In the Shadows of the Bowery: The Old Bow’ry Fades Away

In the Shadows of the Bowery: The Old Bow’ry Fades Away

When you open the door to a small hotel at 104-106 on the Bowery, you’ll be entering what used to be called the Stevenson Hotel.  A tiny cubicle in the Stevenson was for decades the home to a Greek immigrant named George Skoularikos, perhaps best known for staunchly taking a years-long stand against moving, by eviction or otherwise.  It’s a building that’s been renovated, reconfigured and turned upside down over the generations, always to meet the financial ambitions of the owner of the moment.  Planted like a mature oak tree along an old Indian footpath that became the Bowery, it provides somber testimony to the essential truth of Manhattan: that change is the only constant.

The building dates back at least to the early 1850s, when the Bowery was a swaggering commercial strip of butchers, clothiers and entertainment venues, with territorial gangs that frequently fought one another.  The area used to be home to sometimes rowdy music halls, as well as a series of ethnic theaters.  But the theaters, music halls and small museums built to lure the tourist trade all gradually faded away from the Bowery.

In their place, the Bowery increasingly became the place for men with nowhere else to go, thousands and thousands of them, from war veterans to failed grandiose would-be architects of a new universe.  Large numbers of  the lost souls sought comfort from their dismal feelings of personal defeat in the deadening effects of alcohol and, later, drugs. These abject cast-offs from society found cheap beds, chicken-wire cubicles and brotherhood in the flophouses that masqueraded as hotels.

And the flophouses remained a mainstay of the Bowery for decades, even as wholesale restaurant suppliers and lighting-fixture stores moved onto the street.  However, beginning in the late 1970’s many of the flophouses began to disappear, as the ever-encroaching spread of gentrification claimed loft space and constructed a number of sparkling residential buildings for wealthier residents.

Now, the raucous sounds of a boulevard shadowed by a cinder-showering elevated train track and peopled by swaggering sailors, working-class laborers, fresh immigrants and predatory con men have grown increasingly faint.  In the new urban morning light, the boisterous old sounds have become ghosts receding into the walls.  A new day has dawned on the Bowery.

In the Shadows of the Bowery: The Old Bow’ry Fades Away

Music by Casey Neil/Stevenson Hotel:

Interested readers can learn more about the history of the Bowery, as viewed through a wonderful, colorful narrative about the old Stevenson Hotel in The New York Times here.

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