When walking around the "Powerhouse Arts District" neighborhood in Jersey City today, one might wonder where all the artists are. The area is now full of luxury condos and businesses that cater to new occupants and their much bigger budgets.
But when you walk around the Hudson and Manhattan Railroad Powerhouse building with its partly green facades, you can see the remnants of what it used to be: a waterfront that used to be full of industrial warehouses during the heyday of Jersey City's Industrial Era that supported businesses like the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company (A&P), and the Lorillard Tobacco Company. In fact, 111 1st Street is the former site of the tobacco factory (1870s-1956).
After the company left Jersey City, the building was occupied for other commercial uses like storage, retail stores, and factories until it was later essentially abandoned by its property owner. Then from the '80s until the building's demolition in 2007, the spaces were leased to artists drawn to its abundant square footage and cheap rent. During this time, the building became the heart of Jersey City's art scene, a cultural hub known for its eclectic mix of artists and parties. (My husband remembers going there in the early 2000s and experiencing the DIY art scene for the first time in his youth.)
Even though it arguably played the most important role in making Jersey City a cultural destination for many, gentrification and the developer's greed were a no-match for the artists and their supporters. In 2005, the artists were forcibly evicted to make room for new development, and the building was demolished two years later. To replace it, the developer promised to build a 54-story tower designed by Rem Koolhaas, but the site still sits empty after more than 15 years.