Saturday, November 27, 2010

traces of farm property lines - still visible!

I've been researching the footprint the buildings on the block where La Mama Galleria is located, because some of them seem rather odd.

In a earlier post I illustrated the progression of the intersection at Bowery and Houston using aerial photographs from 1924, 1996, and 2008 from the interactive maps site.  La Mama is on the north side of 1st Street, Near the Bowery.  Looking at it from above, I noticed some of the buildings nearby were built at a weird angle.  Not just on that block, but the pattern seemed to extend across Second Avenue.

I did some digging though the NYPL digital archives, and learned that the weird angle actually relates to old farm property lines.  I'm not entirely sure why the buildings from 1867 seem to follow the lines so closely, my guess is that the grid was still relatively new and the plots of land were being sold in parcels to individuals by the farm owners.  I find the fact that even new buildings follow this footprint fascinating.

Click, then click again to enlarge:

Turning Cars Into Plowshares - 1999

Chelsea Garden Center briefly moves to the East Village on 2nd and The Bowery, next to the Amato Opera (R.I.P.):

Turning Cars Into Plowshares

Origins of the Avalon Bay Empire on the Bowery......

I have hazy memories of seeing some sort of rendering of the ginormous housing developments which now span Houston St - 2nd St.  It was around 2000, and in some sort of document I stumbled across in the the Cooper Union library.  According to this article, a plan had been in the work for decades, so the information I found could have been much older than what was being proposed at the time (which got built).

Memorable quotes from the NY Times article "At Cooper Square, a New Player Takes the Stage":

"TWENTY years ago -- or 30 or 40 for that matter -- the Cooper Square Committee would have scorned the redevelopment plan for three acres of urban renewal land off East Houston Street that a community task force worked out with the Giuliani administration a year ago. The committee is a nonprofit community development organization that formed four decades ago to resist the redevelopment plans of Robert Moses in the neighborhood."

---------The "suburbanization" of New York maybe can begin to be explained by things like this that started happening under Giuliani--------

"AvalonBay Communities, based in Alexandria, Va., is undertaking the Cooper Square project in partnership with Williams Jackson Ewing, a national retail developer based in Baltimore, and Blackacre Capital, a private investment firm in New York City. Phipps Houses, the New York-based nonprofit housing company, will participate as the developer and owner of a portion of the low-income apartments."

"It is unusual for a national real estate company to undertake residential development in New York City, and even more unusual for it to take the path of bidding for a city-sponsored proposal. For most such companies, the major capital investment required at the beginning of a process of uncertain duration and outcome seems daunting. Companies experienced in the vagaries of New York City development are normally the only participants."

"But the attraction is the chance to own new rental property in a market that is unlikely to become oversupplied with it. ''Our strategy is to focus on the strongest markets,'' said Bryce Blair, president of AvalonBay. ''The markets with the strongest constraints on supply over the long term will be the healthiest.''"

"The design and architectural plan is the work of the New York office of Arquitectonica, an international firm that was founded in Florida in 1977 and became known in its early days for a flamboyant condominium in Miami called the Atlantis, in which a 37-square-foot cube was cut to create a 10-story interior skycourt. Bernardo Fort-Brescia, a founder of the firm, is the chief architect for Cooper Square."

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

History of Dixon Place

NY Times article from 2004 - great to know the history of Dixon Place and the work that went into making it run!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Bowery Bar Beginnings - 1994

NY Times article from '94........more about this to come. 

"The NoHo Neighborhood Association and some members of Community Board 2 argue that the bar, and others they believe would open in its wake, will erode the character of the area by changing it from a haven for light industry and artists into a trendy night spot."

Pre-1994 this space was used as a parking lot for Cooper Union, and a work/storage space for its Engineering school.  I have some B&W pictures kicking around of the interior from my college days, I will post some when I find them.  I don't think I have any of the exterior, but I'm not 100% sure.

Image via DNA info

"Apartment Building to Rise on Infamous Bowery" circa 2000

Here is a NY Times article about 199 Bowery, near Spring st, oddly called NoLiTa Place, yet described as being in the Lower East Side.  Anyone remember this building going up?

It seemed kinda ludicrous at the time, being so upscale.  Crash Mansion is in the basement, and I remember The Pioneer Bar opening across the street.  We went there after an opening in Soho in the early 2000' felt so weirdly out of place being so grandiose and upscale.

"In the heart of the Bowery, a name synonymous with what the Encyclopedia of New York City describes as a onetime ''place of squalor, alcoholism and wretchedness'' that even in the mid-1990's ''seemed likely to remain the sanctuary for the forgotten in American society,'' a spanking new $30 million apartment building is about to go up, complete with retail shops, a fitness room, rooftop terrace and 24-hour doormen."

