Guerrilla Plaques Document Offbeat LES Cultural Spaces of the ’90s and ‘00s

Posted on: November 8th, 2019 at 5:08 am by

Surf Reality Plaque. Photo: Reverend Jen.

We’ve written a lot of articles in recent years about how one has to look a bit harder to find underground art, performance and just plain wonderful weirdness in the hyper-gentrified Lower East Side climate.

Recently, anonymously made plaques appeared with the histories of some beloved performance and art spaces from the 1990s and early 2000s.

Artist, performer and writer Reverend Jen got a tip about these newly installed plaques, including one celebrating her world famous Troll Museum which had been located at 124 Orchard Street.

Other plaques Reverend Jen spotted mark the locations of performance spaces Surf Reality at 172 Allen Street (opened in 1993), and Collective:Unconscious at 145 Ludlow (opened in 1997).

The Troll Museum text reads:

124 ORCHARD ST.
THE TROLL MUSEUM

Site of the former Lower East Side Troll Museum, home to artist Reverend Jen, her companion Reverend Jen Jr., and a diverse collection of over 400 trolls.

In 2016, the Troll Museum was the site of a massive steam pipe explosion that damaged a large portion of the collection, including art pieces and the trolls themselves. Scars of the disaster can still be seen around the museum, which include warped paintings, washed out letters, and even a blinded troll. Other damaging incidents have been attributed to the earthquake of 2011, pyromaniac friends with blowtorches, and Reverend Jen’s troll-munching chihuahua, Rev. Jen Jr.

Troll Museum Plaque. Photo: Reverend Jen.

At Surf Reality, the text reads:

172 ALLEN ST.
SURF REALITY

Surf Reality’s House of Urban Savages, also known as Surf Reality was a laboratory for experimental performance of all kinds known for comedy performance, art, classic burlesque modern music, vaudeville and experimental theater. The theater also served as the home for Faceboyz Open Mic. Other acts that passed through Surf include the Upright Citizens Brigade, Todd Barry, Dave Chappelle, Maggie Estep and Jonathan Ames.

“When we first opened in 1993” says Surf Reality founder Robert Prichard, “there was a brothel in our basement, and the space now occupied by the Buestocking Bookstore.. The building also featured a pawn shop. It’s like we were a downtown mall for outlaws. There radically one could boost some goods, redeem them for a cash at the pawn shop, cop a little blow, grab a date from the basement, and then come up stairs to see a show.

Collective:Unconscious Plaque. Photo: Reverend Jen.

Rumor has it that a group called Shadow Traffic might know something about all of this. They describe themselves as producers and curators of “immersive installations within interstitial areas of the urban landscape.” They are giving tours of these plaques from today through Sunday (November 10).

We’re not sure if any other plaques exist, but suspect there might be more strewn through the Lower East Side. Certainly, there’s a lot of almost-lost history and culture to celebrate.

Recent Stories

LES Synagogue Pursues Removal of Deed Restriction to Redevelop for Residential

As reported last month, the Lutowisker Synagogue on the eastern fringe of Delancey Street is headed toward redevelopment. The congregation, which owns the building and has been present on the Lower East Side since 1877, hopes to construct housing atop its house of worship. The proposal as it stands is to expand the building at […]

Famous Hakki Opens ‘Cluck’s’ Fried Chicken Spot on Essex Street

Famous pizza maker Hakki Akdeniz just unveiled his latest fast food concept. It’s chicken-focused fast food and seems poised to collect plenty of cash from weekend revelers in Hell Square. Cluck’s debuted last week at 115 Essex Street, mere steps from Hakki’s Champion Pizza. The signature menu offering here is the “chicken cone,” which is […]

Caught Red-Handed: Spa Ordered Shut for Prostitution

Yet another Lower East Side “spa” is busted for prostitution. Grand Healing at 297 Grand Street was ordered shut by the police department at the end of October. It precedes the sex-related closure of Good Luck Spa on Orchard Street, yet appears part of the same crackdown. (Just take a look at that calligraphy in […]

City Honors Sun Yat-Sen with Plaza and Permanent Statue in Columbus Park

Mayor de Blasio, Councilwoman Margaret Chin, and other politicians this week dedicated a slice Chinatown’s Columbus Park to Dr. Sun Yat-Sen. This past Tuesday, what would have been the 153rd birthday of the founding father of China, also marked the return of the bronze statue after the city excavated a new permanent home. The area […]

Enter the ‘Lion’s Den’ with Lee Quinones on Delancey

An iconic handball mural from one of the local greats is again on display. Strolling down Delancey Street this past week, you may have noticed the fifteen-foot replica of Lee Quinones‘ “Lion’s Den” mural. It’s fastened to the facade of the James Fuentes Gallery as part of his one-man show there. The “Lion’s Den” dates […]