On the Old Bowery: Lamenting Change

Posted on: January 22nd, 2010 at 6:17 am by

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Lamenting change is nothing new on the Bowery.  It’s just another fact of life.  The only difference is, these days, change on the beloved thoroughfare seems more rapid and final. An overall eradication of a certain community and its way of life, all in favor of gentrification and monied interests.

With that in mind, it’s time again to turn back the clock to the old Bowery.

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Here are some choice excerpts from an article published in the New York Times on July 2, 1905. As usual, there are many parallels to the present.  Enjoy!

On Nightlife

There was a time, not so long ago, when the Bowery never slept. Nowadays, soon after midnight, it is deader than a doornail.

On Real Estate

I believe that when the new east side subways are built, and the proposed elevated road from the Williamsburg Bridge cut through from the Bowery to the west side; in a word, when storekeepers can feel assured that the street are not going to be torn up before their doors, Bowery property will go up again with a bound.

Why should people want to live in such a noisy place as the Bowery is, and probably always will be (truth!), when they can get better and cheaper accommodations from two to three blocks away toward the East River?

On Race Relations

There were 19,000 inhabitants of this town then [1741], including 2,000 Negro slaves.  In a sudden outburst of passion a race war broke out that was brief but terrible.  The mob rushed Negroes to the woods that bordered on the Bowery and burned them alive at the stake.

On Drinking Water

The famous Tea Water Spring, on the Bowery, furnished the finest drinking water in New York.  It was peddled from door to door like milk.  The Tea Water Pump Garden was the fashionable gossip resort of the hour.

On Bowery Reputation

When the war [Revolution] was over, and the British soldiers gone, the curse they left behind in the Bowery was too deep to be eradicated.  From that day on the onetime pleasure drive of the city plunged on its road to ruin which culminated in such resorts as McGuirk’s Suicide Hall and Stevenson’s Slide.

The Bowery was known all over the civilized world, then.  No visitor to New York thought of going away without seeing it.  True, the “rubberneck” automobiles, as they are popularly called, still take tourists up and down the Bowery, by night and by day.

On the Germania Bank Building

Not long ago the Germania Bank turned its old building at Rivington Street and the Bowery over to the “has beens” and moved into the lofty new premises on the opposite side of the street (!). The upper floors are rented to insurance agents, real estate men, and corporation representatives – a class of business entirely new to the Bowery.

On the Bowery

There is no other street in the world to compare with it.

Ain’t that the truth!

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