Another brick in the wall (of course, of course).

In a very small victory for SoHo preservationists this week, an agreement was finally hammered out, resolving a five-year old dispute at 599 Broadway. The building, located strategically at Broadway and Houston, was finally awarded the right to install advertising via billboards to be located a street level, though they will be forced to reinstall and maintain an intrusive piece of site-specific art that has been preventing them from realizing the highest, best use for their property for over three decades.

Concerns that the planned 120-foot tall advertisement for Axe Body Spray can’t be repurposed for the compromised space have caused concern that the less attractive space can even be rented. Owners of 599 Broadway are looking into the viability of applying for Liberty Bonds, or possibly receiving Section 8 funds from HUD until an advertiser can be secured.

The battle, which has bitterly divided the retail-rich enclave for some time, leaves many wondering about the long-term legacy of SoHo. Many feared that the full restoration of the art would rend the already weakening notion of SoHo as incubator for hundreds of marginally talented, but corporately and family-funded “creatives”.

‘Raz’ Dipson, a former art director at BBDO, now running the boutique agency Pedophilia out of his 7,200 square foot loft on Greene Street, explains “For most of the nineties, our position here was secure. But the influx of financial services sector money, Europeans and celebrities means that we are being slowly priced out of the neighborhood. I spend so much time fighting with the Goldmans that I barely have time to finish the one painting a year I need to produce to secure my subsidized lease.”

The historty of advertising will always be hard to trace. Ad men are famously secretive about their inspiration. One anecdote holds that the ‘got Milk?’ idea was born during a cocaine-fueled binge of watching lactation porn in a loft on Broome Street. “Yeah, well, it was Goodby, but those guys come out here all the time” reports Raz. “I know, I know the Tampax ringtone concept was thought up when a guy was talking to his daughter over dinner at Kittichai.”

Allowing a six-story billboard to be installed would have cemented SoHo as the upscale shopping destination for status conscious New Jerseyites and currency-advantaged Europeans. “Sure, there’s plenty of advertising on that corner, but it’s all east of Broadway, which many don’t consider truly part of SoHo” says Dipson. “With this onerous requirement to display art, what if all these people come here thinking SoHo is filled with art galleries?”

Now, the future of SoHo is in disarray. There is some discussion about forming an alliance group, but the fraying of the community wrought by the influx of new residents makes it tough: “Between Aspen in the winter and the Hamptons in the summer, no one can get their schedules coordinated” complains Raz.

Locals look to icons such as Ron Pompei to marshal the troops. Pompei, a trailblazer (“He’s been here since at least the 80’s” reports Raz) specializing in themed environments, would seem to be natural figurehead, but he has been reticent to date. “I dunno,” grumbles Raz, “apparently he was a sculptor at one time, and he’s said ‘The Wall’ adds ‘pychographic value’. And I heard he’s been really busy working on a Coke kiosk for McMurdo Station.”

Perhaps, like many changes over the years, this transition is likewise inevitable. A certain resilience, in the form of mining any remnant of legitimate cultural expression for the base purposes of shilling, say, hand cream, would seem to forestall this shift. But no one is secure, no one is protected. Reports Raz, “I was thinking of doing a poster that riffs on that — what was it, a song from Schindler’s List ‘First they came for the… the…’ — anyway, that song. A friend of my girlfriend knows the guys from Fall Out Boy, and we were going to have them in the poster and perhaps do a song, you know, to show that the challenges of one generation are repeated anew. Then one of them asked me how much I paid in rent. Whatever. John Zorn wouldn’t even return my phone calls.”

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