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190 Bowery's Fancy Reno Won't Erase Beloved Gritty Graffiti

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Even the Landmarks Preservation Commission has a soft spot for the Bowery's gritty past. Yesterday, the commission approved facade alterations to 190 Bowery, the former bank building turned single-family home, with many of the commissioners praising the owner's decision to keep the exterior graffiti. "My first instinct would be to restore the building historically," said Meenakshi Srinivasan, chair of the LPC. "But it is particularly unique. It represents a modern history that's reflective of a different kind of culture." She also joined the chorus of approval for the exterior restoration, which will restore many of the old design elements of the 1898 original bank.

Jørgen Cleemann presented on behalf of Higgins Quasebarth & Partners, a consulting company that works with the preservation and rehabilitation of historic properties. The owners of 190 Bowery, RFR Realty, are moving forward on the pricy overhaul of the property after buying it from photographer Jay Maisel for $55 million.

"The building is largely in tact but in a state of disrepair," Cleemann told the commissioners. "We went to update it for current retail use requirements, and bring everything up to code." The proposal included restoring the entrances, replacing many of the windows, and restoring the transoms above the windows with decorative glass. Currently, the entryways are blocked off and the windows and transoms are covered up.

At the main corner entrance, the owners will restore the sliding pocket doors. Beyond the doors, there will be a glass and metal vestibule built out by the retail tenant. The Bowery entrance, which will lead to the upstairs office space, will also be restored, and here will be a new, ADA accessible entryway built along Spring Street.

The renderings presented to the commission included the existing graffiti, unlike the initial rendering circulated by RFR. Commissioner Michael Goldblum asked, "Did you mean to leave the graffiti in the rendering?" The client responded that they intend the leave the graffiti and would not clean the facade in any way. (It's worth mentioning that whoever moves into the ground floor will have a say whether or not the graffiti remains.) But the commissioners mostly praised the decision, for now, to keep it. "The Bowery has been scrubbed," said Commissioner Goldblum. "The LPC is preserving that piece of the Bowery when it was raw." Commissioner Diana Chapin, however, did feel differently. "I'd think an individual Beaux Arts landmark is not the place to retain graffiti," she said.

As for the facade renovations, the commissioners all spoke in favor. Commissioner Frederick Bland said it was "a wonderful and gentle renovation of an important building." The Historic Districts Council also expressed support during the public hearing, stating that "it is possible to restore without adding square footage, and we find that remarkable." A rep from the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors called the proposal "highly commendable," but was concerned that the new ADA entrance on Spring Street would compromise the facade design. While that new entrance will take the place of some windows, Cleemann said that the overall proposal aimed to make as little change to the exterior as possible.
· All 190 Bowery coverage [Curbed]
· A Survey of the Bowery's Changing Landscape in 20 Photos [Curbed]

190 Bowery

190 Bowery, New York, NY 10012