East Broadway/Catherine Street/The Bowery — © Brian Rose
As mentioned in an earlier post, I am presently photographing the Bowery, the historic street associated with New York low life from its early days as an entertainment district to its latter days as world famous skid row. The street runs only about a mile, so my intention is to photograph it in some detail. Since my studio is located just off the Bowery along the northern stretch of the street, it’s easy for me to start taking pictures and run out of film before I get very far. So, this morning I kept the camera backpack on my shoulders until I got down to Chinatown just below the Manhattan Bridge. I did a number of photographs with the 4×5 camera–these are from my pocket camera. It was a brilliantly clear morning, a little windy, but manageable.
Looking south at Chatham Square one can see 8 Spruce Street, the Frank Gehry tower with its wavy steel curtain wall rising above the squat brick building housing NYPD headquarters. The glass building at left is typical of the new construction going up all along the Bowery. And a recent decision to de-landmark a nearby early 19th century house is likely to increase the pressure on other properties. The Bowery has always been a hodgepodge of architectural styles built at various different times, so freezing it in the present is not necessarily appropriate or practical. But if you look at the Bowery, many of the structures are relatively small–some of them built as townhouses–but most are now used for commercial purposes. The temptation to knock them down and replace them with new hotels and other multi-use buildings is ever mounting. The way things are going, much of the Bowery’s historic character will be lost.
Above is an example of a former townhouse now used as a bank office. Anything with a pitched roof, of which there are probably a dozen on the Bowery, was built in the first part of the 19th century. A few are hiding behind false fronts, and other have had their heads lopped off. The 19th century house between 5th and 6th Streets next to the Cooper Square Hotel, which I have photographed, was torn down a few months ago.
After using up my film, I made a quick visit to the post office on East Broadway and took the photograph above looking through the front window to the street.