Bowery 2007

A self-guided walking tour through The Bowery. Expect updates. The Bowery is undergoing the largest changes in decades. From Walking Off the Big Apple. Visit the website for other themed walks.

From Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser (1900):

No more weakly looking object ever strolled out into the spring sunshine than the once hale, lusty manager. All his corpulency had fled.

His face was thin and pale, his hands white, his body flabby. Clothes and all, he weighed but one hundred and thirty- five pounds. Some old garments had been given him--a cheap brown coat and misfit pair of trousers. Also some change and advice. He was told to apply to the charities.
Again he resorted to the Bowery lodging-house, brooding over where to look. From this it was but a step to beggary.

"What can a man do?" he said. "I can't starve."

Image: Louis Sontag, The Bowery at Night, 1895


"Progressive business men will not become interested in ancient and dilapidated buildings."

From the article "Developments On the Bowery Forecast New and Varied Business Expansion," The New York Times, November 18, 1917


From "On the Bowery, a New Home for New Art" by Carol Vogel, The New York Times, March 28, 2007

The board spent a year scouring the city for its new home. “It wasn’t till we saw the empty parking lot on the Lower East Side that we knew we’d found the spot,” Ms. Phillips said. “The board saw the potential before I did. They saw right away how consistent it was with the museum’s mission. They loved the fact that the neighborhood was rough and the street was languishing, and that it was a major avenue with easy subway access.”

Readers of Walking Off the Big Apple know that I just don't walk to shop, eat, and exercise. I walk to make a big deal of something, to see walks as metaphors for other issues. With Garbo Walks, I explore the issues of privacy, celebrity culture, and postwar New York. My British Invasion Walk comments on the continuing influence of English culture on American society. In short, pedestrian activity leads down some unfamiliar streets, even for me.

I'm all about the Bowery right now. The street serves as a slippery signifier of constant urban change, and with imperfect points of departure for its new iteration. The buildings along the way constitute a mélange of layered histories. Many businesses are closing, new hotels and residences are rising, and the New Museum of Contemporary Art, probably the most formidable player, will set a tone in its special way.

I am excited about the New Museum arriving on the Bowery, watching its boxy whiteness unfold in its metallic mesh clothing. Aside from the museum, however, the development of the Bowery makes me nervous. The avenue is wide, the history is deep, and the traffic is noisy. I have a lot of questions, mainly about the new Bowery, and I will post them over the next couple of days.

So, the Bowery: A street that stretches from the indigenous people to the Dutch and through 18th century fashion, from the worlds of Stephen Crane's Maggie: A Girl of the Streets and Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie to the immigrant communities of the Lower East Side and the story of Hong Kong and contemporary China, and the insistent questions of the art world, real estate and the precarious questions of "revitalization," and all mediated in an imperfect way by a fifth-generation Texas woman of Scotch-Irish-Austrian heritage and with a background in American Studies, well, this should be interesting.

So far I've seen a lot of industrial Hobart mixers. I could make cupcakes for all y'all.

Images: Photos of The Bowery, October 29, 2007. WOTBA.