"''Most of the stores in the Bowery that supply chairs, lights, stoves and the like to restaurants and other businesses were on 20- to 30-year leases. And when the leases expired, the spaces became available for people whose tastes appeal to the market in SoHo or the Village, but who can't afford the rents there.''"

1983 - St. Marks Place

NY Times Article "THE SHAPE OF ITS FUTURE SPLITS EAST VILLAGE", talking about new commercial revitalization and commercial revitalization in the East Village.

This is the first wave of gentrification, before the recession of the early 90's, but also interesting to note.

''Everybody's saying that more middle-class people are moving into the area,'' she said. ''The impression is that new money is coming in. I'm sure the rents are going up.'' 

"Since 1969, when Mayor John V. Lindsay's administration sought unsuccessfully to rezone part of Third Avenue for high-rise luxury apartment buildings, three attempts to change zoning in the East Village have been blocked. These were proposals to gain variances for what are now three parking lots on the east side of Third Avenue between Ninth and 12th Streets, and build high-rise apartments of higher density than the surrounding housing; the most recent of these attempts failed last year. According to Ray Spillenger, treasurer of the Third Avenue Tenants, Artists and Businessmen's Association, the proposals were voted down because ''any upzoning would doom the rest of the area and low-rise property values would zoom.''"

''The 'East Village' is an invention of the real-estate people who want to make it trendy, a chic part of town where young singles can make the scene,''

Sunday, November 21, 2010

"The Bowery: Manhattan's Hottest Property." 2004

Via Curbed, a press release by Newmark New Spectrum introducing the New Bowery:

" Where have all of the pawn shops, brothels and flop houses gone? The Bowery Manhattan's Hottest Property
The Bowery, the neighborhood formerly known as an undesirable melting pot of homeless street dwellers, and low-end retail establishments is getting a major face-lift. New real estate developments in the area are giving it a completely different vibe and turning it into one of the most up-and-coming areas in the city.
A Chrystie Place is a brilliant example of the significant change. Bordering Christy Street, E. Houston & Bowery, A Christy Place is a mixed income residential and retail complex developed by Avalon Bay, William Jackson Ewing & Phipps Houses that will house an 88,000 square foot Whole Foods as well as a community swimming pool and gym. The New Museum, whose design will incorporate Japanese architecture, will be housed on Bowery as well; and The Surface Hotel, just east of the Bowery on Rivington Street with its modern glass structure, is in the midst of construction.
Although the face of the area is changing, some of the former flavor is still intact, with popular establishments like Katz's deli, Russ & Daughters, Economy Candy and Yonah Shimmel, maintaining their hold on the community. The Bowery is becoming one of those perfect New York neighborhoods, one that combines a dash of new luxury, with the essence of the old.
The emergence of the neighborhoods surrounding the Bowery is another example of how Lower Manhattan, south of 14th street, continues to grow and develop to meet the growing needs of a new generation of prosperous people who love the downtown Lifestyle. notes Benjamin Fox of Newmark New Spectrum, the Country's leading retail real estate firm."

1997 - The New Bohemia: It's East of Soho and Still Unspoiled

"The New Bohemia: It's East of Soho and Still Unspoiled" by John Pareles

This article isn't Bowery-centric, but I think its notable in terms of how the view of things happening below East Houston (or even the amount of things), shifted in the late 90's.

Interesting details:

"For the current Ludlow Street scene, it was a mid-1990's police crackdown curtailing major drug sales that let the neighborhood kick into high gear." (maybe that explains why, when I came back from graduate school in 1997, things seemed to have changed radically even though I was only gone for a year.)


"It's not entirely sanitized; visitors might glimpse drug transactions on Stanton Street or Rivington Street. But the area is in the promising part of a pattern that's familiar from SoHo and the East Village: the transition from rundown neighborhood to artists' hangout to hip destination to overload." (I think we've hit overload++)

Looks like this started all the way back in 1996:

"Bars, clubs and small performance spaces have proliferated during the 1990's, so much so that last year, Community Board 3 called for a moratorium on new liquor licenses along Ludlow Street. But activity has hardly tapered off."

And geez, does anyone remember that cabaret law Giuliani pulled out of his pocket? "In line with the city's enforcement of the cabaret laws, places like Bob have signs posted that say, ''No dancing by order of the Department of Consumer Affairs.'' "

Also, I think its worth noting that in nearly every one of these articles I've posted so far, Starbucks has been mentioned in a negative way as a gentrifying force (this is pre Duane Reade and Banks)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Bowery btwn 5th + 6th streets circa 2004

"Coming soon" site of the Cooper Square Hotel, 2004, often called "Dubai on the Bowery".

