A Hidden East Village Gallery

Walking down the quiet, shady block of East 3rd Street between Avenues C and D, the last thing you would expect to stumble upon is an art gallery.  But look no further than number 292 where you will find a community gallery, founded by squatters, officially known as Bullet Space.

L: 292 East 3rd Street in 1991 (photo courtesy of Bullet Space); R: 292 East 3rd Street today

If you’re intrigued, let’s start at the beginning.  This five-story building was built in 1867 as a pre-law tenement.   Throughout most of the 20th century, the building remained apartments and changed hands frequently.  That is, until the 80’s, where our story begins.In 1983, an artist named Andrew Castrucci, along with his brother Paul and a female friend, moved into this then-boarded-up and vacant building as squatters.  Using a sledgehammer that Paul carried in his guitar case, they smashed through the back wall and fixed up the interior for living.  Eventually, Castrucci and a few metal worker acquaintances built four metal, wood-burning stoves to use for heat.  Before long, they were putting on art shows and plays in their space, which they named Bullet Space after the brand of heroin being sold on the block at the time.  They had a printing press and created books called, “Your House is Mine,” in which, among other subjects, they chronicled the Tompkins Square Park Riots and the unity that followed them.  According to an article in the Villager, each book weighed 16 pounds.  (In fact, these books were on display at the Museum of Modern Art, the New York Public Library, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2009.)  In 1998 the New Museum of Contemporary Art held an exhibition that showcased Bullet Space’s art, poetry readings, and performances.

L: 292 East 3rd Street in 1986, just after Castrucci and his fellow squatters moved in; R: squatters doing roof repairs at 292 (images courtesy of Bullet Space)

In 2002, however, New York City altered its nearly two-decade-long policy of evicting squatters from abandoned buildings and allowed inhabitants of eleven buildings (this was only a portion of squatters’ buildings on the Lower East Side), one of which was 292 East 3rd Street (another was the Umbrella House that we previously wrote about), to became legal owners of their buildings. The nonprofit organization, Urban Homesteading Assistance Board (UHAB), negotiated a deal with the City that allowed squatters in these eleven properties to buy their homes for $1.

L: Andrew Castrucci showing a light box with slides of the works from “Your House Is Mine” (courtesy of the Villager); R: a shot inside Bullet Space, date unknown

In January of 2010 Castrucci held an exhibition at 292 East Third Street, in honor of the squat’s 25th anniversary, titled, “The Perfect Crime: Andrew Castrucci & the Bullet Space Archive 1983-2008.”  One of the objects shown was the guitar case and sledgehammer.  Also on display were artifacts found when the backyard was excavated, including an 1863 “New York City Penny,” a plastic methadone bottle, and segments of clay pipes.  These were found in a former well (which was later used as an outhouse and finally a garbage pit) that is ten feet deep.  Castrucci feels that he and his fellow squatters helped to slow gentrification in the East Village and he is the last of the original Bullet Space squatters still living in the tenement, which is now seven apartments.  Today the ground floor continues to operate as Bullet Space, “an act of resistance.  A community access center for images, words, and sounds of the inner city.”  To find out more information on the East Village/Lower East Side and see what you can do to help preserve the rich neighborhood history, visit our East Village Preservation Page.

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Dana

Dana was GVSHP’s Programs and Administrative Associate from 2010 to 2013.