A moment in time somewhere on the Bowery

An abandoned street cleaning cart. Men in hats walking alone. A streetcar traveling on dusty Belgian block pavement, an elevated train overhead, a succession of store signs and advertisements.

It’s just a glimpse in time around the turn of the century on the Bowery. But where, exactly? One of the buildings has 57 on it, suggesting 57 Bowery. That address no longer exists; it would have been near the entrance of the Manhattan Bridge.

There’s another sign that might give us a clue: the ad propped against a pole at the edge of the sidewalk. It looks like the first word is “London.” A theater with that name existed at 235 Bowery, where the New Museum is today between Stanton and Rivington Streets.

Whatever the exact address is, you can practically feel the energy and vitality—the pulse of a street now synonymous with a lowbrow kind New York life.

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15 Responses to “A moment in time somewhere on the Bowery”

  1. Tom B Says:

    I remember my first trip to the Bowery. It was on a Gray Line Tour Bus in 1977. The guide gave us a heads up about the place before we entered. I saw a man passed out or dead just laying in the middle of the sidewalk. People just walked around him. It was horrifying to see. The last time I was there went shopping at Johnny Varvatos. Pining for those good old days, NOT.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Now you can see people passed out for various reasons in all parts of the city, and the Bowery is a luxury hotel district.

  2. Alex Kohen Says:

    Thanks as always for these posts!

    Looks like the sign on 57 says “Saranac”. On page 12 of this book on Irving Berlin, it references time spent on the Bowery including a bar he used to sing at at 57 Bowery named the Saranac: https://books.google.com/books?id=DqZFJQZiiXIC&pg=PA12&lpg=PA12&dq=saranac+bowery+store+manhattan&source=bl&ots=VS7WJJD9zX&sig=ACfU3U0Emd4-TVuS0daVnS1xluFVOFoufA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjn9ZyX9fbzAhWMT98KHUICDssQ6AF6BAgrEAI#v=onepage&q=saranac%20bowery%20store%20manhattan&f=false

    (In case the link doesn’t work it’s the Irving Berlin Reader edited by Benjamin Sears and it’s word searchable on Google Books).

    • countrypaul Says:

      Alex, that is fascinating reading! I guess my impression, over the sanitized years, was that Irving Berlin was somehow more, perhaps, elegant. He comes off as a real New York character in the segment you referenced and beyond to the chapter break. (Also worth noting: the casual racist epithet, a bit of a surprise from a Jewish guy who no doubt was on the receiving end of some epithets as well.)

    • The Hatching Cat Says:

      An 1898 article says 57 Bowery was “a Raines law hotel” — a two-story establishment conducted by Florence J. Sullivan. A 1903 article says it was Donovan’s saloon. So that would be Biggie Donovan, as mentioned in the book.

  3. Ian Schoenherr Says:

    It looks like it *is* 57 Bowery, between Canal and Bayard. The same address can be seen in a March 14, 1908, Harper’s Weekly article about the Bowery Mission (then at 53 Bowery):

    https://books.google.com/books?id=azEjy42vlmQC&lpg=RA7-PA10&ots=UEicCtwWH5&dq=%2257%20saranac%22%20%22bowery%22&pg=RA7-PA10#v=onepage&q&f=false

  4. Newport Carl Says:

    Have you seen this?

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Wow, this is incredible. I need some time to really dig into it and be transported back in time. Thanks so much for posting it.

  5. countrypaul Says:

    I love the elevated train in the photo referenced by Bob Fitterman (thank you, Bob), back when the el trains ran right next to buildings. Does anyone know when new el construction moved the tracks to the middle of the road rather than at the edges? It must have been hell for people with windows facing the tracks when the sooty little steamers rumbled by!

    Newport Carl, thank you for the 1945 video; it was the year of my birth. Interesting that there are no crosswalks painted and that jaywalkers were just as crazy then as now. (I also loved the two guys stopping to stare at the camera car.) A note: no new cars came off the line between 1942 and 1946 because of the war effort, so everyone was driving “old cars,” and I’m sure the street noise was much louder and more erratic in volume than the ambient soundtrack. There are a lot of these colorized old videos on YouTube from various eras; many are worth checking. Equally as interesting are the comments (“I wanna go back,” “I’d never go back,” “the world sucks,” etc., as well as a few personal reminiscences).

    • ironrailsironweights Says:

      Around 1915 to 1917 the line shown here, the Third Avenue El, got a third track added as part of a major transit improvement program known as the Dual Contracts. It ran between the two existing tracks over the center of the street and allowed for better peak direction service. Two additional lines would have allowed for full express service but there wasn’t enough room.

      Peter

  6. chungwong Says:

    Enlarge to see Saranac (lower right) in this Shorpy photo which says Bowery near Grand 1900. http://www.shorpy.com/node/7418?size=_original#caption

  7. chungwong Says:

    Here’s a map of the block. Bowery Mission was at 55 Bowery before being moved for Manhattan Bridge 1910-12. Kalieh Theatre was in the middle of the block (not sure where one entered). 57 Bowery was under Canal Street Station of the El right at Bowery and Canal (see Shorpy Photo in prior comment). https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/96e7ad32-1e9d-5c64-e040-e00a18064991

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