Two Bridges Neighborhood Council and the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors co-sponsored the nomination of the Bowery to the National Register of Historic Places. The Bowery, stretching 1.25 miles from Chatham Square on the south toCooper Square on the north, is an iconicManhattan street. The city’s oldest thoroughfare, it is one of the few streets in the world whose name evokes meaning beyond just a location on the map. From its earliest history as a Native American trail, to its function as a colonial-era Dutch farm road and Post Road to Boston, to its role in fostering American entertainment and artistic genres as diverse as tap dance, minstrelsy, vaudeville, jazz, punk, abstract expressionism, and Beat poetry, the Bowery has played a central role in the cultural and physical development of Manhattan.
The architectural legacy of the street includes some of Manhattan’s earliest surviving townhouses, nineteenth and twentieth-century commercial buildings, lodging houses, saloons, social services buildings, and banks. Among the most architecturally and historically diverse streets in the city, buildings along the Bowery date from nearly every decade between ca. 1780 and the present.
Perhaps most significantly, the Bowery is an indispensable resource of two centuries of American social, economic, political, immigrant, labor, underground, criminal, deviant, marginal, counter-culture, literary, musical, dramatic and artistic history, and it is within the remarkable architectural catalogue of buildings that this history was made. Since 2004, Bowery Alliance of Neighbors has been a vocal advocate for the preservation and appreciation of the Bowery as one ofNew York’s most invaluable and irreplaceable historical and cultural resources. During that time, the Bowery has seen an explosion of large-scale development that negatively impacts it in a number of ways, including:
Demolitions and inappropriate alterations of historic buildings.
Loss of affordable housing and commercial space;
Evictions of long-time businesses and residents, including many of the artists who contributed to the Bowery’s current appeal as a center for NYC’s creative culture;
Out of scale development, particularly high-rise hotels and condominiums
This project can serve as a catalyst, informing planning decisions on the Bowery that affect the many neighborhoods through which it runs. We advocate strongly for a comprehensive approach to community planning, centered on history, culture, and the preservation and enhancement of existing small businesses including the lighting, restaurant supply and jewelry districts. In consultation with a zoning expert the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors formulated the East Bowery Preservation Plan.
Activities to come
The Bowery has a rich, diverse, unique history and has always had an important role in the City of New York. Listed on the prestigious National Register of Historic Places, its history should be respected and the historical buildings that embody that history should be preserved.
Much of the Bowery is at the nexus of low-rise, low-density communities that are protected by zoning or landmark designation. The City has partially recognized this human-scale, historical character by including the west side of the Bowery in the Special Little Italy District and the NoHo Historic District. The East Village/Lower East Side Rezoning protects a portion of the area just east of the Bowery. However, the east side of the Bowery, itself, has been left out of all these protections. Consequently, the low-rise, affordable character of the Bowery is being destroyed by luxury housing, hotels and upscale commercial establishments, displacing small businesses–including the jewelry, lighting and restaurant supply districts–as well as its low- and middle-income residents and artists in live/work lofts. These residents should be protected from harassment and displacement. Preserving the historic context of the Bowery will help protect its residents, small businesses and affordable housing.
Given the Bowery’s importance as NYC’s oldest street, with architecture representing every decade since the 1790s, this street deserves to have its historic resources preserved and protected. In a 2013 letter to the City Planning Commission, NYC historian Mike Wallace [Gotham] wrote: “It would be a pity if the Bowery got bulldozed out of existence. The National Register designation suggests the country agrees, shouldn’t the city do the same?”