Published May 27, 2009 on Racked
SoHo [Hell’s Hundred Acres] was, in the early 19th century, an area of farms, rolling hills, streams, and even a swamp at its southern end, with Federal and Greek-Revival style housing. By mid-19th century these were replaced by more solid structures of masonry and cast iron. It was a lively theater and shopping district, and even home to many brothels. Hell’s Hundred Acres, was a gritty term for pre-1970s Soho. The beautiful cast-iron buildings that today house million-dollar lofts were used for decades as warehouses and manufacturing sites. Safety codes weren’t followed and the buildings allowed to deteriorate, so they often went up in flames.
What's in a Name?
In the mid-20th century, artists began to move in to have large spaces in which they could both live and work, in what were called loft spaces. In 1968 artists and activists were forming an organization to legalize their living in a manufacturing zone. Seeking to identify their group geographically, they consulted a city Planning Commission map that described the area as "South of Houston", "Houston" being Houston Street. This was shortened to "SoHo" when the group voted to call itself the SoHo Artists Association, and the name for the neighborhood stuck.
The name "SoHo" is the model for other new neighborhood acronyms in New York City, such as NoHo, for "NOrth of HOuston Street", TriBeCa ("TRIangle BElow CAnal Street"), Nolita ("NOrth of Little ITAly"), and DUMBO ("Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass").
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