Beryl Sokoloff, 88, chronicled changes of Chelsea


By Albert Amateau

Beryl Sokoloff, filmmaker, photographer and painter who lived in Chelsea for nearly 50 years, died Sept. 11 at the Veterans Affairs Hospital at the age of 88.

He had been suffering from a form of leukemia and was very ill for the past two years, said his longtime partner Crista Grauer.

In photos and documentary films over the past 50 years, he chronicled the changing life of Chelsea where he lived overlooking the High Line. Grauer is compiling a DVD of 66 of his documentary films, the longest being a half hour.

One of his most successful documentaries is “My Mirrored Hope,” made in 1961 in Woodstock, N.Y., about Clarence Schmidt’s sprawling house made mostly of window frames — glass intact.

Born in the Bronx to immigrant parents, Louis and Clara Sokoloff, Beryl Sokoloff was raised in that borough and moved with his parents to Philadelphia, where went to high school studied art and music at Settlement Music School. In 1939 he worked for the Depression-era Works Projects Administration (W.P.A.) until 1941 when he enlisted in the Army and served in the Pacific as a meteorologist.

After his discharge in 1945, he moved to New York and lived on St. Mark’s Pl. where he was in a group of abstract expressionist artists.

“He also photographed parades, street events and did a little paparazzi — he loved going to events,” Grauer said. “He did photographs for a Mexican newspaper that didn’t have anyone else but him in New York, so they ran whatever he wanted to shoot,” she said.

He soon moved to Chelsea, first to W. 17th St. and then to 502 W. 27th St., where his third-floor loft was at the level of the High Line. He then moved to 501 W. 28th St., where his fourth-floor loft overlooked the railroad viaduct.

“I remember hearing trains and seeing them go by,” said Grauer, his partner for 43 years.

He was also an accomplished cellist. A brother, Vladimir Sokoloff, who died five years ago, was a music teacher at Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. Contributions may be made in memory of Beryl Sokoloff to Settlement Music School, 410 Queen St., P.O. Box 63966, Philadelphia, Pa., 19147.