Same site circa 2007

"Oh, It's Not What It Used to Be" - Bowery circa 2000

NY Times article circa 2000 about the Bowery, written by someone who spent a lot of time there as a child in the 60's probably.


"Today on the Bowery the tallest building -- other than the 1970's Confucius Plaza in Chatham Square -- is the 10-story Salvation Army Chinatown Corps, No. 225, near Rivington Street; most are three or four stories."

"Still seedy around the edges, the Bowery is not yet gentrified -- there's no Starbucks, no Gap -- and it's not clear whether it will soon look more like SoHo, to the west."

"Old-timers gape at a two-story terraced gray penthouse, recently erected atop a dark orange brick building." ---- (While there are other seemingly older penthouse structures visible, I think this one is the first real sign of the beginning of what the Bowery has become.)

Also, another mention of its unique street arrangement:

"The Bowery interrupts the city's straightforward grid. Streets like Prince, Spring and Bleecker on the west side, and Stanton, Rivington and First on the east, end -- or begin -- at the Bowery. In some cases, the names change: Delancey becomes Kenmare; Bond becomes East Second; Great Jones becomes East Third."

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

EV Transitions: A.T. Stewart, John Wanamaker, the Great Fire, and the Great Flood (Part II)

The "new" Wanamaker building is where K-Mart is on Astor of my favorite buildings in NY, so well proportioned (1903 - Burnham).  This shows a film of the old building burning down.  Fascinating.

"This is where streets go to die" - Bowery circa 2003

This NY Times article titled "Palimpsest Street" from 2003 gives you a mini rundown of the the Bowery's history, and details some sensibility of its different manifestations.  Originally the article probably had pictures (I wish it still did). 

During this time period there was no way of knowing that the Bowery was on the precipice of massive change, just that things were generally shifting in a more upscale direction.  No one knew if it was sustainable at this point.

I like the author's hypothesis as to why the Bowery had essentially sat unchanged for so many decades:

"One answer is surely physical. Like most of New York, the Bowery is much cleaner than it used to be, but it is still an ungainly street, singularly devoid of shade. An informal survey counted only 19 trees, many of them little more than saplings. And in its northern reaches, particularly, the Bowery is almost as broad and as busy as a highway. Trucks rumble constantly up and down its six lanes, either serving the avenue's many wholesalers or on their way somewhere else. And if geography is destiny, then the Bowery will never change. This is where streets go to die. Prince and Spring Streets from the west; Rivington, Stanton and First Streets from the east. All come to dead ends here, creating the impression that the Bowery is somehow cosmically misaligned -- an ineluctable border area, permanently detached from any of the neighborhoods surrounding it.

Or perhaps there's a simpler reason that the Bowery has remained the Bowery. Modern cities developed for the most practical of reasons, as marketplaces of goods, services and ideas. It is only when the markets leave that cities and neighborhoods begin casting around existentially for reasons to exist. On the Bowery, neither the industrial markets nor the artists ever left. The street remained more or less content unto itself. In a way, the Bowery is the only part of the ''real'' city left in Manhattan."

You can check out some aerial photos taken from different time periods by using the interactive map feature (super cool).

Bowery and Houston circa 1924

Bowery and Houston circa 1996

Bowery and Houston circa 2008

Dive bars in NY circa 1996

I'm working on a big piece for a show I'm doing at La Mama Gallery in January (also showing Wil Ortega's work).  La Mama is located right off the Bowery, on 1st street, near the Liz Christy garden.  Also, I suppose I should mention its also nowadays sandwiched between one of the largest (luxury) housing developments built in recent times in the neighborhood, built by Avalon Bay, who previous to this complex on the Bowery had mostly build suburban apartment complexes in places like New Jersey. Anyway, if I can pull it off, my portion of the show will incorporate some of the last 20 years of history in terms of the Bowery - pretty much the time person when I would have traversed it as a Cooper Union student, then staff and faculty, and a general NYC downtown resident.

I have a lot of memories, but they tend to be a bit fuzzy.  Images are in my heads, but dates are uncertain.  I've started doing some research, mostly using the NY Times archive, which so far has been very helpful.  I typed in Bowery and Houston and a bunch of stuff popped up.  I was tryign to determine when the aforementioned housing development was proposed, because i remember seeing a rendering in a book in the Cooper Library circa 1999?  2000? and thinking "well, thats never going to happen".  And it didn't, at least as far as I can tell. Originally it was proposed as city housing.  Then it was sold to a private developer.  So, big difference there in terms of what it represents.  Still looking into finding that rendering. 

Anyway, from time to time I'm going to post some of the articles/images I find, and my thoughts here.  

Note the date.  This one is from 1996: