clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

A Survey of the Bowery's Changing Landscape in 20 Photos

New, 12 comments

Welcome back to Camera Obscura, Curbed's series of photo essays by Nathan Kensinger. This week, as part of a series on changing neighborhoods, Kensinger explores the Bowery.

[All along the Bowery, historic buildings and businesses are being destroyed and closed down to make way for the next wave of development, as a once-gritty neighborhood is transformed. All photos by Nathan Kensinger.]

Over the last decade, the historic buildings and businesses of the Bowery have been infiltrated by a slew of hotels, bars, and boutiques, as the neighborhood has been transformed by developers into an upscale nightlife hotspot. Unfortunately, this "land rush" is only now reaching its peak, and in the next few years, the already altered landscape of this once scrappy, iconic boulevard will become wholly unrecognizable. A walk down the Bowery today reveals the full scope of the coming changes. On every block, storefronts are shuttered, buildings have been sold, and new towers are on the way, as 80-year-old businesses are closed and 200-year-old structures are prepared for demolition. "About 10 years ago, I used to walk on parts of the Bowery almost daily. Sure, there were changes, but it didn't really jump out at me," said EV Grieve, who has documented the neighborhood for years. "Now, the changes seem staggering."

In 2013, the Bowery Historic District was named to the National Register of Historic Places, cited as being "among New York's most architecturally diverse and historically significant streetscape[s]" Its unique architecture and businesses—including a lighting district, a restaurant supply district, and several flophouses and shelters—remain along the avenue, but the historic designation has not slowed the zeal of developers, who recently paid $23.5 million for a simple 3-story structure. "I'd say that the new Bowery is the quintessence of hyper-gentrification," said Jeremiah Moss, who chronicles Manhattan's disappearing history at his website, Jeremiah's Vanishing New York. "For a century at least, the Bowery was a countercultural zone," said Jeremiah, but the rapid pace of change pushed through by Mayor Bloomberg erased its storied past, including the closure in recent years of pioneering venues like CBGB and the Amato Opera House. Left behind is a strange amalgam of old and new, where upscale hotels share the block with homeless shelters and $30 a night hostels. "To anyone who saw it happen, it boggles the mind. It's disorienting." 

50 Bowery: A new 22-story hotel will soon rise next to the 1922 Citizen's Saving Bank, replacing one of the "most historically significant sites" on the Bowery, according to the National Register of Historic Places documentation. 

The hotel is now under construction. A large pit in the ground is all that is left of the site's history, which had been traced back to a tavern frequented by George Washington. Over the years, this site was also home to an 1860s beer garden, a Yiddish theater, and a boxing arena. 

83-85 Bowery: In March, 2014, a portfolio of 11 buildings along the Bowery belonging to the Lyons family were sold for $62 million. These two buildings, dating back to 1890, are the portfolio's southernmost properties, and have space available for lease.

88 Bowery: The Diamond Corner, another of the Lyon's portfolio properties, is currently home to the Sun Bright Hotel, which the Post once described as a "human kennel" with accommodations available for $10 a night. A ground floor space is also currently available.

112 Bowery: King Glassware closed in March after 81 years in business, according to Bowery Boogie, and the building has been listed for sale.  

The shop is just one of many older businesses that have closed or will soon close, as rising rents drive out longtime tenants.

141 Bowery: An 11-story tower will soon replace A&S Lighting. Permits were filed in June, according to Yimby, and the new building will loom over its lower-scale neighbors, which include the Bowery Grand Hotel, where single rooms go for $60 a night

140-144 Bowery: The future for the Bowery's lighting stores is grim. 140 Bowery, a building that dates back to 1808 or earlier, recently housed Lighting Library. It was placed on the market for $23 million in February, according to Bowery Boogie, and is "in the process of being demolished." Its neighboring building, housing New Generation Lighting, was put on the market for $10.2 million in December 2013. 

151 Bowery: This humble three story lighting store was sold in March for a record $23.5 million. No plans have been announced for the future of the building or business, Solo Lite Lighting.

185-189 Bowery: The Bowery Restaurant Supply Co. at 183 Bowery will soon be dwarfed by a new neighbor, the 19-story, 300-room CitizenM hotel. The luxury hotel recently had its plans approved, after leaving a hole in the landscape for several years. 

190 Bowery: The former Germania Bank Building was bought in 1966 by photographer Jay Maisel for $102,000. He still lives in this six story behemoth with his family.

The iconic, graffiti-covered building was listed for sale this August as "ideal for retail use." It is reportedly valued at over $50 million.

219-221 Bowery: The signage of Chair Up, another part of the Lyons portfolio, is a much-loved presence along the Bowery. Originally built in 1889 as the Alabama Hotel, its space was put up for rent by its new owners in December 2013. 

227-229 Bowery: The Bowery Mission has been located at these buildings since 1909 and is one of the last homeless shelters on the Bowery. The Salvation Army building next door, once a shelter, was recently sold for $30 million and will become an Ace Hotel. 

258-266 Bowery: 262 Bowery, a part of the Lyons portfolio, was home to Hawaii Restaurant Equipment. In 2013 it became the first business in the portfolio to close down, according to Bowery Boogie. Its neighbor at 258 Bowery, Standard Sheetmetal Fabrication Co., also recently closed.

266 Bowery: Globe Slicers, in business since 1947, is one of the Bowery's few remaining restaurant supply and repair businesses. Its existence is threatened by the changing neighborhood. 

319 Bowery: The Amato Opera house, located here since 1964, was closed down in 2009, and its building sold for luxury housing. It is currently empty and decaying, and is located two doors down from another iconic Bowery music venue, CBGB, which was closed in 2006. 

The 1899 Amato building is currently situated between an NYU student dormitory and a men's homeless shelter run by the Bowery Residents' Committee, representing two very different visions for what populations the neighborhood should support. 

340 Bowery: The Whitehouse Hotel (at left) is one of the last historic flophouses still operating on the Bowery and offers rooms online for $30 a night. It began as a lodging house in 1916 and was recently put under contract for $12 million. A sign in the window says the hotel will "temporarily be closed" on August 29th. It is located across the street from the Bowery Hotel, which opened in 2007 and which offers rooms starting at $505 a night.

· Nathan Kensinger [Official]
· Bowery coverage [Curbed]
· Camera Obscura archive [Curbed]