Last year, when the second part of the High Line opened, I wondered how long the sex-positive Folsom Street East festival would survive on West 28th, now that the once-desolate block has become a destination for tourists and condo-buyers. Soon after, I looked at the arrival of massive condo-box Avalon West Chelsea, coming to the same block, right across the street from the Eagle gay leather bar, and predicted that the Eagle would not last much longer, either.
As we come up on the 16th annual Folsom East fair this weekend, we hear from an anonymous resident of 540 West 28th (the +ART building) that those dire predictions may already be coming true. Folsom East and the Eagle, he tells us, are not long for this rapidly changing world.
2011: High Line tourists pointing at Folsom-goers
Construction began on the +ART building in 2008, when there was nothing on that block except for a gay bar, a strip club, a scrap yard, a truck yard, and some autobody shops. Our anonymous interviewee has lived there for the past year. He bought the condo because he, like many of his neighbors, was attracted to "the building, view of the river, wide open space, proximity to Chelsea Piers, High Line, and the Hudson River Park."
I asked him some questions and he provided us with an inside look into how the new condo dwellers of the High Line are forcing change on the once-wild, westernmost hinterlands of Chelsea.
Folsom-goers gesturing back to High Line tourists
Q: What is the prevailing opinion about the Folsom East fair among your neighbors--how do people talk about the fair?
A: It's a mixed bag. The primary issue is the zero access to the building without walking through the fair itself where lewd conduct and nudity isn't uncommon. Those with children find it particularly difficult.
Q: In what way have the neighbors organized, and what is your goal in terms of the fair--do you want it to stop running, move to another block? What are the neighbors doing to meet this goal?
A: Residents from several surrounding buildings have passed fliers asking our residents to write to the Community Board to relocate or totally eliminate Folsom Street East because "fetish" fairs shouldn't be allowed so close to so many residential buildings. There's word that a petition of some sort will be circulated but I'm not exactly sure what the details are.
A letter was written to the Community Board asking how they can assure residents access to the building without having to walk through the fair itself. Another suggestion was to move it to the next block where it's bordered (for now) by commercial on two sides, Con Ed to the north, and West Street.
The primary issue for us at 540 W 28th isn't the Eagle or even Folsom Street East. It's allowing residents access to the building without having to go through the fair itself. Other residents of the surrounding buildings and even my own building may have additional concerns with regard to the lewd conduct and nudity in full view from their units.
Q: Were you aware of the fair's presence before you bought property here? [The fair's been running for 16 years.]
A: Yes... It's only once a year.
Q: What about the Eagle and Scores? It's hard to imagine those lasting on 28th with the new Avalon West Chelsea going in. How long do you think they will last?
A: I can't speak for all residents but a group of us would like them to stay. We've gotten to know the bouncers and they always say hello or play with our dogs. The crowd that gathers outside of the Eagle is always very nice, and the clientele at Scores really just get out of their cars and zip right inside. No loitering in front for the most part. Having the bouncers out front also gives us an additional level of security. Sure, you'll always have those that will be obnoxious or use the side of our building as a urinal but doesn't that happen just about everywhere in NYC?
I did hear that this summer may be the Eagle's last which would be a shame. I hope they reconsider. [Note: To this, the Eagle says, "Don't listen to rumors."] With the addition of 700+ units in Avalon Chelsea, it may be a matter of whether or not Scores or Eagle even want to be there. I give it a year. Construction across the street is going at a rather fast pace.
Queer, kinky, weird New York is vanishing at an astonishing rate--as fast as the new condos are being constructed along the High Line's glamorous flanks. Folsom Street East and the Eagle are the last vestiges of a once-thriving queer leather scene in Chelsea, one that not so long ago stretched across the Meatpacking District, up and down the far west side.
In 2009, the New York Leather Weekend was canceled when the Standard Hotel and the Food & Wine Festival complained to the city, successfully ousting the queers from MePa's sacred cobblestone streets. I have no doubt that the people of West 28th Street's new condos will eventually win the fight against Folsom the same way--and, apparently, no one is even trying to stop them.
Folsom Under High Line
Eagle Under Siege
Pleasure Chest 1972
Men in Leather
Lenny & Leather