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Don't Take a Short-Term View of a Long-Term Problem
The Villager, New York on August 15, 2013

Closing night at Max Fish on Ludlow St. Photo by Clayton Patterson 2013
Closing night at Max Fish on Ludlow St. at the end of last month. Photo by Clayton Patterson

“The latest from LES Dwellers (@LESdwellers). Our mission is to restore community with focus on livability, sustainability, balanced economic development… .
“[Recently], a high-profile Soho House supporter, LES documentarian Clayton Patterson, softened his endorsement of the club somewhat. In his column in The Villager [“Soho House has my support, but won’t get Acker Awards,” May 16], Patterson wrote that Soho House is the ‘lesser of what could be so much worse.’ By this, he means that the building could become a boisterous nightclub or restaurant masquerading as nightclub, like so many other Lower East Side nightlife venues.”

If LES Dwellers is going to speak on my behalf, they should talk to me. I am a neighbor. No, I have not softened my opinion on SoHo House. I still believe it is the lesser of what it could be. And to be clear, I have no connection to Soho House. I am not, nor have I ever been a member, nor am I interested in being a member.

In my opinion, the building, as it stands, is not all that functional as a commercial piece of property. I can see it working for a Soho House private club. Soho House is different from the other developers in the ’hood. They are after only one piece of property. The other developers — including some international corporations — are taking over blocks, rows of tenements, doing land grabs. And that is another of my fears if Soho House sold its Ludlow St. building to a developer.

Normally, the first floor is for a commercial business. But this building is not set up for that. It was a funeral parlor. To open up the first floor for a storefront would mean destroying the facade. If lucky, maybe a blue-chip gallery would buy the space.

I have gotten the ear of a group called Friends of the Lower East Side. F.L.S. is intent on saving Lower East Side architecture by working with leaders like Andrew Berman of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, and groups like the East Village Community Coalition, to save notable buildings by securing landmark status. F.L.S. has been in negotiations with Soho House about the feasibility of the building being given landmark status. It seems they are leaning toward doing this. If the building becomes a landmark, it will be, as far as I know, the only landmarked building on the L.E.S. between Houston and Delancey Sts. If we want to save the ’hood, then saving a little architecture is important.

The economic balance is gone. Gentrification is moving forward at an accelerated rate. Low-income people are being forced out. Soon, within two blocks of 137 Ludlow St., the Soho House building, there will be two more zoning-busting luxury hotels, on top of the already-existing two expensive hotels, the high-rent Ludlow apartments, and the newly renovated market-rate tenements sharing the same block. Where is the economic balance?

What about all the drunks? the opponents ask. In my quest to find out what Soho House is about, after visiting and spending time in the Soho House in the Meatpacking District, I see the Soho House drunks as closer to Stanton Social Club, Sons of Essex, Beauty and Essex. Most of the drunks are older, and a little more mature. Drunk, yes. Stupid, not so much. And it is a private club, so will not have the lines waiting to get in, or people hanging on the street. At least that was not the case around the Meatpacking Soho House.

Another reason I am supportive of Soho House is I have a bit more of a long-term view, which is different from LES Dwellers. My prediction is, with the continual influx of massive amounts of development money into this part of the L.E.S., the noisy, youth-oriented bars — the ones that are responsible for the name Hell Square — will be priced out. Just take, for example, the recent closings of Max Fish, Motor City, St. Jerome, White Rabbit, and rumor has it that Lolita on Broome St. will close.

And all of the quality-of-life violations LES Dwellers speak of, with the police’s help, will be quashed with the higher standard of living in the ’hood. This follows the pattern of other gentrified communities — Greenwich Village, Soho, Tribecca, the Bowery, and the after-dark streetlife in the northern end of the West Village.

Let’s not forget, in order to turn our area into an Entertainment Zone, it did not take long for the cops to end the drug trade that used to be so prevalent on every block of the ’hood. Like a miracle, with all the new money flowing into the ’hood, the decades-old street drug trade ended in a few months.

