Farewell, Gasoline Alley; the changing face of Noho


By Keith Crandell

New people are coming into Noho and more are on the way. I must admit, I have yet to see one of the most famous of my new Noho neighbors, Britney Spears, the pop singer notable for her romances and her role with the Mouseketeers on the Disney Channel so many years ago, waiting for the #1 bus on Lafayette near Bond. And therein lies the challenge. I will get back to Ms. Spears in a moment.

Let me explain first that Noho, the little trapezoidal neighborhood north of Houston St. between Mercer and the grungy old Bowery, extending up to Astor Pl., has for years served the automotive needs of its ritzier neighbors in Greenwich Village and elsewhere. But are things ever changing. Noho is no longer Gasoline Alley!

All over Noho, the businesses that serviced motorists are vanishing. Parking lots are disappearing. So are gas stations. Gone are the repair shops. Bye-bye car washes!

Take a stroll with me through Noho. We’ll begin at the northeast corner of Houston and Broadway, where the most garish car wash and gas station in the Western world (complete with whales spouting a rainbow of bubbles) has given way for construction of an office and showroom building certain to be more staid and dignified. Go someplace else to wash up and gas up.

We walk east past Crosby St. where the tiniest of parking lots survives. It holds spaces for, perhaps, eight cars. Across Lafayette, the noisy shop where automobile engines were repaired is now closed, to be replaced by a residential building?

We head north on Lafayette to the dinky triangle formed by the confluence of Lafayette, Bleecker and Mulberry Sts. A few drivers once parked their cars here. Now the site is occupied by a clothing store and a mini food shop.

Up Lafayette, one block north of Bleecker, we come to the corner of Bond St, a short street extending just two blocks from Broadway to the Bowery. On the northwest corner of Lafayette and Bond, across from the residence for homeless women with mental challenges, stands a billboard of notable ugliness urging neighbors and passersby to drink plenty of Jose Cuervo. For years, the site had housed a gas station and auto repair shop. It has since been sold to a hotel entrepreneur for a huge amount of money.

Walk east on Bond St. toward the Bowery. On the south side is a parking garage, soon to be replaced — if the developer has his wishes — by a 10-story (or so) residential tower. Across the street, on the north side, on the outdoor lot where scores of car owners have parked for a quarter-century, another residential tower will rise. Half a block away, at the corner of Bond and the Bowery opposite CBGB’s and the Amato Opera, a shabby little gas station favored by cab drivers has been replaced by a small (six-story) condo where you can buy a floor for $1.4 million. (Would you believe that a home on the Bowery could ever sell for a million dollars!) Across the Bowery, next to the Amato, N.Y.U. has replaced a one-time parking lot — and later, garden center — with one of its ubiquitous new dormitories.

We stroll north on the Bowery. At the corner of E. Third, the old gas station/auto repair shop, is being replaced by a new residential tower. At Astor Pl., across from the Cooper Union, ground has just been broken for a new 22-story condo tower on the site of what had been a parking lot since shortly after World War II.

Comes now the first obvious question: What’s to become of the local drivers who relied on the parking, the gas stations, the car washes, the repair services of Noho?

I have a dream: That people coming to Noho will come by public transportation, thereby cleansing the air and maiming fewer pedestrians. Public transportation in Noho is splendid. The 6 train on the Lexington Ave. line stops at Bleecker St. The old I.N.D. line, with its heavily used F line, stops at Lafayette. The M.T.A. has made upgrading of the Bleecker and Lafayette stations a top priority, including disabled accessibility and complete interchangeability for the two lines. (About time!) What’s more, the area is well served by bus lines along Broadway, Lafayette and the Bowery (which becomes Third Ave. to the north.) So weep not for local drivers. There are plenty of good options. This writer has managed to live here for more than 30 years without a car and most of my neighbors do without as well.

Comes now the second obvious question: How will the residents of the hundreds of new, expensive homes fare with no place to park or gas up or get their flats fixed? Will the folks who fork over a million dollars for a condo at the corner of the Bowery and Bond be willing to ride the bus home at night, even if it stops right at their corner? Will they be persuaded to adopt a different lifestyle?

Some will be delighted to learn that public transportation is so handy and offers an economical way to get around town. Perhaps getting rid of the family flivver will help them pay the steep cost of buying into Noho.

Ah, but many of the folks who spend a million dollars or more for a co-op will not really care about saving on their local transportations costs.

Which brings me back to Britney Spears, who I recently found out lives, fittingly, in the building above Tower Records. I welcome her to Noho. I hope she gets over her breakup with Justin Timberlake. I hope she registers to vote, setting a splendid example for young people. I hope she signs up for the Noho Neighborhood Association. Most of all, I hope to see her at the bus stop. She would certainly liven up the wait outside Marty’s second-hand shop on Lafayette. More important, she might even make riding public transportation chic.