During the 1600s, when Manhattan was primarily covered by hills, meadows, and marshes, a Dutchman known as Augustus Herrman bought extensive land in the Southern tip of Manhattan, a large portion of which was in present-day Soho. Slaves owned by the Dutch West India Company were responsible for building and developing most of this area, along with the rest of New Amsterdam territory, and were rewarded with “half-freedom status” if they were to settle in present-day Soho.
While the Industrial Revolution became rampant across the U.S. and Europe during the 1700s, Manhattan's natural barriers restricted urban development northward and forced the area that is present-day Soho to remain farmland up until the late 1700s. Collect Pond and the stream that ran from the pond along Canal Street to the Hudson River, as well Bayard's Mount, Lispenard’s Meadows and Beekman’s Swamp, restricted travel northward. Settlement only started to occur in Soho after 1775, toward the end of the Revolutionary War, when both Collect Pond and Lispenard Meadow became “country retreats” for the very first settlers.
1798 Watercolor, looking southward, Bayard's Mount is on the left, with Collect Pond directly behind it. The artist's vantage point would have been right around where modern-day Spring and Prince Street are located.
As the population grew during the 1800s, Soho ushered into a tasteful area, first inhabited by the wealthy and followed by the middle class. Collect Pond and Lispenard’s Meadow were both filled and paved over due to polluted waters from increased settlement, further encouraging development and a rapid establishment of business enterprises. It was during the 1800s that Soho emerged into the burgeoning commercial and entertainment capital that it is today, and retailers such as Tiffany & Co. and Lord & Taylor were founded. Other luxury stores, theatres, grand hotels, casinos, music halls, and mansions adorned Broadway.
Niblo’s Garden, established in 1823 and located at Broadway and Prince Street, became one of Soho’s most popular theatres along Broadway for the amusement of the upper class. The Haughwout Emporium, known as “the greatest china and porcelain house in the city” by The New York Times, opened in the 1850s and fostered Soho’s growing commercial center. The building possessed the first commercial elevator, and attracted an upscale clientele, with individuals such as Mary Todd Lincoln, the wife of Abraham Lincoln.
As businesses thrived during the period of the Civil War and the nature of Soho evolved, more residents moved to predominantly residential neighborhoods, and large-scale manufacturers moved in. The workers of large factories and warehouses now filled the streets, rather than the once horse-drawn carriages. It was during this time that cast-iron techniques and the majority of cast-iron buildings in present-day New York City were constructed, later marking Soho as “The Cast Iron Historic District.” James Bogardus, an American inventor and architect, pioneered Cast-Iron architecture intending to create buildings that are far stronger, easier to mold and construct, and less expensive than the ones built from granite, wood, brick or marble. The solidity of Cast-Iron allowed for buildings with spacious interiors of considerable height, larger windows, and greater natural light, gradually paving the way for a stimulating community and occupancy of artists.
It was only after World War II that manufacturers and wholesalers picked up and relocated to the outskirts, encouraging artists to move in and occupy the vacant, commercially-zoned buildings illegally. The loft spaces, high ceilings, and abundance of light were a natural fit for artists. After persistent lobbying and campaigns, hundreds of artists were able to finally legalize their transformed live-work spaces in 1971. Despite the hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs lost before and following 1971, the reuse of manufacturing spaces through the settlement by artists opened the gates to gentrification and emergence of galleries, restaurants, boutiques, and visitors. The fascination for Soho was rekindled, and in 1974, New York magazine described Soho as the “most exciting place to live in the city.” The deindustrialization in the late 20th century effectively actualized the arts ability to revitalize a city and established Soho as a symbol of recovery worldwide.
Noteworthy Soho Architecture
Soho is home to the greatest collection of cast-iron architecture in the world, with approximately 250 cast-iron buildings, most of which date the period between 1840 to 1880.
“The King of Greene Street,” 72-76 Greene Street
The King of Greene Street is a majestic structure of the Cast-Iron architecture and its decorative elements: columns, cornices, and balustrades, typically found in Soho. Built in 1872 and designed by architect Isaac Duckworth, The King of Greene Street comprises 5-stories and is representative of the finest example of the French Second Empire style in Soho. The King of Greene Street last sold in 2012 for $41.5 million.
