200 or $250. You could easily get an apartment on the high end of that range in the West Village. Or you could get a 2,500 square foot loft for $350 a month in Soho or Tribeca. Maybe even get a 5 to 7 year lease. If you played your cards right, you ended up buying one of those lofts for $50,000, which would now be worth millions of dollars. The sticking point for me was that those lofts often came with a “fixture fee” of several thousand dollars to cover the cost of the things – heater, lights, appliances — inside what was basically a raw loft. There was no way I could come up with that kind of money.

East Village apartment listings 1977

But there were lots of more modest apartments in the East Village, and really, all things considered, I had a lot of choice. In fact, there were dozens of choices, and all in the $200 range. Never mind that many of the buildings were crumbling, and anything east of First Avenue looked like Berlin in 1945. I realized very quickly, however, that I would be making a lot of phone calls and looking at a lot of apartments.

So, there I was, planning on a long day of house hunting, when I saw this:


Cooper Square Vicinity, near NYU, New School, 2 rooms, $800 for whole year. That couldn’t be right I thought. $800 for a year! Well, it turned out to be legit. A philosophy professor at NYU was taking a temporary job teaching at Tulane down south, and decided to sublet his apartment for a year. It was in a city-owned building, pretty rundown, but on a largely intact block, East 4th Street between the Bowery and Second Avenue.

I took it, and by noon I had an apartment in Manhattan, and spent the rest of the day hanging out in the city. In the evening I headed for Penn Station to return to Washington, D.C. (where I was living) with the idea of bringing my stuff up in a week or two. As I got onto my train, the whole station was plunged into absolute darkness. Fortunately, my train had auxiliary power, and we sat in relative comfort — it was still bloody hot — and the police kept coming on board urging us to stay put. The entire city was blacked out. The following morning when power was restored we pulled into Washington and I saw the dramatic headlines about the rioting and looting that had convulsed large parts of the city overnight.

A few weeks later I moved into my tenement on East 4th Street. My professor never came back and the apartment was mine. And after a semester as an exchange student, I applied to Cooper Union and was accepted. I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time, but I was one very fortunate guy.

New York/Salt Shed

I can remember back in the 90s when it seemed that New York had become an architectural backwater. I was living in Amsterdam, and a Dutch planner friend, about to leave for a trip to New York, asked what interesting new buildings to look for. I was momentarily silent — nothing immediately came to mind. I ended up recommending a few contextually sensitive projects that were admirable if not exactly innovative.

Innovation is not everything, in architecture or in other fields, but the lack of it in the 90s suggested a city treading water creatively. That sense of stasis is long gone for a variety of complex reasons — the post 9/11 vitality of the city is an area rich for exploration by journalists and social scientists. I am neither of those. But I am a photographer of the urban landscape, and there is much to observe in the swift rapids of the present.

Travel wide 4×5 camera with film holder — © Brian Rose

Architecture can be dramatic or prosaic, showy or utilitarian, but usually not both simultaneously. Let me tell you about a salt shed in lower Manhattan on Canal Street. I had just gotten a new camera to play with — a hand holdable 4×5 camera designed by a couple of guys in Chicago funded by a Kickstarter campaign. As small as a DSLR and half as light. I decided to take it out for a spin to see how it would work for me photographing a building. My wife works in the Hudson Square area, the old printing district west of Soho, and she suggested I take a look at the new Spring Street salt shed designed by Dattner Architects, a New York based architectural firm.

It is just that. A shed meant for storing the stuff used to melt ice and snow on the streets of the city. But instead of the usual metallic tent-like structure, there is, here, a multi-facetted shard of concrete looking very much like a salt crystal, or at least that’s what two different sanitation workers passing by told me while I was taking pictures. And it has walls three feet thick. They loved it.

Here it is:

© Brian Rose

© Brian Rose

© Brian Rose

© Brian Rose

© Brian Rose



New York/Frances Goldin

In the Shadow of the Highway: Robert Moses’ Expressway and the Battle for Downtown
— © Brian Rose

One of my Lower East Side photographs is part of an interesting exhibition about one of Robert Moses’ last projects, a proposed elevated highway that would have connected the Holland Tunnel to the Williamsburg Bridge and an offshoot to the Manhattan Bridge.

