The structure was much photographed and nostalgically evoked by the pioneers who “discovered” it, braving drafty winters and illicit digs to live the life they wanted to live.
The artist colony was also a case history for urban planners who’d watched artists in city after city—from Boston to Austin—recover industrial communities, only to be priced out by high-end developers and high-rise condos.
It was a story waiting to be told. As it happens, an urban planner form Fordham University was itching to tell it.
David Goodwin’s Left Bank of the Hudson: Jersey City and the Artists of 111 First Street was published in early October, 2017, by Fordham University Press.
Goodwin, a native of upstate New York, moved to Jersey City in 2005 from Philadelphia, where, he says, they “did a good job reclaiming space and reshaping it for housing businesses and art.”
So he was surprised to witness, in 2007, the demolition of 111 First. “It was unusual,” he says, that they “tore down a post-industrial structure of that size with that pedigree. I was perplexed. It could have been rehabilitated.”
In the Fall/Winter 2009/2010 issue of this magazine, we ran a pretty comprehensive story about the fate of 111 First. Goodwin started his research there to get a summary of the issue for a graduate school dissertation. Goodwin, too, cited noted urbanist Richard Florida, who believes that amenities attract creative people to a city, which stimulates economic growth.
“Jersey City seemed ignorant of the theory, because the opposite happened,” Goodwin says. He soon knew that the 111 First saga was more than a paper; it was a book. “The story itself is fascinating,” he says. “The destruction of the Lorillard building was a microcosm of changes Jersey City was undergoing from the late 1980s to 2000, and are still ongoing.”
He sees the demolition of the old factory as a “pivotal moment.” The city “took the wrong direction.” 111 First “could have refashioned itself as a center for culture and creativity in the arts, an element that’s still in Jersey City and why I’m living here. If it had developed sensibly, it could have anchored the arts in Jersey City. ”
He compares the Powerhouse District to Brooklyn’s successful DUMBO area. “DUMBO is bigger, but it has the same age and type of buildings on the waterfront. With the right developer 111 First could have been a wonderful building.”
Goodwin chose to write a book about JC’s legendary artists’ colony because “it’s a universal story in a lot of ways. Creative people are the pacemakers, the first to move in, and the first to be pushed out.”
Jersey City native Helene Stapinski, author of Five Finger Discount: A Crooked Family History and Murder in Matera, blurbed the book, noting, “In the end, the story is a true tragedy. Goodwin questions the place of culture and history in a living city and in the process, carves out a piece of both for the reader.”
Jonathan LeVine of Jersey City’s massive Mana Contemporary arts center said, “This in-depth exploration of the varied people, politics, and economic forces serves as a fascinating discourse on how gentrification in urban areas can happen and all the drama that unfolds as a result.”
Left Bank of the Hudson is a cautionary tale. “Artists’ groups in other communities can look to this story and see what not to do and how to prevent it from happening where they live,” Goodwin says. “At 111 First, they lost their homes and work spaces and the building itself was torn down.”—Kate Rounds.
Meet the Author Oct. 29:
Riverview Farmer's Market,
498 Palisade Ave.,
10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Nov. 25: Virile Barber & Shop,
510 Jersey Ave.,
6 p.m. (201) 685-7036