When Lofts were New


Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives.

March 16, 1961, Vol. VI, No. 21

Loft Colony Holds Out

By Patrick Chavez

Where does a New York artist, writer, or photographer go when he can’t find a decent studio? Where does a young editor or copywriter head when he wants high-ceilinged space instead of a cramped Village apartment? And where does a bearded student of Zen take refuge when he can’t stand the cookie-cutter conformity of life any longer?

In the past 10 years literally thousands of these people have moved into the old loft buildings which fill sections of lower Manhattan, for want of better accommodations. But now, armed with charges of “illegal occupancy,” the city is doing its damndest to get them tossed out again.

These loft dwellers generally gravitate to three big, general areas where small manufacturing flourished from around the 1880’s, then moved on after World War II. Roughly, these districts are: a very large area spreading below Washington Square to Canal Street, then east to Allen Street and the Lower East Side; parts of the Bowery neighborhood; and a section of Chelsea around Sixth and Seventh Avenues.

These districts are usually fairly decrepit. Their long, quiet streets se business activity during the week, but are often deserted at night and on week-ends. They include taverns, shops, perhaps an occasional tenement, but because they are the low end on the taxation totem pole, they lack first-class city services, mainly in the areas of sanitation, lighting and police patrols. Among the fire-escape-latticed fronts of their old buildings, however, an occasional structure stands out with columns or glasswork that makes of it a beautiful oddity of nineteenth-century architecture.

Because these areas are not zoned or geared to residential life, the city takes a dim view of anyone living in a loft. The Fire Department finds the buildings hazardous, especially after a series of disastrous fires in lower Manhattan in recent years took the lives of several firemen. The Building and Health Departments take similar positions. Recently they inaugurated inspection drives in concentrated areas which have produced hundreds of summonses, citations, and eviction notices. Yet the loft dwellers go on…

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]