“The Queen of Greene Street,” 28-30 Greene Street
Similar to The King, The Queen of Greene Street was designed by architect Isaac Duckworth and built in 1872. The six-story warehouse is an elaborate Cast-Iron building, adorned with central bays, a multi-colored mansard roof, and ornate dormer windows. The building was carefully refinished and converted to luxury rentals in 2010.
The Haughwout Emporium, 488-492 Broadway
Built in 1857 and designed by architect John Gaynor, The Haughwout building was globally known for manufacturing and selling fine china, glass, porcelain, chandeliers, and more. Their clients traveled long and far and included the Lincoln’s, the Czar of Russia, and the Imam of Muscat. The building featured the first passenger elevator and was one of the first structures to feature two cast-iron facades on a corner building. In 1973, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and, in 2015, The Haughwout sold for $145 million to Amancio Ortega.
The Gunther Building, 469 Broome Street
Designed in 1871 by Griffin Thomas, an architect of many historic Soho buildings, The Gunther features distinguished curved glass corner windows, Corinthian columns, and an escalation of height per floor, making the building appear taller than it truly is. The 6-story, Cast-Iron building was initially built as a warehouse for William Gunther, and later converted to cooperative homes. An interesting fact and financial advantage to owning in the building is that current owners pay no maintenance expenses, as the commercial tenant bears the entire building cost of maintenance.
The Little Singer, 561 Broadway (AKA The Singer Sewing Machine Building)
While not actually little, this structure is named The Little Singer, as there previously stood a much larger 47-story structure, once the tallest in the world, to house the growing Sewing business. While the larger structure was later intentionally demolished, The Little Singer remained. Built in 1904, this 12-story, L-shaped building with entrances on both Broadway and Prince Street, features red brick, terracotta panels, large recessed windows, and fanciful detailed wrought-iron balconies. If you look closely, you’ll find that the building’s Prince Street facade still reads “Singer Manufacturing Company.”
What to do in Soho
Many of New York’s best restaurants and art galleries are located in Soho, and there’s also a vibrant nightlife scene, particularly around Spring Street. Soho's residents have the privilege of living in one of the city's cultural centers.
Here are some of the neighborhood attractions in Soho that capture its essence, history, and aura:
Fanelli’s Cafe, 94 Prince Street
The second oldest cafe in Manhattan, Fanelli’s, opened in 1847 and has since then lived through a variety of incarnations. From grocery store, to saloon, to a speakeasy during Prohibition, to the current state of a restaurant and bar, all have attracted an impressive crowd of people. Artists of the Beat Generation era to the 1980s, frequently met at Fanelli’s Cafe to brainstorm and converse important topics. Up until the 1970s, Fanelli’s was the only cafe that stayed open in Soho past 6 pm. Today, it is flooded with artists, visionaries, and Soho enthusiasts seeking artistic inspiration, stimulating conversations, and good old fashioned comfort food.
Artist and Fleas, 490 Broadway
Although a newer establishment, Artist and Fleas is a welcoming marketplace that features over 30 new and emerging artists, designers, collectors, and curators every other week. Artists unite to sell primarily hand-made goods ranging from jewelry to clothing to artwork and collectibles. This marketplace accurately epitomizes the creativity and artistic talents that transformed Soho, during the mid to late 20th century, into the urban center that it is today.
The Drawing Center, 35 Wooster Street
The award-winning Drawing Center was founded in 1977 by Martha Beck, with the mission and purpose of exploring drawing as “primary, dynamic, and relevant to contemporary culture, the future of art, and creative thought.” Exhibitions at The Drawing Center connect drawing to science, literature, film, political movements, music, photography, architecture, choreography, textiles, technology, and much more. Admission to The Drawing Center is free and welcome to all.
Art Galleries, throughout
Soho is recognized for its abundance of art galleries where the city’s elite gather to see what is up and coming in the art world. The Jeffrey Deitch Gallery is a contemporary art gallery situated 76 Grand Street and 18 Wooster Street, representing the evolving nature of art, creativity, and energy seen in Soho.
Shopping in Soho
Soho is one of Manhattan’s most fashionable districts, where you’ll find world-class shops and boutiques in some of NYC’s most stunning and best-preserved 19th-century buildings. Flagship stores belonging to Prada, Alexander Wang, and Moose Knuckle to name a few, are located here, as well as high-end designers such as Chanel, Celine, Chloe, Isabel Marant, Stella McCartney, and several notable others.
