To understand Building, you first have to step back a little further in time to a club called Area. For the uninitiated, Area was the brainchild of an upstart nightlife entrepreneur named Eric Goode. The club reimagined—exploded even—what a nightclub could be. Every six weeks, a team of artists flipped the club with a new and elaborate theme, like “Red,” “Confinement,” or “Suburbia.” The team was led by a young set designer named Shawn Hausman who would go on to design many of The Standard hotels, thank you very much. Live animals were employed (or deployed, depending on your view), full Hollywood stage sets erected. For the “Disco” theme there was a roped-off VIP area in which no one was allowed. The club was a constantly evolving art project, the embodiment of the wildly imaginative, decadent, over-the-top nightlife of early ‘80s New York.
By 1987, though, Area had closed. The stock market had crashed. A major recession was underway. AIDS was devastating the city. Goode had launched a new venture, a kind of surreal supper club called MK, which was a distinctly more grown-up endeavor from the homespun creativity and chaos of Area. Housed in a four-story neoclassical bank building, MK featured reproduction French antiques, aquariums, stuffed Dobermans, a library, a grand parlor bedroom with an open bath, framed 19th-century pornography, and an underground bank-vault-cum-dance-floor.
To achieve this dramatic shift in tone, Goode tapped an ascendant young Argentine architect named Carlos Almada. To run the club, he brought along his most trusted Area alums, including Howard Schaffer, a jaded former film student who became Area's general manager when he showed up for a job as a ticket taker.
Around the same time (1988/89), two guys—Patrick Moxey and Chuck Crook—had started throwing a series of roving parties in makeshift spaces around Manhattan. Once a week, they took over a large downtown space, charged five dollars, and a hip hop or house music DJ performed. The parties attracted a cross-section of the downtown scene—artists, fashion designers, A&R people, photographers, kids who bridged the divides—exactly the kinds of people that made Area one of the centers of downtown life.
Almada, riding a wave of success, was looking for a new venture, and he decided that Payday (as the warehouse parties were known) was it. He found the Con Ed station. He raised funds from investors. He renovated the building to the tune of a million dollars. Unlike MK, he preserved (and emphasized) the raw feel of the space. A review from the time reads:
“After the retro decadence of the booming, corrupt, and ostentatious 1980s, this new decade demands something a little less frivolous; and so onto the scene comes Building…a dance club that occupies a former electrical substation on a non-descript lower midtown block. The designer is Carlos Almada, a transplanted Argentine architect, and this is his take on the 90s: 'A hot club represents the mood of a moment. There is a new generation, with new values. This generation is about producing things, rather than showing off. You don’t do Louis XV in hard times, and so this space is about basic elements, and raw design.'” –Interiors, 1990
Building merged elements of Area and MK with the roving hip hop parties of Crook and Moxey. Each night, Thursday through Saturday, a different resident DJ would hold forth. There was an open mic, and MCs would perform. The roster of talent would become a who's-who of the first real golden age of hip hop: De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, KRS-One, Run-DMC, the Beastie Boys, Black Sheep, Kid Capri, and Clark Kent.
Today, Howard Schaffer works for The Standard as the “Vice President of Exceptional Talent.” We recently sat down with him to talk about Building and to look back at an era in his life that he remembers fondly. His reminiscences are accompanied by those of Patrick Moxey, one of Building's partners, who went on to found the international dance music juggernaut Ultra Music. Lastly, we caught up with DJ Stretch Armstrong, of the legendary Stretch and Bobbito Show on WKCR, who was 19 years old when Building began and was in clubs nearly every night looking to make a name for himself.
PATRICK MOXEY: It was a series of warehouse parties. They were all named after candy bars. The first one was Milky Way, which was every Friday. That one shut down after a while and then it came back as Payday every Friday. On Saturdays we started doing $100,000 Bar, which was more house and techno music. Keith Haring made the flyers.
Payday was more hip hop, so we did the first show ever by De La Soul and a bunch of other artists—Rob Base and people like that. It was a very interesting time in New York in terms of the creatives all together downtown—the photographers, the fashion designers, the music makers, the producers, the record label people—everyone rubbing shoulders, whether it was Patricia Fields or Keith Haring or Russell Simmons or John Kennedy, Jr., Darryl Hannah—all these people would come to the warehouse parties.