Lower Manhattan Expressway brochure

New York Times article about Seward Park site — © Brian Rose

Had Moses not been stopped, Soho would have been largely destroyed, and highways would have torn through parts of the Lower East Side. A piece of that imminent destruction had already taken place when I made my photograph above — a view of the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area from the Williamsburg Bridge. Thousands of mostly low income residents were evicted from their tenements to make way for the highway, and nearly 50 years  went by before a plan was approved to redevelop the site in an economically balanced way. Although they will have the right to return, it will be too late, unfortunately, for most of the original displaced residents.

Frances Goldin and Brian Rose

There were a number of reasons that Robert Moses, the powerful master planner of New York, was finally stopped. After ramming one infrastructure project after another through neighborhoods all over the city, the tide had turned, and the primacy of automobile-centric planning lost favor. Foremost in opposing Moses and his acolytes were activists like Jane Jacobs, whose book The Death and Life of Great American Cities championed the fine-grained urban fabric of Greenwich Village and similar neighborhoods, and called for their preservation. Other activists took up the cause of low income people, the most at risk from the planners’ bulldozers. Frances Goldin, pictured above, was the most tenacious and eloquent of the Downtown activists.

She and Jacobs represent different perspectives of neighborhood activism, but both were essential in turning things around, and reasserting the right of ordinary citizens to defend their neighborhoods, and, in fact, participate in the planning process. While Goldin is most known for her political actions — her flare for street theater and colorful demonstrations — it was her espousal of neighborhood planning that may be her greatest legacy. Under her leadership, along with the planning expertise of her partner Walter Thabit, the Cooper Square Committee prevented the destruction of a six block strip of the Lower East Side, and in the end, saved or built a thousand units of low income housing. She also led the decades-long fight — after stopping Moses — to redevelop the Seward Park urban renewal site so that it includes a significant percentage of affordable units of housing. A lot of people were involved in these struggles, but she was the glue that held it all together.

Frances Goldin, City Hall Blue Room, 1990 — © Brian Rose

It was my privilege to work with her on the steering committee of the Cooper Square Committee. She and I were very different sorts of players — an array of adjectives come to mind to describe her — brilliant, charismatic, persuasive, indefatigable, optimistic. She was a socialist, Jewish, a quintessentially sharp-tongued New Yorker. I was an artist, soft-spoken Virginian, middle class, protestant background, a Jeffersonian idealist. We clashed at times, but my respect for her deepened over the years, and I think hers for me. One of the things I tell people about Frances is that for all her fierce radicalism, she was ultimately pragmatic and capable of compromise. She got things done. And is still getting things done at the age of 91.

Here’s a recent article in Bedford and Bowery about the history of the Cooper Square Committee.

New York/Post-Sandy

Grand Street, Soho — © Brian Rose

There’s hope in sight with ConEd’s Twitter statement that power should be back on in lower Manhattan Friday or Saturday. Although Halloween was essentially cancelled, things were still pretty spooky in the zombie zone between “Psycho path and Boo lvd ( see above).”  Stoplights are not working, which means that pedestrians and cars are playing a potentially lethal game of chicken. Food is scarce, and downtowners wander in search of a charge for their phones. On the one hand it’s mostly about temporary inconveniences–on the other hand there are numerous elderly and disabled people stuck in high rises. As I understand it, volunteers are going door-to-door checking on people, bringing water and other supplies. Meanwhile, uptown, everything is open and people are shopping.

And a pet peeve: I hate, hate, hate, seeing all the artsy faux film instagram pictures of hurricane damage.

New York/Aftermath

Soho after Hurricane Sandy — © Brian Rose

The thing that isn’t adequately coming out in the media is that unless power is restored to lower Manhattan soon, there will be humanitarian ramifications to deal with. There are no stores or restaurants open downtown below 25th Street. No supermarkets–only a few bodegas and/or delis, which do not have working refrigeration or the ability to replenish stock. The subways are not running. The streets are utterly dark at night, and elevators are not working.

For young, healthy individuals, this is all just a major inconvenience. Above 25th, the city is bustling. But for thousands of elderly, less mobile people, the situation is undoubtedly getting dire.




New York/Soho

Soho after Hurricane Sandy — © Brian Rose

The hurricane seemed rather benign at first, the winds not too ferocious, but eventually the water began to rise in New York Harbor. As a result, all of lower Manhattan is without power, the streets are largely empty, and with few cars on the streets, an eerie quiet has descended. My studio on Stanton Street just off the Bowery is completely dark inside, and you need a flashlight to get up the stairs. The water has receded in most places, but the entire subway system is shut down, stores and restaurants are closed, as are most office buildings, and ATMs do not operate. At the moment, things are manageable, but if the power remains off for another day, things are likely to get pretty dicey. We spent a few hours walking around this afternoon, crossing the Williamsburg Bridge to Manhattan on foot. I am posting this from Williamsburg, which thankfully, did not lose power during the storm.




New York/Random Views

Houston and Lafayette Street — © Brian Rose

Williamsburg Bridge — © Brian Rose

Two faces.


I receive an email newsletter about Amtrak from a cousin who believes fervently in open market solutions to what ails American rail transport. Although I don’t generally agree with his take on things–knowledgeable as he is on the subject–his newsletter often provides interesting inside information.

Earlier this month there was a “town hall” meeting in Chicago hosted by the top brass of Amtrak in which several topics were discussed, one of them being Amtrak Photography and Videography Guidelines. I recall reading somewhere that rail buffs have sometimes been hassled by Amtrak police for taking photographs in and around stations and other facilities.

It seems, according to the newsletter, that Amtrak is trying to strike some kind of reasonable balance concerning photography–they would like to be notified in advance if one is planning on taking pictures beyond casual travel photography. The newsletter states: “Given the proven use of photography by terrorists in preparation for attacks on infrastructure, it is not unreasonable to have a few, simple, reasonable rules.”

This statement, which I assume echoes something said by the chief of Amtrak police, is an example of the very slippery slope we continue to cascade down as a society. All photographers are suspect because one might be a terrorist on a scouting mission. Inevitably, the most serious photographers with expensive equipment get singled out–God forbid the use of a tripod. Never mind that would be terrorists have no need of tripods, view cameras, or gigantic zoom lenses. They can easily get by with cell phones or invisible spy cameras. They can even walk around using the unaided eye to check things out.

There may be legitimate reasons to limit photography in public and semi-public places like train stations. Commercial photo shoots and film productions are potentially disruptive. But ordinary picture taking–documenting the world we move around in–should be encouraged, not considered subversive.

New York/Soho

Prince and Greene Streets — © Brian Rose

My morning walk across Lower Manhattan, sometimes Houston Street, sometimes Prince. This is the Richard Haas mural going all the way back to 1975 when Soho was still factories and artists’ lofts. I’m not sure of its current status–but it’s clearly in need of restoration. It’s a bit kitschy, but that’s always been something Haas flirts with.

Prince Street and Broadway — © Brian Rose

Prince and Mulberry Street — © Brian Rose

The recent northeaster left a lot of damage in the area, trees down, flooding. But this appears to be an umbrella disaster. An accumulation of broken umbrellas blown into a vacant lot. Or rather placed there. I once thought of photographing broken umbrellas and juxtaposing them with pictures of an elephant graveyard in the manner of Peter Beard–but wisely didn’t do it.

Houston and the Bowery — © Brian Rose

Walking figures. We’ve been here before. You can see a similar view taken with the view camera from my Lower East Side series.

New York/Morning Walk

Lafayette Street — © Brian Rose

Lafayette Street — © Brian Rose

Lafayette Street — © Brian Rose

Lafayette Street — © Brian Rose

Without comment.