By James Maher
Name: Hal Hirshorn
Location: St. Mark's Place and Avenue A
Time: 3:15 on Monday, Aug. 29
I came here after college in my early 20s. Oh you know, everybody comes to New York and there was a lot going on then. It was the tail end of the 1980s art scene. I just missed the East Village art boom. I got here in the summer of 1989 and by then most of the galleries moved to SoHo. I lived in the West Village because at that time there were apartments that were slightly cheaper than the East Village. Otherwise, I would have gone East Village. Everybody had talked about how the East Village had been priced out, but that’s nothing in comparison to today.
I’m a painter and a photographer. My studio is in Brooklyn now. I do oil painting, these strange abstractions that are a cross between landscape and abstract paintings — imaginary landscapes. There’s always been a back and forth between the two from the beginning of landscape paintings that were considered abstract paintings.
It’s been up and down, but I managed to hold things together somehow. The art world is doing well right now, so I’m OK. I have some people who work with me in terms of dealing and stuff like that. But that’s changing too and now everything in Chelsea is coming back to the Bowery and Lower East Side, but not the East Village.
Basically within a five-minute walk [today] most of the East Village that I’ve known over the course of 25, almost 30 years is gone, just gone, not like in bits and pieces, shifting here and there — just one fell swoop. Just to see everything radically redeveloped is what’s so stunning, because it used to happen in bits and pieces as the real estate went up. Now they’re doing blocks instead of buildings.
Bloomberg in his third term gave away much of the city to developers under the table. De Blasio seemed really great. I don’t know whether he’s had his hands too full or maybe he’s not as left as he said he is, but… he’s become very nebulous. But before de Blasio, you had other people like Mark Green running against Giuliani or I forget who ran against Bloomberg, but these guys didn’t stand a chance. They were just crushed.
Giuliani was real estate friendly, lets say, but he wasn’t like a real estate mogul. I think what we’re seeing right now is just a direct result of Bloomberg. He’s treated the city as though it were the Bloomberg Corporation’s property and his to sign off and sell away.
There was a rent stabilization law that was trying to cut back on rent stabilization and rent control, and they came up with a figure where anything above $2,500 was considered luxury housing. In those days, if you were able to afford an apartment that was that much money, you were pretty well off. Now that’s like kids out of college or crazy situations where you have four people living in apartments.
It’s almost reverting back to the tenement-like density and that’s just a result of the rent, unless you’re well off enough to be able to have over $25,000 a year to spend a year on rent. But the whole thing of the $2,500 figure is that is where the regulation was cut off, so now real estate, a lot of which was protected has effectively become market rate, and then the only thing that can change that is some big downturn or catastrophic event.
James Maher is a fine art and studio photographer based in the East Village. Find his website here.