The State Liquor Authority will take a couple of months to decide if Soho House will be granted a liquor license. Last week, LES Dwellers staged a protest at the S.L.A., demanding that it not approve the license.

However, instead of just fighting with Soho House, in the interim, I would suggest making some defensive moves. I’m not saying drop the protest — if that is in your heart, then do it — but be prepared. Find a pro bono lawyer, develop a list of demands, then see what you can negotiate. By engaging in negotiations with them, you learn more about who they are, and you can help set rules.

Make a list of demands: no roof usage, soundproofing the walls, some community usage, landmark status and so on. Then write up an agreement. The negotiations have to be with Nicholas Jones, Soho House’s owner, and not Rachel White or Pierre Antoine Dourneau, the underlings. Go to the top. Period.

Instead of depending on the politicians who have sold you out, be a player at the table, as well as on the street. You have time to develop a more meaningful role, and to get deeper into the struggle. If the negotiations turn out to be pointless, then you still have the protest going on.

In the bad old days when drugs controlled the streets, an individual had a way of protecting oneself. If you were local and known in the ’hood, since it was a neighborhood business, the dealers seldom bothered you. It was possible to secure your apartment from robbers. Gates on the windows, triple locks on doors and so on. The drug sales were illegal. People in the trade went to jail. I see this tsunami of new money gentrifying the neighborhood as much more destructive to the community, and more deadly to our culture and local businesses than drugs ever were.

The big-money people can go around the rules, break the laws and do whatever they want. Our billionaire mayor overturned the will of the people and bought a third term. At 47 E. Third St., the Economakis family legally cleared out all 15 long-term tenants in the doublewide, five-story tenement, so they could have a single-family mansion. On the same block, a developer with total disregard for the zoning laws, put up a building that was taller than the surrounding buildings and out of context with surrounding buildings. Instead of having to take down the illegal extra height, the company was able to fish until they got a dorm tenant and conformed with the law. Dorms can build higher.

What happened to 88-year-old Taylor Mead was, if not criminal, then certainly cruel and inhuman treatment of a legal tenant. He died soon after he was moved out. How were the developers able to clear the tenants out of so many apartments on Ludlow St.? Makes one wonder where the politicians are. Again, my advice is be proactive: Do not just depend on the politicians.

Just take Ludlow, between Houston and Delancey Sts., from the 1990s till today, as an example of the purging of businesses in this area. Yavarkovski paper business, which opened in 1898, closed in 2007. Dickers party supplies, Spitzers Corner, Barrittos flooring, Bunny’s, Zito, Amy Downs Hats, Mary Adams The Dress, 555 Soul, the Pink Pony, Motor City, Earth Matters, Los Venus, Dare Devil Tattoo, the fortune teller, the laundromat, the church, Torch, Le Pere Pinard, Collective:Unconscious, Lost Shoe, the original Pianos, Piano’s Theater, Todo Con Nada and so on. All gone. How could this happen?

Yes, my neighbors, it is not that I want to see Soho House come here. I wish none of it was here. I prefer the old ’hood. With today’s cost of living, I could never come to New York City and do what I did again. Very few of us could. My world is gone.

But I am still here and I do not intend to be pushed out. If I leave, it will be on my terms. Again, if I was fighting Soho House, I would expand my defense. And if Soho House sells its Ludlow building, then I would prepare for what comes after. The struggle never ends.

It’s the money that keeps pouring in that is making all of us unsafe. The rules and laws favor the money and trump tenants’ rights.

LES Dwellers, I am not your enemy; I am not pleased at how much of our community has been destroyed by gentrification. To suggest that somehow I am a supporter of the Entertainment Zone is lunacy.

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Tim Chavez: Great article Clayton. Dwellers of the LES need to be more proactive with legal help. Your approach could be very productive. Establishing or working with a local cooperative as an umbrella organization might be a good anchor. Thanks for writing this article.

Reply | Guest: Still throwing down cover for SH, hunh CP? Not all bad advice, but clearly your Acker experience with them did not burn you enough. As someone who actually attended the CB3/SLA meeting, and spoke against SH, I heard all of what they had to say, and trust them even less now than I did going in. The SH management does not keep their jobs by negotiating.

