Some may know that back in the early eighties my fledgling woodworking shop moved into a dramatic space on St Paul Street. The scruffy operation was tucked into the 2nd floor of a former firehouse with a full-on view of the budding downtown scene. Of special interest to me and some of my employees were the loft buildings across the street which featured a motley assortment of creative types including photographers, independent graphic designers, a painter and printer. My shop’s soaring arc of magical existence also coincided with years the infamous Pyramid Art Center (later to be reincarnated as RoCo) occupied a neighboring loft. Heady times.
Of particular fascination to some of my employees was the Ron Wu photography studio on the street below. We enjoyed the best bleacher seats for Ron’s front door which was strategic since he was responsible for all the photo work for the Sibleys department store. Midtown Manhattan had nothing on that stretch of sidewalk. The way it usually worked was some distracted cabinetmaker would look up from his veneering or joinery, look out the window and shout “Model Alert!” All rushed to the bank of rusty casement windows to carefully critique the fashion models arriving to dress up in the latest cardigan sweaters, camel colored car coat or, dare we dream, a delicate silk chemise. It could be argued – without much truth, since the master craftsman had his management flaws – that these distracted craftsmen were responsible for the eventual demise of Thomas Burke Woodworkers.
The cast of tradesmen and trainees that paraded through that shop on the way to other lives were varied and often memorable. One of my favorites was Matt Fass , a rosy cheeked and delightful kid who I think of every time I hear “Electric Avenue” . Check out Matt in his current groove behind the massive accordion in the picture above. Their recent Kennedy Center gig is at http://www.kennedy-center.org/explorer/videos/?id=M5677