East of A: A look back at another world
Twenty years ago, the streets surrounding Tompkins Square Park were a hostile environment, years deprived of love and respect. Artists came in search of time to nurse their creativity, unencumbered by the cost of market-rate housing. They found an Hispanic neighborhood of empty lots, souls sleeping inside cardboard boxes, boarded-up buildings, real estate agents sitting in taxis in search of the next big deal and squatters moving into abandoned tax-default city-owned buildings. People began pitching tents in Tompkins Square, as plywood shack villages appeared in surrounding empty lots. Housing became the divisive political cry. City Hall pitted activists against one another by attempting to give low-income housing groups authority to develop squatter sites. Artists incorporated the dissonance heard on the street into their work. This photographic essay, East of A, by John Ranard, shows what the neighborhood looked like then.
This page, clockwise from above: Easter Friday pageant, 1989, Fourth St. and Avenue D; Gino contemplates his future, his building behind him just burned, 1990; Erik of 10th St. Squat; they replaced every crossbeam in the building, 1990. Opposite page, top: Robert takes a shower with plumbing provided by Paul Shay, Eighth St. shantytown, 1990; bottom: Empty lot between Eighth and Ninth Sts. and Avenues C and D, 1991.