Having met some of the LESDwellers at the meetings of a new umbrella organization, I'll say that I think they know what they're doing. Not sure if they need anyone's advice. And they are highly motivated, which I've learned is very important.

And I'm sure that you don't need advice, but I think you could repair the damage done to your reputation with this one issue by finding a dichotomy other than bad-old-days vs. gentrification-fear. No one is saying that we want to go back to the druggie days. And no one is saying that the neighborhood shouldn’t change. It’s just that the residents feel that they should have some say in how it changes, and not have retail businesses calling all the shots.

Reply | clayton patterson: The world has changed and that is the way it is. Being motivated is only a part of what is needed to make a change. Unfortunately the text below the Max Fish photo got cut.

The point of that photo is Max Fish has a loyal and strong customer base. A following which extends way beyond the borders of NYC. If a business is as good as one can make it, is paying the salaries and benefits of the employees, making a profit, has a long and successful history and still cannot make it, then what do? Where is the balanced economy LES Dwellers is commenting about?

You need more than motivation. Do you actually believe that the new luxury hotels will not get a liquor license? My point is other than protesting and name calling, the LES Dwellings need to get more involved in the machinery of running things. If SH gets a liquor license and the LES Dwellings have not negotiated any compromises then what can I say?

David McWater was the owner of several local bars, the head of the community board 3, and on the committee which decided who gets a liquor license - isn’t there a message in there somewhere?

You need more than motivation my friend. LES Dwellers needs to get involved in politics. Needs to become a recognized voice of the people. They need a public presence. Outside of making statements at community board meetings I do not know anyone who knows them. I have no idea who they are or what they represent other than no new licenses and economic balance.

You forgot the one other liquor license I was in favor of. I supported the license for the 3 Hispanics, the ones who grew up in the community, and were denied. I supported them because the vast majority of licenses go to white people with no connection to the hood. Why shouldn’t a few of the locals get a break? Anyway they are forming a local political action group. If SH gets a license they will sue on grounds of discrimination which they have a good chance of winning. Need more than motivation. Politics. Get involved. Form a political club. Do something.

Reply | Guest: Hollow words coming from a photographer who takes shots from the outside and avoids politics like the plague.

Reply | Emily: Telling people to get political, form a PAC, hire a lawyer...these suggestions are hard to stomach when you get up at 6AM and go to work 5+days a week. The appeal of the LES Dwellers is their control of social media and their ability to communicate with their members and meet on-line. The old ways of going to meetings and handing out flyers don't compute for people in this terrible economy, who are working harder than ever. But they still want quality of life and to be able to sleep at night.

Soho House and any other bar in Hell Square, it's a one issue issue. It's not about who came over on the Lower East Side Mayflower, or who invested the most money, or who serves a new kind of food. It's about a NYS rule that says there can only be a certain number of bars on each block. It's called the 500 Foot law and as far as the Soho House goes: "Premises is located within 500 feet of 51 full liquor OP licenses." (That's FOURTY-FIVE more bars than the 500 Foot Law allows.)

Reply | Emily: And one more thing, this comment from Clayton's piece:
"I have no idea who they are or what they represent other than no new licenses and economic balance." That IS all the LES Dwellers are, that IS what they represent: no new licenses and economic balance. Simple. One Issue. That's all.

Reply | Chicano: Clayton Patterson photographer, documentarian & the great defender of the LES, rebel, great White Hope for the local Latinos, and now part political advisor and part dear abby for community groups. Here is some advice, 1) The Villager should stop printing nonsense OP-EDs like this 2) Mr. Patterson should stop dispensing advice to people who from where I am sitting look like they know what they are doing. Please Clayton love Soho House no one really cares, but stop being divisive and making out the people who are trying to do something the enemy, your enemy. Stop making this about you. The only battle I see is the one you are having with your conscience.

Reply | clayton patterson: The ball is in your/their court-- there is 1 1/2 months to go- we shall see.

Reply | barkat: some of the things need more attention--hopefully will find in the next post!


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