Landmarking on the Bowery

March 30, 2012

Honorable Robert Tierney, Chairman 
New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission 
1 Centre Street, 9th Floor 
New York, NY 10007

Via mail and email:

re: The Bowery

Dear Commissioner Tierney:

Certainly the Bowery is one of our country’s best known thoroughfares. Its long and rich history in many ways mirrors –in perhaps an exaggerated way – the history of New York itself. From country road to commercial street to entertainment district to skid row to its current gentrification, the Bowery has seen highs and lows that are still very much evident in its buildings and streetscapes. Music, art, theater and literature have all thrived here. The Bowery has been a birthplace for many of the art forms we appreciate as truly American – vaudeville, jazz, abstract expressionism.

Now the Bowery as we know it, and as generations before us have known it, is rapidly disappearing. In order to preserve the Bowery it must be landmarked. The LPC must move quickly because development pressures are intense. We have already lost a lot; to lose the last semblances of what this storied street has meant to our city and country would be truly tragic.

There are questions regarding how much of the Bowery is intact enough to designate. The simplest approach is to first go after the “low hanging fruit:” the block between Grand and Broome Streets, east and west sides, is a wonderfully motley yet intact collection of early 19th to early 20th century styles that expresses the robust quality of the Bowery itself. The Federal, Italianate, Romanesque Revival, Classical Revival and early 20th century commercial vernacular buildings that jostle for attention compose a highly rich and spirited streetscape. 

We were very disappointed to hear that LPC recently decided not bring this block forward as a Bowery historic district. Relatively minor alterations to buildings in an architecturally and historically valuable area should not be sufficient grounds to deny landmark protection. This raises the point of why, when LPC had already initiated the process of formally reviewing this district, were building owners allowed to demolish historic facade features. This incident and similar recent incidences in the East Village lead us to believe that it is time to reassess this aspect of the designation process.

We respectfully urge LPC to reexamine your decision regarding this district and instead move ahead without delay to landmark the Bowery between Grand and Broome Streets, and to review the rest of the Bowery, recently added to the State Register of Historic Places, to make sure we do not lose the Bowery’s varied and exuberant historic urban character that celebrates the very spirit of our city.

Thank you,

Richard D. Moses 

Cc: Hon. Margaret Chin, NY City Council