Early in New York City history, SoHo (short for South of Houston) was a quiet residential suburb. By the 1870s, however, it had metamorphosed into an industrial center, home to foundries, factories, warehouses, and sweatshops. Frequent fires started by machinery sparks garnered the district the nickname, “Hell’s Hundred Acres.”
By the 1960s, most of the factories were gone and artists began moving in. Attracted to the area by its low rents and high-ceilinged spaces—perfect for studios—they illegally converted the commercial buildings into living spaces.
Soon thereafter, the art galleries arrived, and then the shops and restaurants. Almost overnight, SoHo became fashionable, so much so that the artists could no longer afford the high rents. The gallery owners held on until the mid-1990s, but more recently, they, too, have largely moved on. Many have resettled in Chelsea.
SoHo is now primarily an upscale shopping and dining center. Within its 25 glittering blocks, bounded by Houston and Canal Streets, Lafayette Street and West Broadway, beckon dozens of restaurants, bars, hotels, and, especially, shops.
© Avalon Travel and Sascha Zuger from Moon New York State, 5th Edition