What types of spaces were the parties held in?
They were held everywhere—olive oil warehouses, Polish war veteran homes, El Salvador refugee centers.
I had been working as a music journalist and helper at a small downtown publication called the East Village Eye. East Village Eye led me to be introduced to the people who were throwing the Milky Way party. So I started out working for Chuck and Beaver and that led to me being a partner in the warehouse parties that went on later. That was the genesis of it.
What were your responsibilities?
I was more on the music side because that's what I did. I had been a DJ in Chicago and I was a music journalist and I started managing some artists and booking them from my East Village apartment on tours into Europe. I was managing Moby, "Little Louie" Vega. I took "Little Louie" Vega to Europe for the first time. It was a very interesting time downtown, in general, and creatively, in general.
I was more on the music side, but I also had to deal with the practicalities, like finding the spaces. That was probably the most difficult thing to do. I used to spend hours walking the streets of the Lower East Side, you know, talking to people—‘Hey, could we throw a party here? Could we do something here?' I'll never forget going to meet the Polish war veterans at what turned into Irving Plaza. At the time it was like, the Polish army in exile, camped out at Irving Plaza in their headquarters. It was crazy. So you literally went in there and there were these guys wearing Polish army uniforms. They were basically ready to invade Poland against the Communists.
And they were receptive to you throwing parties if they could make a little money?
Absolutely. This was a time when people were getting shot down the street. If you had a party with 2,000 people in it, police were much more concerned about the guys getting shot down the street than they were about a party.
It was really myself and my partners at the time. A guy called Chuck Crook—which was a hilarious name for a guy running a warehouse party—and another guy called Beaver. We weren't experts, but we would invite artists, we would make sure the right fashion designers had the invites. We promoted in Paper [magazine] and Details [magazine]. So we would let the right people know in each part of the downtown culture that the warehouse was going to happen. We really went out of our way to try to get the best music people, the best fashion people, the best art people, and have them mix. And it worked. The Building was my first regular, established, licensed, legitimate club. So the warehouse scene was the beginning and then it kind of led into Building.
What about Chuck Crook? What was his story?
He was from South Carolina and I think his father owned a trucking fleet or something like that. But he was a very spiritual guy. He somehow always got the right tone to things. So even when we did the warehouse parties, Chuck would make sure there was a juice bar run by Rastas in the corner, or he’d put in a skateboard half-pipe with pro skaters from the streets of the East Village doing tricks in the air while the Jungle Brothers were DJing. It was that kind of atmosphere—we would have, say, slide shows from Rickster [Ricky Powell]—there was always this cultural element to what we were doing and Chuck was a big spiritual part of that.
It was incredible how that went down. Carlos rented a house in Amagansett and, basically, during the course of the summer there were different people coming out to stay at the house. And we had this volleyball game going that summer. So potential investors would come out to the Amagansett house and then models would be there playing volleyball with the investors. And as the investors would be coming off the volleyball court Carlos would be getting them to write checks buying shares in the nightclub. We literally raised the million dollars for the club over the freaking volleyball net from these Wall Street guys in the Hamptons with the help of these models. And of course, being Argentine, Carlos went hopelessly over budget, but the guys were already in. He went back to them and said, “Look, you're already in. You've got to give more or it's going to go down.” And they gave more and we were able to open.
Can you talk a bit about the design of Building?
It was this electrical station for the generation of electricity. The building had been built in something like 1890. It has since been knocked down, but it was this incredible early-industrial space. So when Carlos, a very inspired Argentine architect, went in to do the project he kept the industrial feel of it and that's why the building was an industrial statement in itself.
The space had incredibly high ceilings—very unusual for a club. I want to say that from the dance floor to the ceiling was something like 50, 60 feet. And then there was a lot of steelwork that was done. The steel guys who were doing the work for Carlos were artists themselves. They were using steel almost like putty, you know, running it in interesting shapes and designs all around the club. You might be leaning on an iron railing that was from 1910 and then you'd move 20 feet and be on a new iron railing, but it was all kind of mixed together in a very interesting way.
