Tag Archives: James Bogardus

The Story of SoHo: The Iron-Clad History of ‘Hell’s Hundred Acres’

PODCAST The history of SoHo, New York’s 19th century warehouse district turned shopping mecca

Picture the neighborhood of SoHo (that’s right, South of Houston) in your head today, and you might get a headache. Crowded sidewalks on the weekend, filled with tourists, shoppers and vendors, could almost distract you from SoHo’s unique appeal as a place of extraordinary architecture and history.

On this podcast we present the story of how a portion of “Hell’s Hundred Acres” became one of the most famously trendy places in the world.

In the mid 19th century this area, centered along Broadway, became the heart of retail and entertainment, department stores and hotels setting up shop in grand palaces. (It also became New York’s most notorious brothel district). The streets between Houston and Canal became known as the Cast Iron District, thanks to an exciting construction innovation that transformed the Gilded Age.

Today SoHo contains the world’s greatest surviving collection of cast-iron architecture. But these gorgeous iron tributes to New York industry were nearly destroyed – first by rampant fires, then by Robert Moses. Community activists saved these buildings, and just in time for artists to move into their spacious loft spaces in the 1960s and 70s. The artists are still there of course but these once-desolate cobblestone streets have almost unrecognizably changed, perhaps a victim of its own success.

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Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #232: THE STORY OF SOHO


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A map of the Bayard farm and how it was broken up and carved into the streets we know today.

Niblo’s Garden, located at Broadway and Prince Streets, was one of the finest theaters along Broadway in the area of today’s SoHo.

Looking north along Broadway between Grand and Broome Street. The St. Nicholas Hotel is the white structure in the center of the photo.

Photo attributed to Silas A Holmes


An auction poster from 1872 advertising a property on Broome Street and “South Fifth Avenue or Laurens Street” — today’s West Broadway.


 Here is that corner at 504-506 Broome Street — in 1935 (photo by Berenice Abbott). Per Sean Sweeney on Facebook: “The two buildings were demolished and for years were a parking lot. Now a new 3-story retail building sits in their place.”




The house at 143 Spring Street — in 1932 (photograph by Charles Von Urban) and today (it’s a Crocs shop!)

Museum of City of New York/Charles Von Urban collection


491 Broadway at Broome Street — in 1905 (photograph by the Wurts Bros.) and today

James Bogardus, the man who helped give SoHo its distinctive appearance thanks to his vigorous marketing and promotion of cast-iron architecture.

The first cast-iron structure in New York, built in 1848, was further south at the corner of Centre and Duane Streets.



Robert Moses’ view of Broome Street via his project Lower Manhattan Expressway project. Broom Street would have had an elevated highway, enclosed within modern buildings. A view of surviving cast-iron architecture on the right.


SoHo would have been eliminated (or greatly reduced) by Moses’ project which was thankfully nixed.

Map produced by vanshnookenraggen

A map of the art galleries in the SoHo art scene during the 1970s.

SoHo Artists Association Records, 1968-1978. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

From a 1971 SoHo newsletter: The criteria for qualifying as an artist — and eventual resident — of a specially-zoned loft in SoHo. M1-5A and M1-5B were the newly created work-living zones.

SoHo Artists Association Records, 1968-1978. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution


We greatly encourage you to check out the SoHo Memory Project for a lot of fantastic and often deeply personal recollections about the SoHo days of yore.

For further listening, check out the following Bowery Boys podcasts which were referenced in this week’s show:

Before Harlem: New York’s Forgotten Black Communities (#230) for information on first farms of the city’s first black New Yorkers

Niblo’s Garden (#113) for the history of the district’s most famous entertainment center

Our podcasts on Robert Moses (#100) and Jane Jacobs (#200)


And we really hope our show inspires you to check out two films that features interesting views of SoHo during its chic gallery phase — The Eyes of Laura Mars and After Hours


Who are Barnes and Price? And other notes from the podcast

Stuyvesant Street in 1856, an aberration to the city grid plan thanks in part to the presence of St. Mark’s Church and its well-established churchyard. The small building in the foreground is where the St. Mark’s Bookshop stands today. You can see the steeple of St. Mark’s. Hmm, what what’s the other 
church in the background? (Pic courtesy East Village Transitions)

Some notes on our podcast, Episode #139: St. Mark’s-in-the-Bowery

THANK YOUS: For of all, we’d like to thank Rev. Winnie Varghese and Roger Jack Walters from St. Mark’s Church for telling us some wonderful stories on a sunny Sunday afternoon as volunteers worked busily to repaint that 1838 iron fence. This is one landmark is really good hands!

THE MYSTERY OF BARNES AND PRICE: There was once a second cemetery one block north of St. Mark’s that contained the bodies of less wealthy individuals in the community. In September 1864, their bodies were exhumed and moved to Evergreen Cemetery at the border of Brooklyn and Queens. The New York Times report on the exhumation mentions two individuals in particular: “The remains of two dramatic notables, BARNES and PRICE, of the Old Park Theatre, have been removed from this cemetery.”

The Park Theatre (pictured at right) is considered New York’s first great theater, sitting on Park Row in the days before there was a City Hall, a Printer’s Row or anything else recognizable or familiar about that area today. The stage entertained British officers during the Revolutionary War, and in the early 19th century presented entertainment of the highest class.

The PRICE buried in the old St. Mark’s Cemetery is most likely its former manager Stephen Price, who specialized in importing British stage stars for their American debuts. One of those was Julius Brutus Booth, who debuted Shakespeare’s Richard III here in 1822. Booth’s children Edwin Booth and John Wilkes Booth would enter the acting profession in the mid-19th century.

But who’s the BARNES? Most likely it was English actor John Barnes who frequented the Park and died in 1841. However, his wife Mary, billed as Mrs. John Barnes, was in many ways a bigger star, the resident ‘heavy-tragedy lady‘ who made here debut here in 1816. The two often appeared on stage together — husband for the comedy, wife for the drama.

Mary Barnes outlived her husband by a quarter century, remarrying and becoming a successful theater manager in her own right. She died in the same year that her first husband’s body was moved to Evergreen. An assessment of her career:  “In melodrama and pantomime her action was always graceful, spirited and correct.” [source]

JAMES BOGARDUS: The portico of St. Marks is one of the last remaining examples of original cast-iron construction designed by Bogardus, but there are four other buildings in New York attributed to Bogardus that still exist: 254 Canal Street, 85 Leonard Street, 75 Murray Street and 63 Nassau Street. In TriBeCa today, you’ll find Bogardus Garden, a lush, green-fitted traffic triangle. Bogardus is buried at Green-Wood Cemetery.

FURTHER LISTENING: Although Augustus Stuyvesant was the last living direct descendant, there are others named Stuyvesant that trace their lineage to Rutherford Stuyvesant. To find out why this doesn’t quite count, listen in to my podcast on Rutherford’s pet project The Stuyvesant apartment, New York’s first of its kind. (Episode #131: The First Apartment Building).

We tell a ghost story about Peter Stuyvesant and St. Mark’s Church In-The-Bowery in our most popular of our ghost story podcasts. (#91 Haunted Tales of New York)

And of course, for more information on Peter Stuyvesant himself, we devoted an entire podcast to the director-general back in 2007. (Episode 14# Peter Stuyvesant)

SLIP UPS: This weeks verbal slip-ups include me saying ‘St. Mark’s ON-the-Bowery’ twice (it’s referred to in many ways, but never that).