By Brittany Brave
Andy Warhol is a pop culture icon, but before the world fell for his creative craft, he was simply a struggling artist named, Andrew Warhola.
It’s hard to imagine Warhol in the days before Studio 54 and “The Factory”, but at one point he was just one of faceless millions, meandering around the City, trying to find himself.
The story behind Warhol’s life began in Pittsburgh and by the time of his death in February 1987, Warhol had become a world-famous artist, social commentator, pioneer, celebrity and businessman. He had transformed the way we see life.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – 73 Orr Street
Andy was raised in a paper-thin shack, identical to the two-dozen on his block, and in the company of his parents and two older brothers, Paul and John. There was no bathroom, only a shared “commode” between the neighbors, and no heat to ease the winters. It was during the Great Depression in the 1930s, so everyone in the Warhola family worked hard, pinched pennies and lived the quintessential lifestyle of most Eastern Europeans.
The family upgraded to a two-bedroom apartment on Beelen Street before moving into their first house, and arguably, their first home. They hoarded dollars and packed belongings, slept on floors and in dark attics, and a rambunctious Andy taunted his landlords every chance he got. No matter the home, he always carried his early fascination with sketching and Hollywood cinema with him, especially to his first art classes at the Carnegie Institute of Technology.
New York City was the first to witness Andy in his professional prime as a budding commercial artist and college graduate. He put his Bachelor’s Degree in pictorial design to good use and packed his bags with longtime friend, Philip Pearlstein. He was driven to the city by the promise of employment from Glamour editor, Tina Fredericks. She kept her word, and almost immediately, Warhol’s work landed a spot in the star-struck, silver-screen magazine he religiously followed. Ironically enough, his breakthrough illustration was for a feature titled “Success is a Job in New York.” Art imitated life, and Glamour was but the first of many magazines that warranted Andy’s talents, also including Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.
Upper East Side – 1342 Lexington Ave.
1342 Lexington Avenue looks like any other brownstown on the Upper East Side. You pass it without realizing the history and creative force that once roamed the rooms. For Warhol, this address was the Factory, his work, his life, and no soup label or comic strip displays that better than this place. The Factory proved resilient and stood the test of time and distance. Its traditions, memories and expectations for glamour and debauchery remained constant even as Warhol nomadically traveled all over the City and the Upper East Side.
Purchased in 1959, Warhol and his mother, Julia, moved into this five-story townhouse. There was plenty of room for the two to live comfortably alongside all of his canvasses and supplies. There was clutter in the form of soup labels and Brilla pads, and 25 cats nestled in windowsills or on top of the fireplace.
Warhol’s relatives treated the Factory as a wacky, whimsical museum of sorts, but for Andy, it was a glass case of all things. Advertiser by day and artist by night, Warhol fashioned the series that would become synonymous with his name, Pop Art, inside this building.
Midtown – 231 E. 47th Street
Warhol’s profile rose quickly, so it wasn’t long before he left 1342 Lexington for a new Factory at 231 East 47th Street. The fifth floor loft in Midtown Manhattan was more than a place to rest his head with his in-house lovers. It was an effervescent blend of work and pleasure. It also rotated in and out, a constant influx of art, socialites and creativity.
Billy Name, a close confidante of the up-and-coming creator, decorated the apartment, covering the walls in tin-foil. The metallic appearance and superstar guest list was so overwhelming that people loosely referred to it as the “Silver Factory.”
Most nights, Warhol toiled away at silk-screened images and perfected his blotted-line technique here, as friends and strangers took full advantage of this new home, often with the help of amphetamines and a cocktail of other drugs. Their behavior and questionable habits were later revealed to inspire the entire look of the apartment and its pull with young New Yorkers. The Factory offered free love, unfiltered expression and the chance to rub elbows, and maybe even become the subject of Andy’s next piece.
Yet, when the parties died down, The Factory’s quieter moments were anything but slow. Warhol was a one-man assembly line, producing shoes, films and virtually anything that would result in profit. Included in his ventures was classic rock-and-roll band, the Velvet Underground. The unbridled, borderline reckless spirit welcomed curiosity and grunge of all kinds, and Warholite icons like Holly Woodlawn, Candy Darling, Joe Dallesandro, Jackie Curtis and more helped to create a hub for mass production and pivotal NYC history.
Union Square – 33 Union Square
This eleven-story Union Building became known as the “White Factory,” and production increased ten-fold, just as Andy had imagined.
It was nearly impossible to strip the Factory of all of its “silver,” but while recreational elements still remained, the whiter Mecca was focused on business and growth. As Warhol’s reputation boomed, the Factory was constantly in motion with new work and projects for high profile clients.The screening room saw many negotiations and ventures, including the birth of InterviewMagazine. Yet, its windows of opportunity also caught winds of competition, danger and trauma for the “Pope of POP.”
Brush with Death
The revolving doors of the Factory made Valerie Solanas’ entry a breeze. In 1968, a power struggle over a screenplay occurred between Warhol and Solanas, the president of the Society for Cutting Up Men, and a clash of egos nearly killed Warhol.
Solanas waited in the White Factory for Warhol’s arrival at 4 p.m., and within minutes, fired several bullets at Warhol.
A press frenzy ensued after he was falsely pronounced clinically dead, but Warhol managed to regain consciousness. His chest and abdominal wounds represented an extremely unrestricted person with an invaded home, so Warhol tightened his fast-paced, free-flowing life. He installed surveillance cameras, fired his assistant, Gerard Melanga, and shifted goals.
The characteristically risk-taking artist took a step back from his daring originality, playing it safe both practically and inventively. Essentially, Warhol deemed himself the topic of his next experiment – finally untying his public and private lives.
Midtown East – 57 E. 66th St. (Between Madison Ave. and Park Ave.)
Andy spent his last years in this 1902 townhouse, settling down with boyfriend Jed Johnson and his pet Dachshunds. He reveled in his comfortable status, which granted him an extensive network of celebrity contacts and income from commissioned work and requested portraits. His frequent relocations inspired the Andy Warhol Time Capsules, and he began to collect trinkets that documented his everyday life, composing more than 600 packages by his death at the age of 59.
Studio 54 was one of Warhol’s favorite hotspots. When he wished to revamp his wardrobe, he happily splurged in Bloomingdale’s.
He indulged his celebrity fascinations by people-watching and regularly dining at the Plaza Hotel. Warhol’s deep infatuation with all kinds of fame, fortune and success amount to only a fraction of the actual affluence he achieved for himself. While his ambitions lead him to wander throughout the City, it was his talents that ensured he made an impression with world.
Warhol devoted every part of himself to New York City — imitating, honoring and challenging it. And the city repaid him back with admiration and devotion. Today, the World of Warhol and the remnants of his life are still very much alive throughout the City.