The Bowery is a neighborhood with an illustrious, if somewhat checkered past.
The Bowery was carved out of a Lenape Indian footpath that covered the length of what was to become Manhattan, and 100 years before John Hancock thought to put quill to parchment, was the main route used by the Dutch settlers of New York traveling between the center of their colony (near Battery Park) and the farmlands further north.
After the Revolutionary War, wealthy families with names like Astor and Delancey built grand homes along The Bowery, as well as theaters that featured popular operas and ballets, and circuses with elaborate equestrian shows. — These attractions along with market gardens and trading posts made Bowry Lane, as it was then called, second only to Broadway in terms of popularity.
With the theaters came the pubs, ale houses, and by the time of the Civil War, pawn shops, flophouses and brothels. By the turn of the century the once fashionable and sophisticated Bowery had become the eastern most border of America’s most notorious neighborhood, the Five Points.
The construction of the Third Ave. El in 1878, an elevated train that shuttled New Yorkers from The Bronx to lower Manhattan, cast a dense shadow over The Bowery that embraced and concealed the rambunctious, depraved behavior now common on The Bowery and cemented the area’s reputation as New York’s skid row.
This is, until 1955 when The El was closed and The Bowery began a cycle of rebirth that continues today. It was in the 1970’s however, that The Bowery began to uncover — or rather, rediscover — it’s artistic and cultural promise. Russian abstract expressionist Mark Rothko lived and worked the neighborhood and Andy Warhol’s film company bought two buildings on Great Jones which housed young and upcoming artists like Jean Michelle Basquiat. Meanwhile, one the east side on Bowery and 2nd, a rock club called CBGB’s helped shake the change out of the pockets of the hit parade by championing a new style of music that would lead to a culture unto itself. It was called Punk. Richard Hell, Patti Smith, The Ramones and the New York Dolls were among the first group of musicians that rejected the overindulgence of mainstream disco and the all-too common extended guitar solos of 70′s hard rock. They helped bring hard, rhythmic, stripped down songs back to the front lines of popular music.
Today, The Bowery you walk through is completely up to you. It all depends on what you’re looking for. From any point on The Bowery you can find yourself in a museum, restaurant, boutique or bar in less time than it takes to say Jack Robinson. William S. Burroughs, who lived in an apartment he named ‘The Bunker’ 222 Bowery, said “There couldn’t be a society of people who didn’t dream. They’d be dead in two weeks.” The
Bowery Project dreams of a community that provides support for one another, from East 4th to Chatham Square and Mulberry to Allen — and exits to help visitors and locals find their way…
… So, which Bowery will you walk through today?