199 Lafayette Street


BW 199 Lafayette Moving Notice. 1975. Museum of Chinese in America, Basement Workshop Collection.

A 3,000 square foot loft space on the twelfth floor of 199 Lafayette became the new homebase for Basement’s ever-expanding endeavors. Volunteers and staff worked night and day to make their visions of an expansive arts organization into a reality. After one year of long nights consisting of installing plumbing, lighting fixtures, and drywall, Basement had built out spaces for a sound studio, darkroom, silkscreen workshop, resource library, dance studio and performance space, woodworking space, and administrative offices. 

Member and photographer, Christian Frey, who helped build out the darkroom, recalls Sunday Jazz jam sessions with musicians of all ages and racial backgrounds in the Basement’s sound studio. Despite the building’s landlords turning off the elevators on weekend, people lugged their instruments up 12 flights of stairs just to spend time with one another and play music.  Renowned Japanese actor, Mako, taught theatre workshops on his days off from performing on Broadway’s Pacific Overtures. As word spread about the organization’s creative breadth, the Basement was the place to be. The ambition was infectious. Artists, writers, and performers flocked to the Basement with their range of arts resources available for free or low-cost usage. 

While growing the arts side of the organization, Basement continued maintaining their facilities at Catherine Street for administrative and social services-oriented activities. The different locations of Basement exacerbated tensions between different members and community members in Chinatown. 

By Fall 1977, director, Fay Chiang, sought out real estate to purchase as Basement’s lease at 199 Lafayette was expiring. In the midst of this process, Fay requested a leave of absence and organized an interim board to lead the organization and the potential acquisition of an old school building on Henry Street. Fay wrote years later in a reflection on Basement’s closure that the interim board had forced her out, only asking her to return to the organization in April 1979 as a fundraiser with the organization $25,000 in debt. Basement was unable to renew their Lafayette lease. Fay and a few remaining volunteers were left to pick up the pieces. The remaining space at Catherine Street would see them through to their next stage.

Travel to other locations of the Basement Workshop: