Of Trees, Brothels, and Apple Stores: A City Block

What do pristine forests, pastoral farms, upscale houses, brothels, and the Apple store have in common?  All of these have existed at one time on the land of one city block in Soho in Manhattan.  Usually when people look at geographical history, the focus is on a macro level, from continents, to countries, cities, to communities, but rarely more focused than that.  The article Wilderness to brothels to Apple store: the History of Development in one block on Aid Watch, William Easterly show how looking at one specific location can actually give you insights into the evolution and change in an area that may be more difficult to notice on a larger scale.  The article details how this one small tract of land stands as a document to the growth and development of one of the largest cities in the world, as it went from sparsely settled land of the Delaware tribe, to fever stricken slum, to being now one of the wealthiest blocks in the world.

The land was originally mostly wilderness before European settlers came, and by the seventeenth century was mostly cut up into farmland.  As the city grew, this area became the home of a wealthy merchant neighborhood, though most of those residents fled during the yellow fever epidemic of 1822.

Anthony Arnoux, a merchant tailor, built this house in 1824. The Arnoux family would remain until 1860, when they relocated further uptown.  Their exodus reflected the deterioration of the neighborhood. The location of many hotels nearby on Broadway fueled a boom in prostitution in the 1850s. In this one block alone, there were 23 brothels. In 1862, Mary Ann Temple was arrested for running a whorehouse in the former Arnoux house.

Since that time, the Soho neighborhood has risen and fallen through industry booms and recessions, and was almost entirely razed to make way for an eight lane highway.  In the last half century, the area has gone from art centric gathering of squatters and studios to the natural progression of gentrification and commodification, and is now a wealthy and upscale neighborhood once again, and the city block that used to filled with brothels now has the beacon of privilege and ubiquitous consumption, an Apple store.

A more detailed history of this block can be found in the original article, which I highly recommend reading.  It shows the power of geospacial storytelling, and the embodied narrative of physical locations and structures.  New York City can be the perfect example of history and progress mashed together, where heritage and reference to the past can be preserved in moves towards the future, where ever building has a story to tell and an audience waiting to listen.

Via Aid Watch

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