Some of the new members to the Soho shopping district include Taft, a luxury men’s footwear; Falconeri, a cashmere brand from Milan; and Nanushka, a sustainable Budapest brand carrying modern bohemian men and womenswear.
Soho Real Estate Trends
Soho is home to some of the priciest and most luxurious properties in New York City. As of February 2020, the median sales price was up nearly 20% from the year prior, and the number of properties sold increased by 40% from the amount in February 2019 (Source: Property Shark).
Here are the average and median rounded numbers for studios, and 1-4 Bedrooms sold in 2019, and 2020, so far:
Studios, Average Sold Price: $1,000,000
Median Sold Price: $500,000
Soho 1 Bedrooms, Average Sold Price: $1,800,000
Median Sold Price: $1,500,000
2 Bedrooms, Average Sold Price: $2,900,000
Median Sold Price: $2,700,000
3 Bedrooms, Average Sold Price: $4,800,000
Median Sold Price: $5,100,000
4 Bedrooms, Average Sold Price: $9,200,000
Median Sold Price: $8,900,000
The discrepancy in average and median sold prices per layout, is accounted for by the different property types: pre-war or post-war (constituting of co-op & condo properties), or new development properties (condo properties).
Prestigious Residential Buildings in Soho
As time progresses, increased demand for the preservation and modernization of historic pre-war properties, just as much as the construction of new development properties has been seen. Here are some of the most renowned and luxurious buildings in Soho:
80 Wooster Street
Known by some to be “The Birthplace of Soho”, 80 Wooster was built in 1900 and stands as a perfect example of the transformation of commercial buildings to one-of-a-kind residential residences. Converted in 1967 by George Maciuna’s, this 7-story, boutique landmarked building consists of 10 homes spanning over 31,000 square feet. The grace of its renaissance-style exterior: framed openings, terra cotta capitals, and cornice moldings, are just as elegant as the interior design of the residences. The sprawling pre-war layouts, exposed brick, and large windows of the apartments embody the authentic live-work Soho experience.
565 Broome Street
Opened in 2019 and Renzo Piano, 565 Broome offers 115 exceptional homes. Renzo Piano’s vision was to create a building “where every corner breathes” and the materials used allow individuals to have a “visual relationship with the building”. Renzo Piano is known for his various works all across the world, however as his name suggests, his work on 565 Broome Street changed and altered the Soho skyline most gracefully. Residences feature floor to ceiling windows, custom appliances, oversized interiors, and access to all the amenities you can ask for. There are currently available homes ranging from 450 to over 4,500 square feet, studios to 4 bedrooms, all exceedingly marvelous.
561 Broadway - The Little Singer
The Little Singer, similar to 80 Wooster, possesses 14 residences that epitomize the history and character of Soho living. Designed by Ernest Flagg in 1902, a trained architect in Paris, created a distinctive look and facade that is widely admired today. The loft residences span 1,500 to 5,000 square feet and feature high ceilings, historical french doors, and Art Nouveau Juliet balconies. There is currently a 4-bedroom penthouse home, featuring magnificent views of the city that can be observed from any of its 22 windows or private roof deck, all for under $15 million.
40 Mercer Street
A 13-story luxury condominium featuring 40 residences, 40 Mercer was built in 2005 and designed by Andre Balazs and Jean Nouvel. Some of the most notable characteristics of this iconic building are the series of mirrored glass panels on its facade, a wrap-around terrace, residents-only spa, outdoor cabanas, button-operated windows that create loggia like residences, and high-tech security. Amongst the recognized owners in the building, are Daniel Radcliffe and Marc Jacobs. There are currently four homes for sale in the building, spanning 1 to 3 bedrooms, starting at $3.5 million.
About The Authors
Leah Azizian, a real estate advisor at LG Fairmont, and Zoe Kellerhals-Madussi, the President of Sales & Marketing at LG Fairmont, specialize in helping individuals purchase, sell, and rent real estate in New York City. Their diverse backgrounds in Finance, Consulting, and Marketing ensure that the needs and goals of every client are met, in the most seamless fashion.