Show & Tell

Notes From the Underground Or, how to stay underground when surrounded by condos and douchebags

Shutting Eye: The arts collective at 443 Eye prepares to be gentrified.

At 2 a.m. in a warehouse on the edge of Chinatown, an underground art party is under way, and one partygoer wants to see some art. Five hours earlier, she could have joined the crowd circulating the building’s top floor, peering at paint and sipping wine while singer-songwriters plucked instruments. But now, the warehouse is dark, packed pelvis-to-ass, and blasting disco. She raises a glowing neon bracelet to the wall in an attempt to illuminate a piece. She squints, shrugs, and heads back to the dance floor.

For nearly a decade, the warehouse at 443 Eye St. NW has been building a reputation for hosting alternative art openings, rock shows, and all-night BYOB dance parties. Soon, there may be no art to squint at, no party to retreat to. Last week, the warehouse’s owners, I Street Associates, warned the operation to cease and desist. The people at 443 Eye had been expecting the order for a while: I Street Associates is nearing the end of talks to sell the property to D.C.-area firm Walnut Street Development, which hopes to replace the space with a sleekly imagined complex called “Eye Street Lofts” by 2009. For 443 Eye St., the party may be over.

“They want me to stop scheduling events,” Mike Abrams, the gallery’s manager, says of the building’s owners. “The problem is that it’s too popular.”

The recent buzzkill exemplifies a tough trick facing alternative art impresarios: How to keep your underground scene popular enough to stay relevant but underground enough to avoid getting shut down. Here, 443 Eye tenants past and present offer up the do’s and don’ts of keeping the underground under the radar.

• Do: Know Your Limits. When Abrams took control of most of the top floor of the warehouse in ’98, he set to work renting gallery space to artists, organizing events, and teaching Saturday morning sculpture classes. It wasn’t until 2000, when tenants Nick Pimentel, Lisa Garfield, and Jason Conny began organizing art and music shows there, under the name the Hosiery, that people really took notice. Buzz spread mostly through word of mouth, then grew with Listservs and hand-posted fliers. Within a few years, the Hosiery had hosted shows by indie folk sensation Devendra Banhart and Thievery Corporation offshoot Dust Galaxy. Since new tenants Gold Leaf, an arts collective run by 25-year-olds Justin Rodermond, Ryan Wakeman, and Alex Clarke, began renting space there in April, the gallery’s events have become so well-attended that they’ve begun to flirt with implosion. “Now that 500 people are showing up,” says Pimentel, “the word is definitely getting around.” On Dec. 15, Gold Leaf’s 12-hour affair, which featured 10 artists, five bands, three DJs, hundreds of partygoers, and one regulation-sized tepee, somehow caught the attention of the building’s owners. It’s unclear what tipped the scales—I’m guessing it wasn’t the tepee—but as with most unregulated grand-scale parties, it was only a matter of time before somebody tried to shut it down.

• Don’t: Fuck With Condos. Until last week, Abrams and Co. managed to operate without interference for nearly 10 years—no word from the landlord, no trouble from the cops. But as the property nears sale—Walnut Street hopes to solidify the deal by January—“the owners are nervous about us doing these kinds of things,” says Abrams. “There are a lot of people in there. They’re feeling like there’s too much exposure.”

• Do: Seek Out a Bad Neighborhood. “This is a crack neighborhood,” Abrams says of 443 Eye’s locale. Still, it’s not crack enough to protect your DIY art scene. Chinatown fit the bill for a while, but now it’s “become like Disneyland,” says Abrams. Pimentel says that over the years, “the only time we’ve ever had cops come up, they were just making sure none of the people in the neighborhood were bothering us.” Generally, it’s best to find a space where BYOB and maximum occupancy rates are of relatively little concern.

• Don’t: Head to Restoration Hardware. “Ninety-nine percent of the materials used in all of these projects were recycled from parts and scraps already lying around the studio or found outside,” says Rodermond. Still, don’t skimp on the details: Track down a good PA system. Spring for the tepee. Then, party. “The point of Gold Leaf is that the next day everyone can say, ‘I had the time of my life last night,’” says Rodermond. “So far, I think it’s worked.”

