In honor of what would have been Lou Reed’s 73rd birthday today, we are dedicating this blog post to the building that served as the birthplace for Reed’s and John Cale’s Velvet Underground! The old building on 56 Ludlow Street was originally built as a tenement, but in the 1960’s, it became home to artists and musicians looking for a cheap place to live. When John Cale and filmmaker Tony Conrad moved into the building in 1964, rent was $25—about $190 in today’s currency.
After Cale and Reed met in 1964 in Queens, the two soon began playing, writing, and recording the songs that would appear on the Velvet Underground’s debut album, The Velvet Underground & Nico. Reed never moved into the apartment, despite rumors that he lived there. According to Cale, Reed commuted every day to the apartment from his parents’ house on Long Island.
The Velvets posing outside of 52 Ludlow Street, just a few doors down from Cale's apartment.
The group went by a number of different names such as The Warlocks and The Falling Spikes, but eventually changed their name to The Velvet Underground after an S&M novel of the same name that Tony Conrad found on the street. Cale thought it was the perfect name for the band, saying that there was nothing velvet about the situation they found themselves in, burning furniture and crates in the fireplace for warmth and living off of milkshakes and canned soup.
The next year, the group met Andy Warhol and instantly became a central part of the New York City music and art scene. Today, the Velvets are considered by many to be one of the most influential and important rock bands of all time.
56 Ludlow today. Do the steps and white door three doors to the right look familiar? They're the backdrop of the band's 52 Ludlow Street group shot.