Was there anything else like this around at the time?
There had been some great nights at a place called the Roxy before us. Also, Danceteria had a hip hop room, but I think, in a way, what we did with Kid Capri and some of our resident DJs was extraordinary because it really was hip hop coming downtown in a big way with a great mix of people. It felt very fresh and it was pretty special. But we layered it up. We might have had the latest hip hop groups, but then we were also doing events with Jean Paul Gaultier or The Face magazine or Pedro Almodovar. So, you know, it was all about contrast. It was all about introducing different parts of the culture, and having them kind of bounce off each other.
Clark Kent was a great resident DJ. We also had an amazing performance one night by Shabba Ranks, the reggae artist, where I just remember everyone jumping two feet in the air for an hour. There were a lot of other great performances. It's all a little blurry around the edges, but certainly we had a lot of the famous rap artists of the time coming in and getting on the mic, especially the Def Jam artists. At the time, I was also working for Russell Simmons and Lyor Cohen. So I was doing Building at night and working for Russell during the day. So if we did a party for the Beastie Boys, and they were managing the Beastie Boys, there were a lot of tie-ins.
What was the state of the nightlife scene in New York at that time that Building was capitalizing on?
You could say that Building was tapping into the warehouse energy and meeting the MK energy. So if the MK thing was a little bit more uptown, and we were more edgy and downtown with the warehouse parties, I guess Building was where those two things met.
Could you talk a little bit about the problems that the club ran into at a certain point with violence?
Hip hop was a super raw music at that time. When word got out that there was a club that played hip hop—which was very sort of edgy, street music—and it was in Manhattan and it was a cool place to go, we started getting more and more people coming in from the bridge-and-tunnel crowd. That led to some real rough characters, and too many guys. It just got to the point where, you know, one guy has a problem with another guy. He runs out to his car, gets a pistol, takes a couple of shots at the door—that kind of thing. When that stuff starts happening, it's not fun anymore. We had several great years of operation, but after a while those kind of problems came in and started to make it…wind down, shall we say.
HOWARD SCHAFFER: Well, I went to film school, but I really didn't like the film business, so I ended up managing a little café in Tribeca where I met Eric Goode. He said, “Hey, we're opening this club, Area. You should come by and work as a ticket taker.” I showed up, and in true Eric Goode fashion, there were like four of us doing the same job because he invited four people to do it. So out of the blue, he said, “Well, what else can you do?” I said, “Well, I'm managing a café on Warren Street.” He said, “Okay, you're the general manager of the club.” That's how it started.
And how did that lead to you getting involved with Building?
At that time, I was working at MK, which came after Area. It was a kind of a supper club. The architect’s name was Carlos Almada. During that era, these guys had this roving hip hop party called Payday. Once a month, they would take over a warehouse downtown and they would have a hip hop DJ play and everybody would pay $5 to get in. It was highly successful and it was very cool. André [Balazs] went. Carlos Almada, the architect, went. Carlos approached me and asked if I would be interested in partnering with him and Chuck and Patrick on making Payday a legitimate club.
What was your role at Building?
I just made the place physically work. That was my job. That's what I did at MK. That's what I did at Area. I was not involved in inviting people. I put the security team together. I hired all the bartenders, waitresses, etc.
Was the area where Building was located popular for clubs back then?
The 20s on the West Side were really interesting. There were like a lot of weird after-hours places, a lot of sex clubs. It was similar to Tribeca because there were a lot of warehouses, and the landlords were not doing very well. So if you went up to them and said, “I'll give you $5,000 in $20 bills if you let me throw a party on your eighth floor," they would do it. But Building was legitimate. We rented. We leased the Con Ed station.
I think we were pretty cutting-edge because we had the mix of people. We had the right investors, Carlos as the architect. We had the art world coming in, the fashion world coming in, Patrick and Chuck being in the music industry. Me, being an operator, it just ran. So there were a couple of clubs that were doing hip hop nights, but nothing like this.
Can you explain how this membership system with the photos worked?
Historically, clubs have always had membership of some kind for preferential treatment. So that's what we were trying to do. We chose people—the ownership, myself, Carlos, Patrick, and Chuck. This [pointing to the photos] is what the club was supposed to be. These 300 cards—this is who we wanted there on a steady basis.
And you mailed them cards or handed them to them?
No, we handed them to them at the club and took their photograph.
Did you take these photos?
Some of them. We all did. We had a Polaroid, and it was just like, “Stand up against that wall. Okay. Here's your card.”
Do you remember doing that?
Yeah, but we each specialized in certain people obviously. I wouldn't go up to Mike Tyson and say, “Let me take your photograph.” I think Patrick or Chuck did that.
Do you have fond memories of Building?
There's nothing more spectacular than owning a club and seeing a sea of people dancing—a full 2,000 people dancing—there's nothing like that. And that's predominately what happened most of the nights.
How did the music work?
There was a DJ lineup with an open mic. I think our lineup was Kid Capri on Thursday, Clark Kent on Friday, and Red Alert on Saturday. I think Chuck [Crook] heard about Kid Capri when he was DJing parties in a school cafeteria in the Bronx. Chuck went to hear him and said he was the best DJ in the world and we hired him to do Thursdays. Puff Daddy was a promoter for us. I think once a month he would do a night.
What was he doing back then?
Well, he was an A&R person for record labels. And since this was very a music industry-driven club, I imagine that what he was trying to do was promote his artists. So they would get on the open mic, perform, and he would promote the night with a girl named Jessica Rosenblum.
Well, at first, it worked very well. KRS-One would get on the open mic, Big Daddy Kane, Run-DMC, the whole crew of rappers back then would get on and they would do a performance for nothing.
So label people would use the club as a way to get the music out?
For sure, yes. It was very much a showcase for them. Hence, why De La Soul is there, A Tribe Called Quest. But also there was no gathering spot for these kids. If you look at their age, they're just kids. There was no gathering spot in the city. No club was either smart enough or stupid enough to do it. There were a whole bunch of clubs, but they wouldn't…
…dedicate a whole club to hip hop…
Yeah. And they weren't downtown.
The people look really happy, too, in a lot of cases.
They really liked it. It was really good. Like I said, there was nothing like seeing the dance floor full and everybody dancing. Everybody paid. It was cheap. The drinks were cheap. We only served canned beer—one kind of beer—I think it was Heineken. Vodka: Stoli. Champagne, red and white wine. That was it.
So together, you guys recognized that this current of downtown life, hip hop, was a big thing.
It was an art movement besides just a music movement. And that's why downtown was much more fascinating. Artists wouldn’t go up to 58th Street to a club even if De La Soul was performing. They just wouldn't. We were on 26th Street. That was as far as they would possibly go.
And what about the celebrity clientele? Naomi Campbell, Mike Tyson. How did they end up there?
They walked right in.
Yeah, Russell Simmons was there and Lyor Cohen. The minute you got those two, you got pretty much everybody in that scene. Russell Simmons was the shit. He was a big deal. If Russell sanctioned it by going, everybody would go. We didn't treat people too different. The celebrities weren't really treated special. I believe Mike Tyson was the heavyweight champion of the world at that point.
What was he like?
No one fucked with him. Security guards didn't like letting him in because they knew that if something terrible happened and he was involved they wouldn't be able to control him. Security was really, really scared of Mike Tyson. I think they would have rather dealt with somebody with a gun than Mike Tyson because they were scared that someone would fuck with him.
He had a special place in the world back then.
Yeah, it was his moment. Him and Russell Simmons. That was their moment.
What's it like for you to flip through these photos now?
A lot of people are not alive anymore, unfortunately. It's been over 20 years. There are some friends that I haven't seen in a long, long, long time; there are some people who are still working with me. It's nice looking through them.
STRETCH ARMSTRONG: I was 19, 20 years old. At that time, I was going to clubs every night. If I wasn’t working in them, I was hanging out at them. I was club-rich. I could go and drink for free. Anytime a new club opened that was the place to be, it was completely normal for me to go there three, four nights of the week. For a lot of us who were not just in the scene, but kind of connected to the scene, a club just became like everyone’s living room. When Building opened, it was the place to be and I was just kind of connected to that network of people.