• Do: Be Exclusive. Chris Burns, a DJ who spun what he calls a “gay underground disco” soundtrack at Gold Leaf’s blowout on Dec. 15, has got the idea. “If you look at the kind of people who live in D.C., 60 percent are douchebags,” he says. He stops, reconsiders his math. “No. Sixty-five to 70 percent are douchebags. Thirty percent are young, creative, artistic people. And we’re all just trying to grind.”

• Don’t: Invite the Press. Media coverage is a double-edged sword. While inviting nightlife photographers to snap fishbowl shots of partygoers may help glamorize your scene, additional coverage could result in overexposure. When I arrive at Gold Leaf’s party on Saturday, notebook in hand, one attendee gives me her thoughts on the media. “What the fuck are you doing! Why the fuck are you writing about this? You’re going to fucking ruin it,” she says, voice raised. “We’re living in Giuliani’s New York right now.” Later, she offers me a Schlitz and provides me with her phone number, telling me she “gives good quotes.” She never returns my calls. She’s good.

• Do: Verse Yourself in the Law. The D.C. Code is publicly available. Use it. By making events BYOB and requesting donations instead of charging admission, 443 Eye Street appears to be operating legally. “From my perspective,” says Abrams, “there aren’t any problems.”

• Don't: Be Deterred by a Little Cease-and-Desist. Until Abrams can iron something out with the developers, he says, the space will focus on “smaller events, like art shows and screenings. Things that don’t involve masses of people dancing until 4 in the morning are probably going to become the ‘legitimate’ thing to do in there.” He adds, “Will I be able to pay my bills with that? No.” For now, Rodermond says Gold Leaf may have found a way to keep its planned New Year’s Eve bash going—in the warehouse’s adjacent hangar. “Even if 443 Eye St. shuts down, Gold Leaf stays,” says Rodermond. “Somewhere or another, you will hear more from us. We’re still going to be holding ragers.

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Our Readers Say

When Chris said that 75 percent of DC are douche-bags, I think he definitely included yourself. Now we know why the owners were alerted. My girlfriend is a reporter, you know you can be choosey on your stories you write. I guess you didn't have a good time.

fucking moron

Thanks for ruining this space for DC. You're great. Had you at least written a good article, you could claim you were doing it for the sake of decent journalism. Instead, you screwed over such an interesting group of people for a piece of crap article that adds ZERO value to your newspaper.

These guys did not need you or anyone else to help keep them "relevant". Making the City Paper does not exactly help anyone much.

Happy new year to you too.
People (including Mr. Burns in a recent email) seem very unhappy with the author, but I am confused by the time-line of events here. It seems to me like Hess is reporting the cease and desist letter. If this is the case, I am happy this made the CP, as maybe more people can work towards saving the space (sounds unlikely) or finding a suitable place to continue these great parties.

The first two commenters make it seem like Hess' story tipped off the owners to the parties, causing the cease and desist letter. Am I missing something here?
I'm not sure I have ever DJ'd or attended a party as fun or as full of positive energy as the Dec 15 event at Gold Leaf. ANYWHERE. I'm not sure who alerted the owners or what the whistle-blower was hoping to accomplish, but Gold Leaf will surely be missed! It's a real shame because DC really lacks a space where the community can gather, wil' out, and leave the bullshit at home.
Most fun party I've ever DJ'd/danced at. Thanks to the people who kept the Hosiery going all these years, it's a shame that it got cut short. The sheer number of attendees, and the diversity therein, shows that the Hosiery filled a void within the broader nightlife scene in DC. It was a niche party, whose niche was all of DC.
Best shows in DC for sure! Its sad this space is no longer....Devendra Banhart, Chk Chk Chk, Glass Candy, Scene Creamers, DMBQ, No Age.... the police coming up and checking out The Apes...

HOSIERY R.I.P. Thanks Nick P. !
apparently the CP editors had their own story in mind...with more focus on douchebags and less with what meistro is talking about. i wish they published the first draft instead. here it is (sorry Amanda):

It is Saturday evening in a hulking warehouse on
the edge of Chinatown. Singer-songwriters pluck
at instruments. A sprinkling of arts types sip
wine and peer at paint. A showing by local
artists–a methodical dissection of bouncy balls;
a UFO-printed neon silhouette–flanks the walls.

