The mere mention of art galleries, designer shops, quaint cafes and loft spaces will bring to mind in most New Yorkers, or even those mildly familiar with the city, one place: SoHo. This stands to reason, as every square inch of its half mile of paved and cobblestone streets is filled with these representative fixtures. SoHo is one of the few neighborhoods that is inimitably a definition of a specific personality and style. Life on many of its snug streets filled with loft and tenement-style buildings is also seasoned with bustling tourism and old world charm. Don't be surprised to discover a new designer or two, or to enjoy an off-beat play after grabbing bites of Ben's Pizza or savoring the freshest fish at Blue Ribbon Sushi.
The first known settlement of this area came in the 1660s when a Dutchman purchased a large portion of the land, later passing it on to his brother-in-law Nicholas Bayard, who at the time was the largest land owner in the city. In the early 1700s, the area was full of trees, streams, a swamp and a few other notable areas including a collect pond, Lispenard Meadow and a hilly area called Bayard's Mount, which at the time was the highest point in Manhattan. Since the pond and meadow formed a natural boundary, major settlement in the area was restricted until sometime in the late 1770s when Broadway was extended north. As industrialization occurred in the 1800s, the pond became polluted and the mount was leveled to fill in the pond and meadow, literally paving the way for major development. This included residential and industrial growth, primarily from the textile industries as well as hotels, theaters, even casinos and brothels along Broadway.
Over time, many residents and businesses left, and the industrial loft spaces were abandoned. The artists that became synonymous with the area began to appear in the 1950s, occupying the low-rent and empty spaces. The neighborhood's name was officially coined in 1968 by the artists and activists who lived there, originally calling themselves the SoHo Artists Association, named in part by their physical location south of Houston Street (thus shortened to SoHo).
Lofts old and new and pre-war tenements abound in this chic part of town; but that doesn't mean you won't run into modern construction. Of significant note about SoHo is that it hosts the largest collection (approximately 250 according to historical records) of cast iron buildings in the entire world. Cast iron was first used as a facade in the mid-late 1800s, then later entire buildings were constructed of the material. Among the area's more famous concrete and steel edifices is the Puck Building at the foot of SoHo and NoLita (area north of Little Italy). Built between 1885 and 1895 in two sections, it was once home to the printing facility of J. Ottmann Lithographing Company and Puck Magazine, which ceased publication in 1918. Most of the area boasts cozy streets, often bustling with tourists and commerce, and most buildings rarely exceed 12 stories. Soho's boundaries of course start below Houston Street, the western section stretching just below the West Village to the Hudson River, down to Canal Street and east to Lafayette Street where it abuts the other small neighborhoods of Little Italy and Chinatown. The area is accessible via several major subway lines, including the C, E, 1, R, and 6 trains.