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206 Bowery

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The last surviving Federal-style row house on Bowery

Place Details

Place Matters Profile

The Bowery, one of New York City’s oldest thoroughfares, extends north from Chatham Square in Chinatown to Cooper Square at the nexus of the East Village, NoHo and Greenwich Village. It has housed a vast cross-section of cultural and religious groups, and has supported both high and low culture, as well as every entertaining manifestation in between. The corridor roughly corresponds to a Native American trail that was used by the Munsee and the Algonquin-speaking Lenape before European colonists settled the area in 1625. Ever since the Dutch began building bouwerijs (diversified farms) in New Amsterdam, the Bowery has hosted almost every architectural style and typology that can withstand a temperate climate. Unfortunately, whether monumental or vernacular, over the past several decades, many of the Bowery’s historic structures have been demolished, and much of the street’s historic character has been irrevocably replaced with insensitive modern development.

206 Bowery is one of the oldest, and last, Federal-style row houses on the Bowery. The modest two-story, three-bay building has a gambrel roof and a pair of gambrel dormers. As of 2017, a restaurant supply store is located in the ground floor storefront. 206 was likely erected around 1807 as part of a group that included the structures at 202, 204 and 208 Bowery. In the early nineteenth century, this lower portion of the Bowery contained residences and commercial enterprises, most notably a plethora of butchers who held stands at the Fly Market. Around this period, John Brown and his wide Lydia lived in number 206 and operated John Brown’s Porterhouse from 208 Bowery.

By 1815 the Bowery, which was formerly a suburb of New York City, was fully incorporated into the burgeoning metropolis, and subsequently, both activity and settlement along the route intensified exponentially. By the mid-nineteenth century, the proliferation of drinking establishments contributed the Bowery’s increasingly debaucherous reputation. Gangsters and politicos alike deployed their respective (and frequently overlapping) troops to mark out turf in the Bowery’s various saloons and inns. The Bowery also offered family-friendly drinking establishments like German beer gardens, where children and parents could mingle, eat and relax. The Bowery Theater, which opened in 1826, was famous for its minstrel shows, and as the birthplace of Vaudeville. The street soon became the city’s first entertainment district, hosting Yiddish theater, dime museums, dance halls.

However, after the Civil War, the Bowery’s regulars began to resemble their environment, as their five o’clock shadows blended with permanent one cast by the 1878 opening of the Third Avenue Elevated. Not coincidentally, the Bowery Mission opened a year later. From 1880 to 1913 Tammany’s Big Tim Sullivan, who controlled crime from Fourteenth Street to the Battery, operated his headquarters from 207 Bowery, just across the street from the little house at 206.

After the turn of the century, the Bowery area was drastically altered by significant infrastructural developments. The Manhattan Bridge opened in December 1909 and Kenmare Street opened onto the Williamsburg Bridge in 1911. By the second decade of the twentieth century, the Bowery was associated with diamonds and kitchen supplies, and at mid-century, the street was a haven for artists who began to repopulate local loft and performance spaces, thereby continuing the corridor’s long tradition of incubating creativity.

The area also made headlines during the 1950s and 1960s as a site of urban renewal experimentation and contestation. Throughout the twentieth and into the twenty-first century, many of 206 Bowery’s contemporaries and neighbors were taken down. In May 2011, the preservation community lost a significant battle with the demolition of 35 Cooper Square, another of the Bowery’s pre-Civil War Federal-style house. Despite the yeoman’s work undertaken by the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, and the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council, the developer who purchased the historic property declined to incorporate it into his development prospectus.

Although the Bowery Historic District, which includes 206 Bowery as a contributing property, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2013, both the building will remain vulnerable until the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) grants the property official landmark status. The building has been under LPC’s consideration for years, but the issue came to a head in 2016, when Mayor Bill de Blasio signed Intro. 775. The law gives LPC one year to landmark or pass up “calendared” individual, scenic, or interior landmarks, or those which are under review for landmarking. If the LPC does not take action on a calendared site, the law stipulates that it must be de-calendared.

206 Bowery is at risk of being removed from the list of being removed from the list of sites considered for landmark designation if the LPC does not act by the end of 2017.


Ralph Lewis

206 Bowery is unique for its ability to survive change and stand tall in its smallness. It is the last Federal Row House on the Bowery. It stands for House and Home in a world that’s long forgotten in the shadows of lifeless cement and progress.

It is the smallest building on the Bowery and perhaps the oldest. In a time and place where size is king, this humble building stands in great contrast to the encrouching giants, proving that things big in spirit can come in tiny packages. The value of intimacy and humble appearance is religous and sacred where this building stands for all Goliath’s Davids.

This is not only the last Federal Row House style building left in this storied area, it is one of the few remaining in all of downtown Manhattan. This building is one of the very last reminders that here once stood a neighborhood.

The Bowery is one of the fastest changing neighborhoods in the City. Perhaps because of its storied history, very little attention is being paid to the whitewash currently taking place. It’s bound to be the next place in the City where after the fact, folks will look up and say, “What did we let happen here?”

Sally Young

206 and 208 Bowery probably date back to the late 1790’s to the early 1800s. This whole west side of Bowery was primarily butchers that had stalls at Fly Market. There was a cattle market at Canal and Bowery then, and the butchers who worked there had homes on Bowery.

208 is as old as 206. Usually a pair of houses has the same owners, and one might have been altered while the other hasn’t. Many of our three story Bowery buildings were originally 2-1/2 story peaked, or double-peaked (gambrel). 206 has its original dormer windows and peak roof in place. 208 had its roof raised, a trend in the 1800s. There are many pairings of these buildings on the Bowery-look at 134/136, 140/142, 133/135, and 206/208. Many of the early houses are wood frame beneath many alterations-most recently fireproofing for the Lower-Manhattan Expressway. It didn’t happen, but the required fireproofing did. It’s amazing any of the houses survived, as throughout the 1900’s, hundreds of these dormered roof buildings were demolished-usually the ones on corners that became gas stations or vacant lots in the 1930s-1950s. More went down in the 1980s, 90s, and in the 2000s.

206 is one of the oldest buildings on Bowery. It holds history of 200 years or more. It should be preserved, its history is vibrant. Our whole Bowery would change if these buildings were gone. We’ve lost too many already. I’ve been walking the Bowery for my 30 years as a Manhattan, Lower East Side, Bowery resident. these buildings are the JOY of my neighborhood, the pride of living among history, the reason that prompted me to study their history. When I first met the Bowery as a resident, coming from Tribeca, in 1981–no heat or hot water, wood burning stove–I was here for survival. I later went to alphabet land and back to the Bowery by 1990. It has been my most loved home. (March 2010)

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