Curated by NoLIta participant Wylie Stecklow
26 may 2014 by art:i:curate team
As part of our 'Curated by NoLIta' project, we met with the curators: people living and working in the neighborhood.
Ky Katrensky met with lawyer, activist and NoLIta-veteran Wylie Stecklow.
KK: Tell me something about yourself.
WS: For about 5 years in the early 2000’s, I organized a block party on Spring Street for the neighborhood. It was supported by the local businesses, and was a great day for neighbors to get to know each other. The last year was 2006, and I wish there was a way to bring that energy and that day back to the neighborhood.
KK: When did you move to NoLIta?
WS: I moved to NoLIta about 20 years ago, which I like to say, means I am a still a newcomer to the neighborhood. I moved in with a girlfriend on Mott & Houston, and immediately felt a big difference from the uptown neighborhoods I had previously lived in.
KK: Where did you live before?
WS: I lived on the Upper West Side all during Law School, and it was very homogenous. I loved to travel, especially through Sout East Asia at that time, and when I moved into this neighborhood, and would walk to the Courts in the morning, and my office near City Hall, I felt like I was traveling, transported to a different city in the world. It was a tremendous difference than the energy I felt uptown.
KK: What do you like best about your part of town and what don't you like at all?
WS: The diversity, the creative energy, the pulse of so many different ethnicities and cultures all merging is what I really enjoyed about this neighborhood when I first moved here. The overdevelopment, and crowded sidewalks every day, and at all times of the day, is what I no longer enjoy about the neighborhood.
KK: What sets NoLIta apart from the surrounding neighborhoods?
WS: I used to feel that NoLIta was like the last real neighborhood in downtown Manhattan. The stores were most mom and pop shops, the locals were 2nd and 3rd generation. It was truly Northern Little Italy, not north of. However, with overdevelopment, a lot of this energy is lost.
KK: Do you know any of your neighbors?
WS: For many years, there was a closeness in the building where I lived. There were 5 units, and we all knew each other well, all lived there for 10 years together. However, the rents continued to double and triple, and I haven’t met any of the neighbors in the building in the past 5-10 years. I do know many neighbors in NoLIta, many of the mom and pop shop owners that are still fighting to keep the neighborhood special, like JB & Tricia, Alpana, Dario, Luigi &Lia, Frankie & Dulcy. And especially Mary.
KK: Are there any notable neighborhood characters?
WS: Mary is a lovely older woman who has grown up in this neighborhood, seen more growth and changes, and is always outside with a smile and a gracious 'Hello'. It is always great to see her sitting there knowing she’s been here for 70+ years.
KK: Do you have a local hangout spot in the neighborhood?
WS: I love Peasant, Bread, Lovely Day, Tacombi. These are my go to spots in the ‘hood. I often joke that Peasant is like my living room.
KK: Have you heard any stories about the history of NoLIta?
WS: I have been told by a few of the old timers that my Law Office was at one time a Doctor’s office for the working girls on the Bowery.
KK: What do you see for the future of NoLIta?
WS: NoLIta will continue to grow in population and in expense to live and operate a business here. It will continue to lose its unique identity as more Helmut Lang’s open.
KK: Favorite New York moment?
WS: It may be unusual to say, but in the days and weeks following 9/11, there was a brotherhood of humanity that was palpable, it was a window into what was possible if everyone was acting like their higher self. It only lasted a couple weeks, and it was brought on by horror and tragedy that no city or people should ever experience. But anyone who lived in this neighborhood during that time period shared in the moment, the moment when we all realized what was possible.