Thimble factory, bakery, oyster house, hotel, barroom, Faro bank, shooting gallery: the twin buildings at 40-42 Bowery, built in 1807, have had lots of occupants throughout the 19th century.
Reminiscent of other Federal-style houses constructed nearby, numbers 40 and 42 feature “Flemish-bond masonry, steeply pitched roofs with single peaked dormers on the front and back, gable-end chimneys and some stone lintels,” according to the Historic Districts Council.
Even at the dawn of the 19th century, housing wasn’t cheap. In 1826, renting one for a year ran you a cool $1000, according to this Evening Post ad (right).
But you did get to live a few doors down from the Bowery Theater (below, in 1828), once a high-class, gas-lit establishment that began featuring lowbrow entertainment as the Bowery devolved into the eastern border of the Five Points slum.
It’s during Five Points’ heyday when these two buildings earned their notoriety. In 1857, 40-42 Bowery functioned as a gang headquarters and was the site of one of the city’s bloodiest gang fights.
Number 42 “was once a clubhouse for the Bowery Boys and Atlantic Guards, two of the warring factions memorialized in the book and film, The Gangs of New York,” wrote David Freeland in his book Automats, Taxi Dances, and Vaudeville.
The Bowery Boys and Atlantic Guards were havens for Nativists, who despised the Irish immigrants pouring into Five Points and forming gangs of their own, like the Dead Rabbits.
“Early in the morning of 4 July 1857, a rival gang, the Dead Rabbits, attacked the house and its immediate neighbor, the saloon at number 40, with what the Times described as ‘fire arms, clubs, brick-bats, and stones,'” wrote Freeland.
The action spilled over into Baxter Street and consumed the neighborhood. An estimated 1,000 men fought—and eight to 12 died.
The Bowery Boys gang eventually fell apart, and the Five Points slum district was broken up by the late 19th century.
But the twin houses on this section of the Bowery survived into the era of the elevated train (above in 1881, with the old Bowery Theater renamed the Thalia) and beyond.
They serve as shabby reminders of a more rough-and-tumble Bowery as well as the promise of a genteel Bowery in early 19th century New York.