Showing posts with label squats. Show all posts
Showing posts with label squats. Show all posts

Saturday, May 30, 2015

20 years ago on East 13th Street

[Photo by John Penley via the Tamiment Library]

By Felton Davis of the Catholic Worker

All night long, we kept vigil, while the huge quasi-military force gathered to clear the squats on East 13th Street.

At about midnight on May 29th, people brought in an over-turned car and filled it with gasoline. One match, or even a careless person with a cigarette, could light this up and create a fire that could spread to the buildings, and trap those who were barricaded inside, burning them to death. How would that help the cause of squatting? How would that help communicate to the public the enormous work that was done to fix up these buildings? Or was it just a desperate gesture, to let the clearing turn into "another Waco," after the fatal confrontation in Texas two years earlier?

The debate will still going on the next morning, when the police brought in a re-furbished military tank, even after most of the gasoline was drained out of the car. The driver sitting on top of the tank motioned the riot officers to get out of the way, because he did not want to stop for those in front of it.

I'm alive today because the officers blocked the tank and dragged us out of the way. The debate over this extreme confrontation, and the extreme tactics brought to bear, continued in Central Booking that night, and it continued in the court where Stanley Cohen represented us, and it continued in the street, as people tried to re-take those buildings, and the Giuliani administration flexed its muscle, and more squatted buildings were seized or bull-dozed by the city.

Thanks for those who kept their sanity during this frightening time, and did not condemn us to death by fire and conflagration. Thanks for the memories.

For further reading:

The Squatters of East 13th Street

Battle Over 13th Street

Tank KO's the Squatters
Daily News, May 31, 1995

Riot Police Remove 31 Squatters From Two East Village Buildings
The New York Times, May 31, 1995

Squatters of 13th Street Vs. Power of City Hall; More Than a Symbolic Battle for Control
The New York Times, July 12, 1995

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.)


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.


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!”


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.


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.


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.


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.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Q-and-A with Fly on UnReal Estate

Fly is currently working on UnReal Estate, an archive project focused on the history of squatting on the Lower East Side. The artist and illustrator is assembling a collection of photos, flyers, drawings, graphics, video and oral histories. Fly, a longtime squatter herself dating to the 1980s, has been incorporating these elements into multimedia presentations, one of which she'll show tomorrow night at the Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space (MoRUS) at 155 Avenue C. (Find more information here.)

Meanwhile, the book portion of UnReal Estate will focus on an oral history of squatting on the Lower East Side, concentrating on the 1980s and 1990s – up until 2002, when 11 buildings made a deal through the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board (UHAB) to become legal low-income co-ops. The book will include a prologue to cover the earlier homesteading movements and brief history of housing issues in the neighborhood.

Fly answered a few questions for us about the project and her feelings about the neighborhood today.

UnReal Estate is such an ambitious project. How is the oral history book portion of it shaping up?

I am getting some great stories — and a lot of conflicting information. A lot of people have a hard time remembering specific dates. So much was happening so fast back in the 80s and 90s. This neighborhood was a bit like a powder keg, and it was hard to keep track of dates and times. There are so many people who I want to interview. The more that I do the longer the list seems to get.

How have audiences been responding to the previous slideshows/multimedia presentations?

I have been getting very encouraging responses. People who were around back in the day are encouraged to remember their own history, so then I get more input into the squatter timeline. People who were not there have told me that they have a whole new view of the idea of squatting. I have done some UnReal Estate slideshows in Oakland, Calif., to the East Bay Squat Scene. They get so inspired by seeing what we did and how we continue to survive. The squatter scene out there is very different and not so organized or cohesive. They seemed to get some good ideas for strategy from seeing our history

Why do you think telling the story of the East Village/Lower East Side squatter history is so important?

I think that the squatter movement here came out of real community activism, so it is very ingrained in the larger history of the Lower East Side. It was in the 1970s when landlords were torching their buildings for insurance money and the City was going broke and abandoning the more undesirable neighborhoods that residents in the Lower East Side really started organizing and taking back the buildings – sometimes with homesteading programs and sometimes just with community support. A lot of housing activism was going on and the squatter movement was a more direct-action approach that grew from that.

There were so many buildings squatted in this neighborhood in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It was a real political force and many squatters were involved in so many other community and citywide struggles — especially the struggle for affordable housing, which has been a defining characteristic of the Lower East Side. The fact that we were successful in taking 11 buildings to legal status speaks to our legitimate place in the official history of the Lower East Side

The neighborhood continues to develop and grow, of course. How do you feel about what has been taking place? Do you still feel a sense of community here? Does it still feel like home?

I do feel a sense of community here, although it now seems so spread out and diffused. Suddenly there are so many bars and stores that make an attempt to look like they have been here for a long time so that the tourists think they are getting a Real Experience. (I could go on a long complaining rant but I’m sure you have heard it all before and I try to be positive these days.)

It makes it all the more important to try to preserve and proliferate our radical roots – to encourage the kids to continue to live Actively not Passively. There are still places in the Lower East Side like ABC No Rio, Bullet Space, Bluestockings, MoRUS and all of the gardens – we still have some great places left. After so many years of struggle I am very grateful to have my home.

What was your reaction to being named one of the "Amazing Women of the Lower East Side" this year by The Lower Eastside Girls Club?

Oh! I was very honored that they chose me. It is one of my favorite places and one of my favorite things to do is teach art classes or zine-making classes to the younger generations. I get to do this once in awhile at the Girls Club, hopefully more often in future, and the girls never fail to amaze me with their enthusiasm and their creativity.

[For more information, contact Fly here]

Friday, January 2, 2009

Squats vs. the city

Also in The Villager this week: An interesting piece by Lincoln Anderson titled "Former squats are worth lots, but residents can’t cash in."

[Photo of 209 E. Seventh St. from the mid-1980s by Fly via The Villager]