Why Not a Miracle on Houston Street?

Save the Village. Bring Young Artists Back.

By Roger Paradiso

MANHATTAN PLAZA SAVED THE WESTERN BLOCKS OF THE THEATER DISTRICT by subsidizing artist’s housing and infusing young artists into the neighborhood. Photo by Roger Paradiso.

I will start by asking “Why not a miracle on Houston Street?” Let’s do Manhattan Plaza 2 right here. Let’s save the Village we knew and bring back young artists by offering subsidized housing. It has been done before. It was called Manhattan Plaza in the theater district.

The original wildly successful Manhattan Plaza offered subsidized housing for young artists and seniors. It was captured brilliantly in Miracle on 42nd Street, a documentary by Village resident Alice Elliott. (More about her later.)

Young artists are becoming an extinct species here in lower Manhattan. Why? The rent is too high. You can get a decent one bedroom for about $4,000 a month. Then, if you are lucky, you can eat and pay other bills for another $1,000. But starving artists don’t have that kind of money at the beginning of their careers.
In the past, we attracted young artists like Bob Dylan, Judy Collins and John Doe. Two of them became wildly famous, the other not famous but a good artist. But life was easier back then. And the Village was cheap. They could afford to live here. And the Village had all these clubs. You could work here. That’s why they came here for over 150 years. It was cheap and you could work and eat.

It is so frustrating because Greenwich Village still has the infrastructure. Yes, it has about half the clubs of the Golden Days when John F. Kennedy was president. Some of those war-torn clubs are still around. Some are struggling. Why? Because the young artists are not coming because they can’t afford it. They dream of the old days that lasted into the 70s right up to when MTV took over. At that point, dreaming turned into a nightmare for artists. They even had to close CBGB’s.
I remember those days in 70s when I was working at Playwright’s Horizons in its old theater on West 42nd Street between 9th and 10th Avenues. It was known as Hell’s Kitchen and it was an apt name for this street of pimps, prostitutes and grifters. As an Assistant Stage Manager, my job was to escort the actors to a safe harbor like the Port Authority on 8th and 42nd. It was a tough job. Fortunately, we had no major incidents though a lot of interesting characters tried to sell us something.

The first thing that went up on that block was the parking garage. I could race into my car and fly out of this crazy place before the zombies ate me. Then the towers were up and people moved in based on a lottery system. The residential towers opened in 1977 with 1,689 units. There was a negotiated quota on how many artists could occupy these towers. In addition, about 15 percent were residents from the community and 15 percent were seniors. They paid about 30 percent of their total income for rent.

Young artists like Al Pacino, James Earl Jones, Angela Lansbury, Tennessee Williams, Alicia Keys, Larry David and Alan Menken lived there.

Manhattan Plaza invigorated that community and made it much safer. Now I am suggesting that we do this here in the Village, Soho, Tribeca and the Lower East Side area.

It’s not such a crazy idea. It worked one time. Let’s do it again. There are buildings going up all over Manhattan. Do you mean we can’t build another Manhattan Plaza for artists and seniors? Come on this is America, right? New York, New York?

To get support I called Alice Elliott, the director of the documentary “Miracle on 42nd Street.” I tell her about my idea for Miracle on Houston Street and affordable housing for young artists and seniors.

“Well, you know this is my favorite subject,” she said. “But rather than a building why don’t we get a bullet train and run it from Allentown, Pennsylvania. It’s a beautiful tow … And the artists can bullet train in.”

After we hung up, I started thinking of Alice’s bullet train idea. Well, we have that. It’s called the subway. Artists can live in the Bronx and at the other end of Coney Island. They run special bullet trains from these artists housing complexes in Coney Island and the Bronx to the Village.

Alice also mentioned vouchers which would allow artists to live in apartment buildings and brownstones and pay a rent of 30 percent of their earnings. The City absorbs the rest or the landlord gets a percentage taken off property taxes. Would the Mayor run with that and pass it through the City Council?

Can we build Manhattan Plaza 2 downtown? Come on New York. We can do it. We built a new Yankee Stadium and Citi Field. We built Hudson Yards over subway cars. We even built Diller’s Island over the Hudson.

Let’s just get it together and make this happen. Now please. Before Manhattan becomes a very boring island for the rich and famous. Young artists made America great. Let’s do it again. Hey, I’m sending this to the Mayor!