Posts Tagged ‘Hell’s hundred acres’

Two Prince Street relics on a pre-SoHo building

August 19, 2017

SoHo’s cast-iron commercial buildings have long been repurposed into expensive lofts and boutiques.

But hiding in plain site on the handsome, two-story brick and iron building between Greene Street and Wooster Place are two relics, nods to the neighborhood’s late 19th and 20th century manufacturing past.

These metal signs, advertising the services of a lithographer and engraver as well as an office supplies seller, flank the ends of 120-125 Prince Street, actually two separate buildings constructed in 1892-1893 with a common facade.

“Stationery, Office Supplies, Paper, and Twine” states the one on the right. Twine? To wrap packages in an era before masking tape.

The sign on the left must have advertised the latest technology in printing at the time. Lithographing, engraving . . . manifold books? Special forms?

What they were for we may never know, but these businesses must have been right at home in the area at the time, when this post–Civil War red-light district was the 20th century commercial hub known as Hell’s Hundred Acres.

Imagine the area back then: few residents, no shopping, and all day in nearby buildings machinery churned and whirled and pulsed with the energy that comes from making things.

[Bottom photo: Wikipedia, 2012]

New York is a hell of a town

October 22, 2009

More than a few city neighborhoods currently or used to start with “Hell.” Hell’s Kitchen is the most famous—and enduring. (C’mon, does anyone really call it Clinton?)

The nabe’s moniker but it may have first been used in the late 1800s to describe the revolting slums and ferocious gangs in the West 30s and 40s.


Hell Gate is the name of the once-dangerous tidal strait separating Astoria from Randall’s Island. It’s also a lovely bridge that connects these two land masses across the East River.

Was Hell Gate once the name of the neighborhood on the Manhattan side of the East River too? I’m not sure, but maybe—there’s a Hell Gate Station post office on East 110th Street.


And let’s not forget the fantastically named Hell’s Hundred Acres, a gritty term for pre-1970s Soho. The beautiful cast-iron buildings that today house million-dollar lofts were used for decades as warehouses and manufacturing sites. 


Safety codes weren’t followed and the buildings allowed to deteriorate, so they often went up in flames—hence the nickname. This photo documents a 1958 fire in a Wooster Street factory that killed six firefighters. Hell’s Hundred Acres indeed.

The most wicked neighborhoods in Manhattan

May 7, 2008

The late 19th century sure was a good time to be bad in New York. Before being renamed SoHo in the 1970s, the blocks between Houston and Chambers were known by the fantastically descriptive name of Hell’s Hundred Acres. The moniker stuck when the nabe, upscale in the early 1800s, became a seedy red-light district, with deadly, tough-to-fight fires breaking out in the old cast-iron buildings for decades.

This 1850 lithograph, “Hooking a Victim,” in the Museum of the City of New York, shows the Hell’s belles in action:

I hear the old Provence space is going to reopen soon as a restaurant called “Hundred Acres,” suspiciously minus the Hell. Doesn’t sound right.

Another den of vice was the Tenderloin. Also called Satan’s Circus, it spanned 23rd to 42nd Street between Fifth and Seventh Avenues. Gambling, prostitution, saloons, and dance halls stayed open all night, as seen in this depiction from a nifty 1996 book called Infamous Manhattan, by Andrew Roth.