Thursday, March 7, 2013

Revisiting Fetus Squat on East 9th Street in the early 1990s

Katie Jones lived in Fetus Squat on East Ninth Street between Avenue C and Avenue D for several years in the early 1990s. She recently shared several photos with me. Jones, who now lives in Oregon, left the neighborhood in 1996.

"I think that putting these photos out there after all this time has actually released me in some ways. With technology the way it is today, I was able to post many squatter photos from the early 1990s on Facebook. In doing that I have been back in touch with many people from this time. That part has been awesome," she wrote in an email.

"I wanted to be able to give them their history back and letting go of these pictures people are reminded of what we fought for. They are reminded of their part in the struggle to maintain those squats. I am nostalgic about the past in some respects. I miss the community we had back then. I miss the sense of ultimate trust I had in my activist friends. I also see too many faces in those photos that have died — that part is hard."

She return to the city several weeks ago for a long weekend.

"I had not been to NYC since 1997, so it was the first time I had seen the full effect of the gentrification on the LES. Shocking and sad," she said. "I had been warned by friends who still live in the area, but it really was a mindfuck."

Here are several of the photos with a brief description from Katie. (And a special thanks to MoRUS for putting me in contact with Katie.)

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Fetus Squat 1992
My home for most of 1992 until a fire destroyed the entire building. This shot was taken on 9th Street toward Avenue C. To the left of Fetus is a giant garden that had been reclaimed from one of the numerous vacant lots that were so prevalent in the LES during this time.

I loved living at Fetus Squat. I really found my niche in this building. I learned how to do masonry, put up insulation and sheetrock, gather food from dumpsters and restaurants, and make window frames out of police barricades. (Actually, we used those police barricades for everything from stairs to lofts.)

It really was my first communal experience. I think there were about 30 of us living at Fetus by the time I got there. I had moved to NYC from Miami. The scene was young and punk rock with a lot of political ideologies. More than any other squat, Fetus was where I felt at home. I am still in touch with so many of my friends from this building 20 years later.

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Amy and Soy During Fire at Fetus Squat
This shot was taken during the fire that engulfed Fetus Squat in October of 1992. Everyone got out. The fire department showed up, but only put water on the adjacent building. One of the firemen turned to me and said “Is this your house?” to which I said in a confused, numb way “Yes…” He replied “Not anymore! Hahaha!”

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Fetus Rubble
This photo is of Fetus Squat after the wrecking crew came and demolished all remains of our home. It seemed like days that we all gathered there to sort through the rubble trying to retrieve something from out shattered lives. Scott looks on as Frankie crosses the street with some of his unburied belongings.

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Fetus Rubble Black Flag
This was such an impossibly surreal time for all of us. We were homeless and digging through the remains of our old Squat on 9th and C. You can see the old doorway still intact with the Anarchist Black Flag next to it. We spent days sifting through the rubble looking for belongings.

Shortly after this I decided to travel. Some friends had found a ride down to New Orleans. The guy who was driving put in a mixed cassette tape and I recognized it as one of mine! It kind of freaked me out and I asked him where he got it. He said he found it at the Fetus lot. I never knew this guy before the road trip and here he was with one of my mixed tapes scavenged from the fire. He told me I could have it back, but I was homeless and traveling so I told him to keep it. We all lost everything we had in that fire.

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Lot Between Serenity and Dos Blocos
This shot was taken from the Serenity Squat Roof around 1993. This Lot was on 9th street between C and D. People were living in the van and maybe some of the other vehicles in the lot. A garden and chickens were in the lot next to all the vehicles.

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Lot Between 8th Street and 9th Street
This lot was massive! It was between 8th and 9th streets and Avenues C to D. It was a combination dumping yard and shanty town. The little shacks were made out of items collected in the lot. People were growing small vegetable gardens and I even saw a chicken or two.

I took this shot from the 5th floor of Serenity Squat. This would have been around 1994. On this day the lot clean up by the city began. All of the people that lived in the tents and shanties were evicted. The city came through with bulldozers and just crushed everything in the way. It was very chaotic as people ran around trying to grab pets and possessions.

Construction for new housing began. This construction lasted the whole spring and summer of 1994. At one point a pile driver took up residence and banged four-story metal rods into the ground. Serenity Squat would shake from the impact! We monkey wrenched it a few times just to get some peace and quiet.

12 comments:

BB said...

awesome photos!

Anonymous said...

Isn't that lot between C and D where the police station is now?

Scott said...

Thanks for posting these. I live on C between 9th and 10th next to C Squat. I've only been there for two years, but I absolutely love the area and the history. Living there makes me feel a little more connected to the old New York that I heard so much about before moving here. I know things are changing, but it still feels gritty there.

joanielesnyc said...

I haven't seen these pictures in so long. Thank you Katie n evgreive for posting them. I miss fetus squat. it was the coolest squat with the most awesome hard working people. It was our home. And i miss my fetus brethren.

Anonymous said...

I would counter that the state of the neighborhood up until the early 90s was both shocking and sad. And I'm still here.

Goggla said...

Powerful photos. Thank you for sharing.

glamma said...

Amazing post. Thank you

Jeff said...

A very personal view of a very secret history of New York. I'm from Manhattan, but unless you actually knew someone in the squats, chances are, you never knew they existed. Until Rudy commandeered them, they never reached the news. I wonder if anyone from anywhere else in the world could understand the feelings involved. A good book on the subject could join the shelf of important NY historical sources.

WilliamRek said...

I lived in the area during that time, and I felt for the people trying to live their lives, there. I trust most are better off now.

Anonymous said...

Part of that huge vacant lot is where the police station stands now. It's taken from 9th st - south with what is now the Firemen's Memorial Garden to the right on the south side of 8th st next to the townhouse (366 East 8th St) which still stands today. Can't believe that was taken less than 20 years ago. I guess my memory is going. I would've guessed these shots were taken in the early 80's-not 1994. The Towers were standing a year after they were first bombed. Just doesn't seem that long ago. Thanks so much for sharing. @JwalkinNYC

la Muzz said...

If you look closely in photo 7, you can see the fence and gazebo for Green Oasis/Gilbert's Garden... that's on 8th Street between C&D. Firemen's Garden is to the right on the same photo...

Anonymous said...

i lived in another squat, i only visited foetus a few times. the thing i remember most was the roof...
the way it was told to me, some materials were bought to fix the roof. the residents attempted to fix it, but the damage was just too severe, so someone had the bright idea of making the top floor into the roof! all the roofing materialst that weresupposed to go on top went on the floor, fairly well done considering that that apartment floor had not been constructed with the intention of transforming into the roof of the building. when you walked up there, people had built some cool shacks, and the windows took on the appearance of the open top of an old castle or fortress. it was an amazing space, an image that is etched in my mind after all these years, even without a photo...