Posts Tagged ‘bowery’

What if the city really did rename the Bowery?

August 23, 2012

The first attempt to change the name of the city’s oldest thoroughfare appears to have been in 1895.

A New York Times article reported a rumor that the Bowery, an English corruption of the Dutch term for farm, bouwerie, would soon be known as Parkhurst Avenue.

It had to be a joke. Parkhurst was Charles Parkhurst, a social reformer who battled the Tammany-backed gangs and saloons that made up the tacky, crime-ridden Bowery in the late 19th century.

The next try at a less low-rent moniker, according to a Times piece from 1897, was Piccadilly. Why Piccadilly? It was never explained—but the proposal didn’t gain any ground.

Another stab at a new name to shed the Bowery stigma happened in 1916. Business owners who wanted a “fresh start” suggested Central Broadway and Cooper Avenue. Dignified, yes, but very dull.

Again, the suggestions went no where. After that, Bowery merchants and residents seem to have thrown in the towel and accepted that their street would always be the city’s skid row.

[Photo: Bowery in 1910, NYPL Digital Collection]

Hunger and hopelessness on the Bowery

September 30, 2009

If New York had to nominate one street as its most rock-bottom skid row ever, it would probably have to be the Bowery. Not the Bowery of 2009, of course, with its influx of luxe hotels and boutiques.

bowerybreadline.jpgI’m thinking of the Bowery of 1909, where down-on-their-luck men stood on bread lines and passed time in 15-cent hotel rooms, as these Library of Congress photos show.

If a man found himself on the Bowery, that was pretty much it for him. He’d sunk as low as you could go, and things weren’t going to get better.

Theodore Dreiser understood this when he wrote Sister Carrie. It’s an underrated turn-of-the-century New York novel chronicling the rise of a young, ambitious actress (kind of a Carrie Bradshaw of the 1890s) juxtaposed with the fall of her older common-law husband. 

Sister Carrie ends with the husband, the unemployed, weakened, and abandoned Hurstwood, committing suicide in a Bowery flophouse:

Boweryflophouse“Hurstwood laid down his fifteen cents and crept of with weary steps to his allotted room. It was a dingy affair—wooden, dusty, hard. A small gas-jet furnished sufficient light for so rueful a corner.

“‘Hm!’ He said, clearing his throat and locking the door.

“Now he began leisurely to take off his clothes, but stopped first with his coat, and tucked it along the crack under the door. His vest he arranged in the same place. His old wet, cracked hat he laid softly upon the table. Then he pulled off his shoes and laid down.

“It seemed as if he thought for a while, for now he arose and turned the gas out, standing calmly in the blackness, hidden from view. After a few moments, in which he reviewed nothing, but merely hesitated, he turned the gas on again, but applied no match. Even then he stood there, hidden wholly in that kindness which is night, while the uprising fumes filled the room. When the odour reached his nostrils, he quit his attitude and fumbled for the bed.

“‘What’s the use?’ he said, weakly, as he stretched himself to rest.”

When horses powered New York

May 23, 2008

The American Museum of Natural History just launched its horse exhibit, which makes this a good time to consider the equine era in New York City. It’s only been 100 years or so since cars and trucks began to replace horses as a major mode of transit above ground. This photo is from 1888; check out the horses pulling streetcars (to Harlem!) at Bowery and Canal. 

Reminders of horse power abound, like this equine water fountain under the 59th Street Bridge. It was built in 1919 for use in the open-air market that existed there at the time, a market likely packed with horse carts, which were still a common sight in the 1940s and even the 1950s.

I only know of two other horse drinking fountains in the city. One is on Central Park South just inside the park off Sixth Avenue; the other sits at the Southeast corner of the park. Both were presented to the ASPCA in the early 1900s. And they both still work!