Larry Bloch, who opened Wetlands club, dies at 59
By JAMES C. McKINLEY JR.
THE NEW YORK TIMES | November 04,2012
Larry Bloch, who built the Wetlands Preserve in the TriBeCa section of Manhattan into an influential rock club and a hub of environmental activism, died last week at his home in Brattleboro, Vt. He was 59.
The cause was pancreatic cancer, his wife, Lisa Bloch, said.
Bloch had owned a printing business in Santa Monica, Calif., and had no experience as a nightclub owner or a music impresario when he opened Wetlands in a former food warehouse on a lonely stretch of Hudson Street in Manhattan in 1989.
But he was a die-hard fan of 1960s psychedelic rock, particularly the Grateful Dead, and had become a passionate environmentalist while working with Greenpeace in the mid-1980s. He envisioned a music club that would encourage people to become active in environmental causes.
“I started Wetlands with two untapped passions of mine in mind,” he told The New York Times in 1995. “One was my desire to entertain people, and the other was my desire to be an activist and an environmentalist.”
Wetlands became a center of the burgeoning jam-band scene, presenting acts like Phish and the Dave Matthews Band. Bloch also nurtured several New York acts that went on to become successful, among them Blues Traveler, Spin Doctors and Joan Osborne. Among the other notable bands that played the club early in their careers were Pearl Jam, Oasis, and Hootie and the Blowfish.
A carved wooden sign near the entrance of the club, an earthy two-level establishment, carried Bloch’s motto: “We Labor to Birth Our Dance With the Earth.” Inside, a 1966 Volkswagen van, plastered with peace stickers, served as a concession stand, selling tie-dyed shirts, anti-war bumper stickers and “Question Authority” buttons. (The van is now part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s collection.) The walls were thick with petitions and fliers.
Downstairs was a dark lounge full of beat-up furniture called the Inner Sanctum. There Bloch held weekly political gatherings, known as Eco-Saloon sessions, to discuss topics like animal rights and the destruction of the rain forest. He used some of the club’s profits to hire a staff that organized petition drives and protests.
Lawrence Clifford Bloch was born on Sept. 18, 1953, in Philadelphia, but grew up on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. His father, Ephraim, owned Perfect Fit Industries, a bedclothes business. His mother, Miriam, was an art dealer.
Bloch went to high school at Riverdale Country School in the Bronx and briefly attended Washington University in St. Louis before dropping out to move to the Los Angeles area. There he bought a printing business and married Laura Bourque, whom he had met when she applied for work in his shop.
The couple sold the printing company and moved east in the mid-’80s when their son, Aaron, was born. After Bloch opened Wetlands, the family settled in Fairfield, Conn. The couple divorced in 1995, and she moved with their son to New Hampshire.
Bloch stayed at Wetlands for another year, then sold the club to a 23-year-old concert promoter, Peter Shapiro, extracting a promise that Shapiro would continue to spend at least $100,000 a year on the club’s environmental mission. Wetlands closed in 2001 when the building was converted to condominiums.
To be closer to his son, Bloch moved to Brattleboro and opened Save the Corporations From Themselves, a store that sold clothing made of hemp and organic cotton. In a room above the store he established another environmentalist salon, the Activist Attic. He also founded a community radio station, WVEW, where he was the host of a music show and served as program director.
In addition to his wife and his son, Bloch is survived by his sister, Michele B. Bloch.