Urban History: The Rise of Soho
At The James, we’re committed to helping foster the communities around us—we think of them as our home. At our New York location, that’s the Soho neighborhood. Short for “South of Houston,” SoHo stretches north to south from Houston to Canal Streets and east to west from Crosby Street to Sixth Avenue. To understand Soho now, it helps to know its complex history. Here’s our “get-to-know-you” guide to one of New York City’s most vibrant neighborhoods.
A Pastoral Beginning
It may be hard to imagine today, but less than 300 years ago, SoHo was mostly farmland, its landscape dotted not with buildings but rolling hills and pastures. The area was the site the first black settlement on Manhattan and home to slaves who had been freed from the Dutch West Indies Company. SoHo stayed rural until the mid-19th century, when streams and meadows gave way to new development.
Today: Look for Lipsenard Street, site of the former Lipsenard Meadow, a country retreat for early Manhattan settlers.
When Broadway was paved in the 1800s, Soho became a bustling locale, populated by grand hotels, theaters, and restaurants. As industry boomed, buildings and other structures forged from cast iron sprang up, transforming the skyline. Sadly, these weren’t the only changes: Brothels began to appear on many side streets, eventually driving out many residents. By the 1950s, Soho was known as “Hell’s Hundred Acres”—an industrial wasteland.
Today: Most of Soho is located within the Soho-Cast Iron Historic District, home to about 500 buildings incorporating cast-iron elements.
The Art Scene
When plans to build an expressway through Lower Manhattan failed, many large industrial buildings sat abandoned. In the 1960s and ’70s, up-and-coming artists moved to Soo, setting up lofts in these empty structures. An avant-garde creative scene flourished, fostering artists such as Phillipe Glass and John-Michel Basquiat.
Today: Catch the Soho Memory Project, a mobile museum dedicated to celebrating and preserving the area’s offbeat artsy past.
Tops for Shopping
In the 1980s, Soho had once again begun to attract an upscale crowd, and for the past few decades, the area has been enjoying a renaissance. While many artists remain, the neighborhood is now also home to an eclectic mix of boutiques, making it a perfect shopping destination. We’re pleased to be able to direct our guests to local shops, galleries, and other highlights that make our Soho neighborhood one of a kind.