By midnight, though, the place is packed, chest
to chest, pelvis to ass. A strobe light pulses as
a DJ in a white tank top spins disco. A man
brandishing a badminton racket undulates on the
dance floor. In the bathroom, discarded Solo cups
share space with a black strapless bra. In a back
room, Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up"
filters through the speakers. Nearby, a group
erects a regulation-sized tee-pee.

This is Gold Leaf. Tosin Abasi, 24, sips from a
brown-bagged wine bottle at the fringe of the
dancing mass and shakes his head. “A party like
this can only go on for so long before something
shuts it down,” he says, before wading into the
crowd. It is only the second event put on by the
fledgling D.C. arts collective, but if the
warehouse’s owners have their say, it could be their last.

Gold Leaf–comprised of 25-year-olds Justin
Rodermond, Ryan Wakeman, and Alex Clarke–is equal
parts art opening, rock show, and dance party.
“The point of Gold Leaf is that the next day
everyone can say, ‘I had the time of my life last
night,’” says Rodermond. “So far, I think it has
worked.” Saturday’s event drew five bands, ten
artists, three DJs, and hundreds of people over
its near 12-hour run–from the modest arts
mingling at 6:30 p.m. to the final retreat into
the tee-pee at 6 the next morning. Along the way,
a band chucks bananas into the crowd. In the
darkened space, a woman attempts to illuminate a
piece of art with a glowing bracelet. Some people
make out. The event upstaged Gold Leaf’s first
showing, on November 30th, only because the
opener was cut short by an errant fire extinguisher around 3 a.m.

But now, Gold Leaf has more than just false
alarms to worry about. According to Gold Leaf,
gallery manager Mike Abrams received notice on
Monday that the party was on hold, indefinitely.
Word came from Demers Real Estate, Inc., on
behalf of the building’s owners, I Street Associates.

“They’ve asked me not to program anything else,”
says Abrams. “The problem is that it's gotten very popular.”

Abrams has been managing most of the top floor of
443 Eye Street since 1998. There, he rents studio
space to about 15 different artists, helps
organize gallery events, and teaches Saturday
morning sculpture classes. On Saturday evening,
he is collecting donations, checking I.D.’s, and
marking hands. Abrams estimates that in the past
ten years, the tenants at 443 Eye Street have put
on over 100 art openings, music shows, and film
screenings under a few different names: 443 Eye
Street, The Hosiery, now Gold Leaf. Donations
help pay rent on the gallery space and real
estate taxes, which are passed down to him. “This
is the real picture of what it takes to run an
arts studio in the city,” says Abrams.

Up until now, Abrams has managed to operate
without interference from I Street Associates,
who have been in talks to sell the property to
D.C. area firm Walnut Street Development since
2005. Navigate Walnut Street’s website, and
you’ll find their plans for the property: Above
the warehouse, which is considered historic, will
rise a sleekly imagined complex called “Eye
Street Lofts.” Walnut Street promises “64
multifamily units and 4,000 square feet of retail
space.” Walnut Street's Sam Moore expects that
the deal will go through in January, with the
hopes that the complex will be ready for business in 2009.

Buried within Walnut Street's site is this: "We
recognize that cities are not remembered for
their lawyers and businessmen, but by their
architecture and artists." But the lofts will
mean an end to Mike Abrams’ ten-year art project.
“A space like this can’t exist anymore,” says
Abrams. “Now that the building’s for sale, the
owners are nervous about us doing these kinds of
things … There are a lot of people in there.
They’re feeling like there’s too much exposure.”

But while the property has been tied up in
development, events at the warehouse have gained
momentum, fueled by a community engaged by the
idea of circumventing D.C.’s traditional arts venues.

“This is a place that’s trying to encourage
artistic growth,” says Abrams. “The people we
have in here, they’re not a bunch of crazy kids.
There are a lot of professionals that come
here–artists, lawyers, economists, writers. It’s
the alternative to going to a club, which, for a lot of people, is stifling.”

Chris Burns, the DJ who spun what he calls a “gay
underground disco” soundtrack on Saturday, puts
it this way: “If you look at the kind of people
who live in D.C., 60 percent are douchebags,” he
says. He stops, reconsiders. “No,” he says.
“Sixty-five to 70 percent are douchebags. Thirty
percent are young, creative, artistic people. . .
. There’s something going on this past year, and
none of it is cheesy, corny, or bad.”