Was the music the primary attraction for you?
That was a big part of it. Part of my reason for being in clubs every night was to be noticed, and to be a recognized face, so that it would make my chances of getting on easier. I totally wanted to play at Building. It was a great room to play in—massive, super high ceilings, big sound system, dark space. The dark space allowed people who might be self-conscious to lose their inhibitions and dance.
What was the most memorable thing you saw there, musically?
Building was where Kid Capri really made a splash. If you were into hip hop, you might know him, but if you were just more of a downtown club person who liked hip hop, you may not have known Kid Capri. He came to Building and utterly destroyed the place on a weekly basis. And, you know, that was before the internet, but the word of mouth was so strong, and what Kid was doing in that room, it just elevated him to a whole other plateau as a celebrity.
The DJs that I idolized coming up, like Clark Kent, they didn’t really talk. They were just nasty with their hands and their music. Kid Capri was the first deejay I ever saw who would regularly turn the music off, just like oozing with confidence, and with this super loud voice just command the crowd to do stuff. He would have them in the palm of his hand and the music would come back on at exactly the right time, just as he was getting the crowd into a frenzy. There was this give-and-take that was incredibly dynamic and powerful. He didn’t use the mic because he was making up for any deficiency as a deejay. It took his deejaying to another level because he was always nasty on the turntable, but the added dynamics of that crowd control, that was just something that people downtown hadn’t really seen.
Do you recall the people you’d see there?
De La Soul had a party there, Black Sheep did a party, A Tribe Called Quest. It was one of those clubs where the hip hop industry—whether people from labels, managers, or the artists themselves—were commingling with the club scene, the club clientele.
My favorite invite was for a short-lived night that Jessica [Rosenblum] started on Saturdays called Jessica’s Nickel Bag Lounge. The area was really, really high up, like four stories up, and it was closed off from the main floor. You took these industrial stairs. The flyer was a green piece of paper with a little Ziploc bag, the kind that you would cop marijuana in at Washington Square Park, with a chunk of oregano in the Ziploc, like a dime bag.
What made you keep the flyers from the club?
I think at some point I realized that these were ephemeral items that were a part of a really exciting time of my life. And I was right. Because as time goes on, you realize that that era from ’88, to maybe like ’92, was a really, really special time—in clubs, in music, and everything.
Oh yeah sure. For house music: Lil Louis "I Called U”, Lidell Townsell "Nu-Nu”, Crystal Waters "Gypsy Woman (She's Homeless)”, Underground Solution “Luv Dancin”, Frankie Knuckles feat. Robert Owens "I'll Be Your Friend”, Jay Williams "Sweat”, Bobby Konders "The Poem”. For hip hop: Nice and Smooth "Hip-hop Junkies”, Jungle Brothers "J Beez Comin Thru”, Black Sheep "Choice Is Yours”, A Tribe Called Quest "Can I Kick It".
What you’ve got to remember is that back then New York was still the center of the world when it came to clubs and music and particularly hip hop. I mean all these records were breaking out of New York on the weekend mix shows and in clubs like Building. Back then, people went to clubs to hear their favorite song, which they heard on the radio. You would go to a club, to hear records that were hot, but you’re also going to hear new music. And that wasn’t something that would frustrate people—that was something that people looked forward to.
Building was a short-lived club. People were genuinely heartbroken when it closed down. It never went through the normal lifecycle of a club where, when it opens it’s hot, and then it gets less popular, and then, sadly, it becomes a hip hop spot. Building was very pro hip hop. I mean they had a lot of different things going on, but the hip hop nights weren’t just an afterthought or a footnote to a club’s previous glory days. From the jump, they were doing hip hop nights.
Do you have any Building stories?
Actually, I do have a Building story…it’s kind of a sad story. Kid Capri and I eventually became friends, I would say this was probably like ‘93, ’94. And we were hanging out and he tells me that he wants to buy Building and reopen it as his own club. I said, “Oh that’d be so cool, a deejay opening a club.” And then later that day, I happened to be in that neighborhood and I drove by where the Building was and it had just been torn down. It was a pile of rubble.