Posts Tagged ‘Bowery street’

The noisy, gritty Bowery north of Grand Street

February 20, 2014

Imagine the constant, ear-splitting roar of the Third Avenue elevated trains, the grimy shadows cast by steel tracks, the sounds of horse hoofs, wagon wheels, and streetcars traveling up and down the street.

Bowerypostcard

It’s the legendary turn-of-the-century Bowery, the seedy main drag memorialized in the refrain of the 1891 hit “The Bowery”:

“They say such things
And they do strange things
On the Bow’ry!
The Bow’ry!
I’ll never go there any more!”

Three centuries and three views of the Bowery

March 7, 2013

“In pre-Colonial days, the Bowery was a country lane, running between the ‘bouweries’ (farms) of the Dutch burghers,” the caption to this 1888 photo reminds us. It’s part of the fascinating photo collection New York Then and Now, published by Dover in 1976.

The 19th century history of the Bowery is well known: it went from premier entertainment district to a skid row of cheap theaters, flophouses, and eponymous bums.

Bowerycanal1888

What’s interesting in the above photo of Bowery at Canal Street is that the tracks of the Third Avenue El, constructed in 1878, are on each side of the street.

“In 1915 the structure and stations were rebuilt, with the addition of an express track, and were moved to the center of the street, providing more light for pedestrians and stores,” the book explains.

Boweryandcanal1975

Here is the same intersection in 1975. No more elevated; no more horses and wagons. Chinatown has edged in, yet most of the tenements that existed 87 years earlier are still there.

And so is the faded ad for “Carriage Materials” on the east side of the street!

Bowerycanalst2013

The carriage materials ad has been painted over by 2013, and some of the old tenements and the big wooden water tower on the far right are gone too.

The intersection of Bowery and Canal Streets looks like one more bustling traffic-choked corner.

The very humble beginnings of Union Square

February 23, 2013

Behold the sparse, lonely junction of Broadway and the Bowery at 14th Street, as well as the patch of green in the foreground that marks the southern end of today’s Union Square.

This is how the square appeared to New Yorkers who ventured up this far from the center of the city in 1828—no big box stores, no M14 bus, no NYU students milling around.

Unionsquarebroadwaybowery

Amazing, right? Artist Albertis Del Orient Browere painted it from memory in 1885, according to Painting the Town, a book produced by the Museum of the City of New York.

In 1828, Union Square was called Union Place. “The building boom that would bring fine residences, elegant hotels, exclusive boarding schools, and subsequently, theaters and commercial enterprises to the square lay twenty years in the future,” the book says.

“Union Place, first called the Forks to describe the junction of the Bowery, Broadway, and University Place at 14th Street, originated as a burial ground for indigent people. As the city continued to grow, the cemetery was transformed into a park, making Union Square a desirable location for those wealthy New Yorkers who constituted the vanguard of the northward migration.”

New York’s skinny little holdout buildings

September 10, 2012

Meet the holdout buildings—small, slender structures owned by residents who refused to sell to a developer.

As a result, developers simply constructed taller, wider building around them, making these little homes look like dollhouses.

These in-between buildings are leftover remnants of an older New York, one not dominated by skyscrapers and towering loft buildings.

Often neglected and not in the best shape, they’re treasures hiding in plain site all over the city.

This Chelsea home, above, with the lovely shutters, is surrounded by two postwar apartment buildings. I wonder what it’s like to live there.

I have no idea when this drab little house went up on the Bowery. It looks like a placeholder between its two neighbors.

This itty bitty building on Lexington Avenue in the 50s sits between two giant office structures, and it looks like it predates both.

I imagine it was once part of a row of functional, not particularly distinctive brownstones, before this stretch of Midtown turned corporate.

Below is another teeny garage, probably a former stable, in Chelsea.

The ceiling is sinking in, and it looks long-neglected. But it’s hanging on, still part of the streetscape.

You can’t help but root for them, right? Check out more holdout buildings here.

Chatham Square: home to the city’s whorearchy

February 16, 2012

In the 1820s, it was an open-air market for horses and dry goods bordering a genteel neighborhood of row houses (as seen here, in an illustration looking back on 1812).

By the 1850s, Chatham Square was kind of the Times Square of its day, a seedy district of flophouses, taverns, cheap merchants, and the city’s first tattoo parlors on the outskirts of the East Side’s notorious Five Points slum.

How seedy was it? Describing the prostitution rampant there in his book City of Eros, Timothy J. Gilfoyle writes:

“Along its western edge, the Bowery and Chatham Square were a bourse of sex. The patrician George Templeton Strong claimed that after nightfall, amid the theaters, saloons, dance halls, and cheap lodging houses, the thoroughfare overflowed with ‘members of the whorearchy in most slatternly deshabille.’

“Once elegant eighteenth-century residences like that of the merchant Edward Mooney at 18 Bowery now served as brothels.”

Like everything in New York, the red-light districts change as well. Prohibition, the Depression, a growing Chinatown, and slum clearance all remade Chatham Square into a messy but not sleazy intersection off the Bowery.

It’s now known as Kimlau Square, which honors American servicemen of Chinese ancestry who died for their country.

[Above photo: an 1853 Daguerreotype of Chatham Street, now Park Row, looking toward the Square]

How 19th century New Yorkers spent Sundays

October 21, 2011

During the workweek, the city was fast-paced and cutthroat, just as it is today.

But in the 19th century, that workweek generally ran from Monday through Saturday.

Which made Sunday the city’s day of leisure, when the mood of New York drastically changed, explains James McCabe’s Lights and Shadows of New York Life, from 1873.

“On Sunday morning New York puts on its holiday dress. The stores are closed, the streets have a deserted aspect, for the crowds of vehicles, animals, and human beings that fill them on other days are absent.”

Around 10 o’clock, New Yorkers went to church—preferably on Fifth Avenue, so well-to-do residents could promenade on the city’s most fashionable street afterward.

“The toilettes of the ladies show well here, and it is a pleasant place to meet one’s acquaintances,” says McCabe.

Dinner was served at 1 p.m.; servants had the rest of the day off. “After dinner, your New Yorker, male or female, thinks of enjoyment.” That meant more promenading, a drive in Central Park, or if you were working class, a picnic in the park or skating session on one of the frozen lakes.

Concerts were well-attended; saloons had plenty of business too. By sunset, “the Bowery brightens up wonderfully, and after nightfall the street is ablaze with a thousand gaslights. . . . Bowery beer-gardens do a good business.”

And with Sunday over, it was time to start the workweek . . . and do it all over again.

[Top two illustrations: NYPL digital collection]


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