“Everyone just wants to be part of something
that's organic, that's not about a greater
business scheme or neighborhood revitalization,”
adds Libby Ellsworth-Kasch, Clarke's girlfriend
and the force behind the tee-pee. “We’re just trying to grind,” says Burns.

Gold Leaf is the latest in a line of 443 Eye
Street tenants committed to staging underground
arts events in the space. Nick Pimentel and Jason
Conny began organizing art and music shows at 443
Eye St. under the name The Hosiery as far back as
2000, Pimentel estimates. Buzz on the events
spread through word of mouth, e-mail listservs,
and flyers. Since then, events at the space–which
have included shows by Venezuelan folk import
Devendra Banhart and Thievery Corporation
offshoot Rob Garza’s Dust Galaxy–have operated
under an ever-increasing profile. After Gold
Leaf’s Rodermond, Wakeman, and Clarke moved into
the space in April, the gallery's events have
become so popular as to border on
implosion–somewhere along the way, the B.Y.O.B.
parties came to the attention of the building's
owners, who are not, it seems, down to grind.

Abrams says he’s more than willing to work with I
Street Associates and District officials to
ensure that 443 Eye Street is operating safely
and legally. “We are responsible people,” insists
Abrams. “We have thought about a lot of people. .
. From my perspective, there aren’t any problems.”

Until then, says Abrams, the 12-hour affairs are
on hold. For now, he says, the space will focus
on “smaller events, like art shows and
screenings. Things that don’t involve masses of
people dancing until four in the morning are
probably going to become the ‘legitimate’ thing
to do in there.” He adds, “Will I be able to pay my bills with that? No.”

As for Gold Leaf’s Rodermond, Wakeman, and
Clarke, they’re not sure how the conflict will
straighten out--but they're not ready to give up
the all-nighters. “Even if 443 Eye St. shuts
down, Gold Leaf stays,” says Rodermond.
“Somewhere or another, you will hear more from
us. We're still going to be holding ragers.”
why mess with our fun?! and not having a life isn't an excuse. you're not welcome in dc amanda.
i guess some of the commenters don't know how to read! amanda's not responsible for closing the space, developers are. if you're gonna leave a comment make it an educated one!
This article ran on December 26. The C&D was served almost two weeks ago. Maybe Hess did alert the owners, but I don't how how anyone can deduce that based on this article. Don't blame the author, blame the fact that nearly one thousand people partied in that space in the past month! It simply got too big too quickly.

But yeah. Unless you know for a fact that Hess brought these events to the owner's attention, you should stop whining and find a new place to party. My guess is you don't know so shut the eff up.
Let Amanda be. its the editors who construct the cp stories, as amanda's fuller description ala justin shows . In ten years of keeping the studios open and in operation, i have been able to meet and see over 80 artists grow and try their dreams in the warehouse bldg that is Eye st studios. we have had open studio events in the form of the 3 bldg Noma Arts group shows , the downtown Arts on Foot events and a number of our own events hosted by other artists and musicians. the Hosiery and Goldleaf events marked our ability to attract and show new artists and musicians for people to experience, im glad you enjoyed the space and all we had to offer. the studios will still keep running until they break ground and if the owner agrees we may still be able to do smaller group shows and such . I am happy we were able to show dc what a real working studio looks like and gain experience doing it. this may lead to other opportunities:even with the Walnut St developers as in the creation of a real DC arts center space .if they are interested and we can support it this may have all been what it all is worth. thanks for getting us noticed. there are no enemies here just progress.
You people are fucking dullards. The overwhelming stench of entitlement is choking me. Ha ha! Crack neighborhoods are like SO AWESOME for our art galleries/ravesdon'tcallthemraves(plur)! Fuck off, douchebags.
hey banana hammack thats not entitlement you smell its your own ass . you have the perfect name for yourself. i dont see or hear any effort youve ever brought to dc in the way of art or music .
nice work you sacks of shit.
I love it. The hipsters are all mad at the press for ruining an underground space.

I think it's fantastic but it would have been nice if y'all raised your voices when the press came after the rave scene or when developers decided it was time to bulldoze Nation or the Edge or Tracks or any of the venues we've had over the last god knows how long.

The Hosiery was/is a wonderful space and I hope a million more keep blossoming across the city.
Isn't the major defining trait of hipsters attacking other people for being hipsters?
First of all Demers Real Estate, Inc. is wholly against anything creative as far as the use of their spaces go, just call them and ask your self. Scumbags.

The reporter likely blew the who thing up by calling the aforementioned scumbags, which was DUMB. WTF was she thinking? Were they going to give a good quote like "No we didn't know these parties were going on!"?

And the promoters of these events who were new to the space should have know better, or should have been told that having such large events there in the first place was a bad idea. But as the whole thing is doomed to redevelopment it matters little, other then it fucked up a lot of peoples NYE plans.

The article didn't bother to go into the legal president that the, above scum, used to prevent this seemingly legal use of the space... If I were these renters I would be suing them for breach of contract, and being criminally boring.
for all or you who do not know and are not involved other than to show up get drunk and dance .be creative or to try to host an event of your own or please keep your comments in your head .
You are all second guessing the events and the people responsible.

1.the ones who opened the doors for you to enjoy the space come whatever may come ,
2.Demers real eatate who actually are good real estate people who do care about the arts and rented the bldg as studios , which we pushed into the realm of art center so you could have some fun .
3. the future devlopers whos ears are open to the possibilities of actually making an art center as a part of their build-out.
4.who "ruined it "? IT WAS NOT AMANDA OR THE PRINTING OF THE ARTICLE , the crowds DID IT IN .Can't control that. so be glad you got a chance to see and mingle arts and rented the space

S like your mama should have told ya if you cant be nice and you dont know the facts keep it to yourself or look like a fool.
To clear a few things up I have hosted many an event. It's not easy, I know.

Demers real estate has earned my opinion of them the old fashioned way and I'm not alone. That building is a slum, if that shows their dedication to the arts. It would be bulldozed if it want historic...

Any art center that comes to the new space is not going to be affordable and we all know that.

And certainly the article didn't help, but it was way too many people, i agree
You can't blame this article for these events getting shut down. I found out about the cease and desist before I spoke with Amanda for the story and I don't even live in DC anymore!

One thing I would like to clear up is what the second floor of 443 Eye Street is primarily used for: making art. There are nine artist studios shared by about 15 painters, printmakers and sculptors in addition to the former NRS/Trans Am space now shared by the Gold Leaf Guys. Most of the other tenants never came to the Hosiery events (can't say about the Gold Leaf ones since those started after I moved out).

Nick and I and the other artists we shared our studio with over the years didn't rent the space so we could throw parties, we rented it as an art studio. The Hosiery events were always secondary. We were just fortunate that we had a place to do what we did and that Mike Abrams not only allowed us, but encouraged us. So before you start pointing fingers at who's to blame for shutting these events down, remember that there are a number of artists who are going to lose their studios because that building is going to be converted into some shitty luxury condos that DC doesn't need.

Secondly, the closure of this space has been a threat since early 2005 (we had what we thought was the last Hoisery event in June that year), so this doesn't come as a surprise to the artists who rent space there. I'm just glad we were able to stay for a few more years, mainly so I didn't have to go back to painting in my apartment (not that I didn't have a blast at the shows, because I did), but we knew we were on borrowed time.

Yeah it's a shame that these events had to end before the artists move out, but I'm sure Demers, et al are more motivated by their interest in protecting their investment than any kind of mean-spiritedness to ruin somebody's good time. They're business people and as much as I don't like what they're doing, I can respect their motivation. If I had just spent $9 million on a piece of property and was getting ready to spend a whole lot more to renovate it, I wouldn't want some sketchy artists messing it up before I could make my money back.
Condos ruin everything.
It's a shame I never got to attend one of these functions as I always heard nothing but positivity in regards to them.

Thank you Miss Hess for doing what reporters do best for our scene.

Not to worry, there will be others but it's such disappointment that something that spoke to so many on a higher level had to become subject to one little reporter's scrutiny.

Wish someone with a better journalistic voice could have written this farewell to such a great place and era. Whether or not this dullard alerted the owners is irrelevant. It was too big. The Hosiery promoters knew what they were doing. Goldleaf did not.

Anyway, I find her articles to be vapid. It would be great if someone who actually has a finger on the pulse of this city AND could write well were doing the arts articles for the city paper.

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