Friday, August 2, 2019

Then and Now: Bowery at Stanton Street, NYC

Stanton at Bowery

Stanton Street at Bowery, NYC,
Bowery near Stanton Street, NYC, looking north in 1977.
This article is about change in New York City and how people react to it. We are going to see what appears to be an unexpected link between the past and the present that you would never notice without a comparison like this. The Bowery on the Lower East Side in New York City has been undergoing a dramatic transformation from being run-down to matching some of the more prosperous areas nearby. That process is well along but ongoing. This is commonly known as gentrification, and in this article, we are going to see an example of that. I saw the above photo from 1977 and was curious what that stretch of the Bowery looks like now. One can easily see the attraction of the area - a nice view of the Empire State Building off in the distance and within walking distance of prime attractions such as Chinatown, Little Italy, and Wall Street - but that doesn't always result in positive change. So, I decided to do a comparison of the Bowery near Stanton Street from 1977 to 2017.

Stanton Street at Bowery, NYC,
Bowery near Stanton Street, NYC, November 2017, looking north (Google Street View).
Forty years later, the scene has changed. Oh, the Empire State Building is still visible in the distance, but most of the buildings shown in the 1977 photograph are gone. The exact location was easy to pinpoint given the street numbers (255 and 257 Bowery) visible on the 1977 photo. It appears that only two of the buildings on this stretch of the Bowery remain, original three-story buildings at 259 and 261 Bowery. They give an idea of what the buildings at 255 and 257 Bowery probably looked like before they were torn down for modern replacements.

Stanton Street at Bowery, NYC,
The Bowery between Stanton and Houston Streets, NYC, November 2017. The restaurant equipment store at 261 Bowery is visible on the left, and the art gallery at 259 Bowery on the right (Google Street View).
Homing in on those two buildings gave me a bit of a tingle, almost like seeing a ghost. If you look carefully at the 1977 photo, you will notice that the badly faded business sign at 255 Bowery was for the Cannon Restaurant Equipment Company. Now, I don't have any information on the Cannon Restaurant Equipment Company, and it probably was run by a Mr. Cannon. However, what strikes me as fascinating is that there still is a restaurant equipment company on the block. This one is called the Worldwide Restaurant Equipment Company and is located in the preserved early-20th-Century building at 261 Bowery (259 and 261 both were built around 1910, with 259 now a condo and 261 a multi-family house that apparently has some rentals). My theory is that Mr. Cannon or whoever owned that company just picked up and moved a few doors down the block to a similar building. I suppose that is what I would do if I had to move, as you could just walk everything over and all your fittings would fit in the similar-sized building. It may all just be a coincidence, but how many restaurant equipment businesses do you think there are in that part of town? It gave me a jolt because that sort of connection is fairly rare in these comparisons, and anyone casually looking at the 1977 photo might think that those businesses couldn't possibly have survived for much longer in the state that they were in. Heck, they almost look derelict. But sometimes appearances are deceiving and things don't go as you might expect...

Stanton Street at Bowery, NYC,
The Bowery between Stanton and Houston Streets, NYC, November 2017 (Google Street View).
A close look at 259 Bowery shows that it now houses an art gallery, as does 255 Bowery (the one closest to the photographer where the restaurant supply business used to reside). If this isn't a classic sign of gentrification, I don't know what is. The art gallery at 255 Bowery is an outpost of an Italian gallery located in Sacile, Italy, the Studio d’Arte GR. That Italian art gallery, incidentally, was established in Italy right around the time the 1977 photo was taken.

Stanton Street at Bowery, NYC,
Bowery at Stanton Street, NYC, November 2017 (Google Street View).
The building that gave me the most trouble identifying was the one on the corner of Bowery and Stanton. It's not a stealth building or anything, but the street address was difficult to pin down because it wasn't clearly visible. If you look closely at the 1977 photo, you notice that the building at 255 Bowery seems to end and a chain-link fence begins, unlike today, when there is another building that abuts 255 Bowery. I figured that meant there was an empty lot there, which would be in keeping with the dilapidated appearance of the area. However, to my surprise, there was a building there even though it must have been set back a bit from 255 Bowery. That is now an apartment building located at 10 Stanton Street. The building officially was built in 1900, but there was an extensive modification in 1985. In New York City, it often pays for developers to completely gut an old building without demolishing it completely. They obviously did not follow the original building's footprint and built right up to the lot at 255 Bowery shown in the 1977 photo. Incidentally, Lady Gaga used to live nearby at 176 Stanton Street when she was known as Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta.

Stanton Street at Bowery, NYC,
Bowery at Stanton Street, NYC, looking south in November 2017 (Google Street View).
So, the story of the 1977 photograph of some run-down businesses has led us to a textbook illustration of gentrification. That often gets a bad rap and many people view gentrification with contempt, but it is undeniable that this section of the Bowery is much more attractive these days. It also retains some of its historic features, though they appear to be fading away. People who live there almost certainly wouldn't want its dilapidated state to be preserved for some abstract desire to leave things unchanged. New York City always has to strike a balance between moving forward while protecting its past, and that seems to have been done on the Bowery. The local residents just have to adapt to change, as the owners of the restaurant supply business apparently did.

Thanks for visiting this entry in our "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. The Bowery has undergone one of the most dramatic transformations in Manhattan over the past 50 years, along with Times Square and the East Village, and that is just the natural order of things. If you enjoyed this page, please visit some of our other pages in this series!


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