By Jared Chausow
By Katie Toth
By Elizabeth Flock
By Albert Samaha
By Anna Merlan
By Jon Campbell
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
Looking for signs of the artist a quarter-century after he disappeared
We traipse over to the far more crucial 1342 Lexington Avenue townhouse near 89th Street, which Warhol bought around 1960 after his commercial-art career had become sufficiently lucrative and lived in until 1974. Julia lived in the basement, near the kitchen; upstairs is where Warhol would create many of his early masterpieces: the Campbell's Soup Cans, the first run of Marilyn Monroes, his Liz Taylor tribute. Today, 1342 Lexington is one of seven buildings that form the Hardenbergh/Rhinelander Historic District: Architect Henry J. Hardenbergh, who is also responsible for the Plaza Hotel and the Dakota, designed the brick-faced brownstone. The most recent owners weren't keen on having fans stop by: Eventually, they put the property on the market at an asking price The New York Times reported as $5.99 million. This past December, it went for $3.55 million. There are no curtains nor window fixtures—it doesn't look like anybody has moved in. (In contrast, Warhol's Firehouse Studio on East 87th, which he rented for $150 from the city and where he painted the Death and Disaster series, recently sold for $33 million.)
As a volunteer tour guide, Kiedrowski is more focused on the New York City of Andy Warhol that still exists, rather than what has vanished. For example, he doesn't drag his followers to 216 East 75th Street to see the razed site of the second-floor rental Warhol briefly occupied alone, until his mother, Julia, unexpectedly arrived from Pittsburgh one day, effectively plopped down with all her possessions, and decided to stay with her youngest son—for what would ultimately be almost 20 years. We don't trek down to 26 East 55th Street, where Hugo Gallery stood until 1955, the site of Warhol's crush-funneling first solo exhibition, Fifteen Drawings Based on the Writings of Truman Capote, a collection that opened on June 16, 1952, and didn't sell one piece. Or 125 West 41st Street, where the Film-Makers' Cinematheque once was, the Jonas Mekas screening-room precursor to the Anthology Film Archives that showed Warhol's experimental projects like, say, the Paul America–starring My Hustler, advertised in 1966 as "Surf, sand, and sex on Fire Island."
"I just don't want people to have the impression that he's not really around," Kiedrowski says in a tone much like he is speaking of God. "He's everywhere."
An incomplete list of other Warholian settings: The West Village's original Kettle of Fish—a MacDougal joint where Warhol, Bob Dylan, and Edie Sedgwick collided for a night—is now the Saigon Shack, a glass-fronted restaurant that promises both an espresso bar and a Vietnamese kitchen. An epochal den of iniquity, Max's Kansas City is now a Bread & Butter, an all-purpose deli/buffet with the unintentionally nostalgic motto "Habits To Be Made." Café Bizarre, the 106 West Third Street West Village joint where Warhol famously first saw the Velvet Underground, is an NYU law school building, D'Agostino Hall. The St. Marks 19-23 complex that held the Dom and Open Stage—the setting for the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, Warhol's multimedia VU stage show—and later Electric Circus is now chopped up into a Chipotle, a Supercuts, and a Grand Szechuan above a neighborhood market. (The Velvet Underground, by the way, is suing the Andy Warhol Foundation over licensing its banana to iPod and iPad cases.)
Where the first Silver Factory once stood—231 East 47th Street, between Second and Third avenues—there's now nothing more than an ugly parking ramp. In the summer of 1974, Warhol moved his base of operations from the Decker Building, where he was shot by Valerie Solanas, to 860 Broadway, called "860." ("'Factory' had become 'too corny,' he said," writes former secretary Pat Hackett in the introduction to The Andy Warhol Diaries. "And the place became simply 'the office.'") Inhabiting that space now, above a Petco, is brand-licensing agency the Joester Loria Group. Brownies, a health-food restaurant Factory workers frequented and where Warhol often sent assistants to pick up carrot juice or tea for him, is now Danny Meyer's Union Square Café.
The Pyramid Club still exists.
You would think that Warhol's most famous Manhattan haunts would be preserved—at least to some degree—especially because they're fossils of a fastidiously documented life. Specifically, the Factories. But none of them are. Or the White Factory, the Union Square West sixth floor where, shooting him three times and debilitating him so severely, his body required five and a half hours of emergency surgery, Solanas, a frustrated actress, gunned down Warhol in 1968. A building that looms so large in American-contemporary-cultural-history memory would, it seems reasonable to think, still bear scars of this radical episode. At least, you know, a plaque somewhere in the Decker Building: "ANDY WARHOL WAS SHOT HERE."
You would be wrong. That is provincial thinking, the sort of small-minded "Home of the World's Biggest Ball of String" nostalgia people like Andy Warhol were trying to escape by moving to New York City. This isn't Gettysburg or, for that matter, Midnight in Paris.
Here's what happens instead when you go into the Decker Building: The lobby is locked. But if you stand there long enough and pretend to look in the brightly lit windows of the first-floor Puma store, eventually delivery guys or North Face–clad mouth-breathers will hold the door for you. The sixth floor is where it happened more than 40 years ago, and the space has since been divided into two spots. The halls are narrow, there is cat-puke-colored carpeting, and there are big, thick industrial doors. Inside, it's an old building, landmarked. In the back, you might hear voices and laughing, and if you knock, and knock, and knock . . . no one comes.