This broad street forms a chasm separating two sections of what was once one neighborhood: the South Village.
In 1940, Houston Street was widened considerably, resulting in the demolition of several buildings along its south side (many vacant lots still remain – see sidewalls of buildings facing Houston Street on left in picture). The widened Houston Street stops at 6th Avenue, where Robert Moses had intended it to continue as a connection to the Holland Tunnel, presaging his plan for a Lower Manhattan Expressway in the 1960’s (a plan which would have destroyed much of the South Village, the defeat of which was one of the high water marks of the early Village preservation movement, and one of Moses’ first defeats at the hand of community activists).
MacDougal, Sullivan, and Thompson Streets below Houston Street were a continuation of the South Village neighborhood to the north, and shared not only the same mixture of tenements, rowhouses, and converted commercial buildings, but the same massive influx of immigrants in the late 19th century, largely Italian-Americans. This section of the South Village, in addition to retaining some of its Italian-American community, also had a significant Portuguese-American community.
Due to the rise in prominence of Soho after the 1970’s, the identity gradually became subsumed into that of its neighbor’s. It is now common for this cut off section of the South Village south of Houston Street to be referred to as Soho. This, in spite of the historic connection to the Village to the north and the lack of connection to Soho’s role as a center for art production and galleries, and the lack of cast-iron loft buildings which characterize Soho but not this part of the South Village.
In spite of its role severing this neighborhood in half, the widened Houston Street adds an important layer to the history of this neighborhood. As with the extensions of Sixth Avenue and Seventh Avenue South through the South Village (see map items #8 and #27) the neighborhood’s relationship to its shifting street patterns are part of what makes the South Village a unique repository of New York City’s history.
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