Kevin Harrison is a builder for artists as well as a part time super at 537 Broadway and several other buildings in SoHo. Kevin was interviewed by the SoHo Broadway Initiative for the Hey Neighbor series. Kevin came to NYC 50 years ago this summer in 1967 as SoHo was emerging as a neighborhood for artists.
What brought you to SoHo?
I came to New York City in 1967 from Indiana to be a hippie. SoHo was just emerging as a neighborhood for artists at this time. Being an aspiring hippie from Indiana and not knowing anybody, I answered an ad in the Village Voice. The ad was for Film-Makers’ Cinematheque, a theatre for underground film makers at 80 Wooster founded by Jonas Mekas. I was hired to do construction for artists. I worked for George Maciunas, the leader of the Fluxus art movement. I basically did what George asked me to do.
What do you do here today?
I’ve continued to work for the artist community in SoHo my entire time here, doing construction for various installations, but also doing plumbing, heating and electrical work throughout SoHo.
How did you get to New York?
I had a 1958 MGA [think Austin Powers] and drove to New York in the summer of 1967. I didn’t know anybody and had never been to NYC. The car doesn’t have a real window or lock really. I drove it to New York City and I realized I couldn’t keep it on the street, it would disappear in no time. I drove around for a day and then drove back to Indiana where I knew someone who would buy the car. I sold the car and flew back within a week. My friends in Indiana said I drove to New York, couldn’t find a parking space and drove back!
What do you like about SoHo?
I like the buildings, the architecture, the history, the kooky characters that I meet working in the art community. Lots of interesting people. If I had to work construction in the suburbs on tract houses, I might not be doing this. But working in cast iron buildings that are 140 to 160 years old is much more interesting.
What is your favorite memory or experience?
In SoHo, my favorite memory was working on laser art pieces by Nam June Paik (537 Broadway) as well as working with Yoko Ono in 70 and 71. For Nam, I wired up the lasers and did the plumbing for them. When I was working on the laser installations in the 70’s, they required enormous amounts of power with water going in/out using pumps and filters. All that technology is totally gone.
On Broadway, I’ve seen so many parades. You don’t see those anymore. I remember a May Day parade that was combined with a march celebrating marijuana. There was also one with Iranians protesting the Shah, thousands of people marching down Broadway wearing black masks.
If you had 20 minutes to hang out, what would you do?
I’d jump on my bike, ride to the river, ride down to Battery Park City and sit on the water. Those parks are among the nicest things the City has to offer.
The Hey Neighbor series features people who live and work on SoHo Broadway. Send suggestions to email@example.com.