In 1997, New York magazine published a 9-page cover story entitled The Wild West, which asked the question, "Can lawyers and club kids and drag queens and butchers find happiness together in Manhattan's meatpacking district?" (Note the lowercase M and D.)
Thirteen years later, we know the answer: No.
Written by Matt Pincus, it's quite a lengthy, detailed article, with lots of photos, and you can read it here via Google Books. It's one of those stories that holds in amber a moment of tremendous change, the kind you look back on and say, "Oh, so that's how it all began." And it was already a few years into the shift.
In the article, a 19-year-old prostitute and neighborhood local named Venus talks about how the coming gentrification had already “messed business up. There are a lot more yuppies with kids here now. I mean, we were here first, but I don’t want to be out here working with kids around.”
According to a meatpacker named DeStefano, the city leaders “don’t have time for us. They want everybody to wear a suit.” And meatman Adolf Kusy said, “The city’s giving us abuse. Greenwich Village is slowly creeping in from the east. Chelsea is coming south. They’d love to turn this into a new SoHo.”
photos: Christian Witkin; Daniela Stallinger
“But,” wrote Pincus, “it will take more than economic and political pressure to wash away the two centuries of blood that meatpackers have spilled on these streets.”
Sadly, he was wrong.
Still, there was a brief moment when it was all okay. When the Calvin Klein models and the interior designers co-existed peaceably with the transgender sex workers and leather boys, who all mixed well with the meatpackers. As one meatguy put it, “We’re unloading pigs, and the gays and whatnot are walking by. This is what makes New York great. I’m sitting in my office at 3 A.M., and the music from Jackie 60 vibrates through the floor, up my chair, and up my butt. It’s a great mix.”
The article notes the neighborhood’s still-thriving eccentrics. Like Andrew Crispo, a bankrupt art dealer acquitted of the Death Mask murder, a “night crawler with a proclivity for S&M.” There was “Gene, a curmudgeonly septuagenarian waitress with an airborne hairdo” and “her own cult following.” And someone called Tiny, “the tranny-chasing midget meat-worker and nightclub fixture.”
It was all there in 1997. A neighborhood still alive, still on the cusp. Apparently, it all could have gone in a very different direction.
photo: Christian Witkin, 1997
The porn industry was also looking to move in at that time. Wrote Alex Williams in a follow-up article in the same issue of New York, the future of the meatpacking district could have gone one of two ways: “It could be the next SoHo. It could be the next Eighth Avenue. The uncertainty is as exhilarating as it is scary.”
People weren’t so sure it could be another SoHo. Tom Duane worried about adult bookstores proliferating here. “How do you ‘gentrify’ a ‘meat market’?” asked Williams, “Who wants to step over bloody cow femurs in a new pair of Manolo Blahniks?”
We now know the answer to those questions, too, but at the time, they didn't have a crystal ball.
Said one meatpacker, “You ever been there at night? That’s not a shopping area. You wouldn’t put a Waldbaum’s there. In one place you get tied up and spanked. In another, you can get punished. That’s a neighborhood for people who are on the edge.”
my flickr, 2010
In 2010, that's no longer true. The meatpackers, leather queers, eccentrics, and transgender sex workers have been banished. Most recently, we saw the city tear down Novac Noury's bizarre funhouse, an eyesore in the Standard Hotel's view.
You know the rest of the story, I don't have to tell it. But just think of what might have been. What if the porn industry had moved in before 2000? What if the armies of Manolos never came marching over those bloody femurs? We might still have a piece of sexy, eccentric, mixed-up New York, right here in Manhattan.
Lenny in Leather
Men in Leather
Food Fetish Fight
Pigs in Shit