Soho: History Cast In Iron
Updated: Aug 25, 2019
Above the buzzing streets filled with shops, and next to patrons that walk alongside cobbled stone streets; resides Soho today. To recount Soho's history, one must look to its architectural features that grace the facades of its buildings. Cast iron staircases spring out of ornate victorian inspired buildings, revealing a cue of what inspired the area and its original construction. There is a parallel between today's retail Mecca and its original iteration as a manufacturing industry district, complete with sweatshops that once existed.
Cast iron did not only give the neighborhood a visual identity but also allowed for construction to be made with higher ceilings and more open spaces. One of the main appeals of the area during its latest gentrification (Soho has undergone industry to residential transformations several times before its late 20th-century iteration).
Artistic rebellion and necessity sparked the renaissance of what would become the 60s and 70s Soho. During this period, artists seeking spaces to work, found affordable or free locales within Soho and began to inhabit the shells of the empty warehouses; converting them into residential areas illegally.
By the late 70s, the area had become regulated, yet some rent control housing was still available. Today's idea of joint living and work quarters (JLWQ) that once drew artists into the area is more a mirage than a legacy.
Still, some spaces remain offered in a very competitive and political environment. The artistic heritage of the second half of the 20th century gives Soho a second layer of identity besides its retail enclave facade.