The Wall, Forrest “Frosty” Myers’ now iconic public art installation at the northwest corner of Broadway and Houston is also known as “The Gateway to SoHo.” The piece consists of 42 green painted girders bolted to braces and spaced evenly on a blue background that spans over eight stories.
This is an apt nickname for the piece, not just because of the way it looks, but because of its long history that culminated in the mixing of art and commerce, a reflection of the neighborhood today.
Myers created this piece in 1973 for around $2,000 through City Walls, a not-for-profit organization established in 1969 that worked with artists and communities to revitalize New York City through public art. Charles Tannenbaum, the owner of 599 Broadway originally commissioned it to cover existing architectural scars, joists that remained since an adjoining building was taken down to widen Houston Street.
In 1997, the building’s new owner wanted to take Myers’ work down, claiming the piece caused leaks in the building, but also to replace the work with a billboard that would bring in advertising revenue. In 2002, the Landmarks Preservation Commission allowed the work to be removed with a stipulation that it must be put back up after the leaks were repaired.
The disassembled pieces of The Wall remained in storage in 2002 and the work was not reinstalled as promised. The city sued the building owners and a compromise was finally reached in 2007, where the piece would be reinstalled using new components and raised 18 feet higher on the building’s façade. This would thus make room for advertising billboards underneath.
The Wall has since then coexisted with four 18’x4’ billboards, seem by the millions of residents, tourists, and office workers who cross Houston Street to head south into SoHo, marking the gateway to the neighborhood where art and commerce meet.
Take a ‘Lookback’ at previous articles in this series…