Chatham Square: home to the city’s whorearchy

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]

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5 Responses to “Chatham Square: home to the city’s whorearchy”

  1. petey Says:

    when scorsese was shooting ‘gangs of new york’ he had to do it in italy (cinecitta) becuase, he said, there simply was no place left in the city (or very very few) that looked as it did back then. amazing picture, new yourk as a city of three storey buildings with awnings.

  2. Bob_in_MA Says:

    Timothy Gilfoyle’s book is great. He really did a lot of research.

    I have another of his books, “A Pickpocket’s Tale”, where talks about crime and the penal system. In in he describes Blackwell’s (now Roosevelt) Island, where the prison, poor house and a hospital were located.

    He makes it sound chaotic, people (including prisoners) could wander about. Here’s a picture from Brooklyn Public Library taken on Blackwell’s in 1892.

    Look at the center background, it looks to me like she pulled up her skirt during the exposure. I swear I can even see a devilsh expression on her face.

    http://catalog.brooklynpubliclibrary.org/record=b11422612~S64

  3. Sandra Says:

    You could have chosen a more appropriate title of choice for this post – its extremely sexist and offensive. “Whorearchy”, really? Wow.

    • april Says:

      I believe George Templeton Strong was quoted there (as noted above). I had the same thought at first, albeit fleetingly, because men are far more often whores than the females they deem as such.

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