On the Old Bowery: Relocating the El

Posted on: January 7th, 2010 at 6:26 am by

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In writing yesterday’s post about the imminent demolition of 185-191 Bowery, we came across a fascinating period piece on the Bowery dating back to the turn-of-the-century.  Published ninety-four years ago, almost to the day, in the New York Times Magazine, this article explores the newfound freedom attained after the Third Avenue El trackwork was relocated from the sidewalk to the center of the street (the El was later removed in 1955).  Indeed, the byline reads: “Dark and sinister aspect of famous thoroughfare has been changed to one of cheer with the removal of the elevated structure from the sidewalks.”

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[From Sidewalk to Center]

And like other antique articles on the Bowery, some of the passages are still relevant.

On Change

It is a changed Bowery, cleansed and wholesome…the atomosphere is cheery, and the old, sinister, menacing something which seemed to emanate from the cavernous depths of that particular mile of street has been exorcised.  The Bowery looks different, too.  Buildings, carvings, a thousand interesting details which were so shrouded in gloom as to escape notice heretofore have come into their own.

On the Bowery Mission and it stained glass

Who ever noticed the stained glass windows on the second floor of the Bowery Mission, just below Prince Street?  They have always been there, adding a feeble sort of glow to the interior, but now, with the sun streaming through their rich translucence, they are fairly radiant, and do much to beautify their surroundings.

On Doyers Street

At Doyers Street, the peculiar Oriental decoration on the northwest corner arrests attention.  And this leads to the observation that the old Chinatown has disappeared and that the settlement is merely a shadow of its former self.

On the Bowery Savings Bank [Previously]

At Grand Street the Bowery Savings Bank is guarded by twin stone columns.  The capitals of these are carved and noticeable.  This bank was the first in the United States to show deposits over $100 million.

On 185 Bowery, soon to be demolished [Previously]

Down at 185 Bowery is a building with quaint curlicues of iron, over which are set queer dumpy lights of glass, old looking and interesting, but until now, not visible to the casual observer.

On the Bowery today, as it was

Today the Bowery is as inoffensive as any avenue in the city.  And unless it suffers a sudden recrudescence, it will probably never become the unsafe, unsavory place it once was…for the Bowery in every chapter of its story has commanded and received attention.

And it still commands attention.  Yet, these days we must contend with the burden of ever-rising glass structures and the accompanying eyesore of seemingly permanent scaffolding.

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