Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Bowery Bar Protest Signs

While watching Kevin Frech's documentary Bowery Dish, I was excited to see the following shot of 38 East 4th Street, the former tenement that stood next to Bowery Bar:



For years, I've been trying to find a photo of this window--and to find out who was behind the signs, a question that remains unanswered.

In addition to "Cooper Union: How could you do this to our neighborhood," there was also a box sign with a red blinking light inside of it. You can just barely see it in the lower left of the window here. I don't remember what it said.

A little history:

When nightclub developers Eric Goode and Serge Becker opened the "grit-to-glam" celebrity hangout Bowery Bar on the site of an old gas station in 1994, the locals got restless. The Times reported that many members of the neighborhood association and community board argued “that the bar, and others they believe would open in its wake, will erode the character of the area by changing it from a haven for light industry and artists into a trendy night spot."

That year, the New Yorker reported on "a curiously medieval sight" outside Bowery Bar, when "a small crowd of Bowery denizens were peering over the courtyard wall, like serfs at the castle gates." New York magazine called the scene “an exercise in extreme cultural dissonance, evoking images of Calvin Klein and Linda Evangelista sipping Cristal on the inside as derelicts guzzle Night Train on the outside.”


the cultural dissonance continues today

In 1995 a group of artists, purportedly led by bicycle activist George Bliss, painted a trail of footprints leading to the bar, marked with slogans like "Boycott the Bowery Bar" and "Don't Party on the Poor." Bliss and other detractors argued that the bar was operating without a zoning variance, doing business on land zoned for light manufacturing, an environment conducive to artists. In the Times, Goode responded, "We're manufacturing. We're manufacturing hamburgers."

At some point, in the tenement window next to the luxe lounge’s entrance, a protesting neighbor put up the “Cooper Union, how could you do this to us?" sign. (It was the college that owned the land and had granted the lease to Bowery Bar.) The sign lasted a long while, providing a constant protest that could not go unseen by Bowery Bar and its customers.


before

But by 2007, Goode and his new partner, Sean MacPherson, would take over the protestor's tenement, call it a brownstone, and turn it into the monied hipster hotel Lafayette House.

I don’t know what became of the protester and the angry sign--or to anyone else who lived in that building. (Does anyone know?) The window where the signs once hung is now the doorway into Bowery Bar's exclusive hotel.


after

13 comments:

JAZ said...

"The Times reported that many members of the neighborhood association and community board argued “that the bar, and others they believe would open in its wake, will erode the character of the area by changing it from a haven for light industry and artists into a trendy night spot."

Phew! Thank god they were wrong!


xootrman said...

I did know a guy who lived in that building and I believe it was his sign. He was a working member of the 4th St Coop but I haven't seen him for years. He'd probably be in his late 50's now, perhaps older.

Ken Mac said...

Remember this sign well. And the flats-fixed place that was across from the Bowery Bar skank palace -- now Gemma I believe.

Jeremiah Moss said...

I got an email from someone who says: "Regarding the Bowery Bar protest sign, the flashing sign read: "Lifestyles of the Sick + Shameless"; I used to pass it all the time.

I distinctly remember reading an interview with the tenant but I'm not exactly sure where....I'm thinking perhaps the Village Voice?"

Jeremiah Moss said...

thanks xootrman--I'd love to find this guy

Scuba Diva said...

The protester was Carl Hultberg, and I knew him from the 4th Street Food Co-op. He was a longtime resident of that building, but was bought out and—I believe—now resides in Vermont or New Hampshire.

I've seen him comment on the New York Times online articles, so it's not unthinkable he might come read this piece. Sadly, I don't have an e-mail for him.

If you read an interview with him in the VOICE, I'd love to see it too!

Jeremiah Moss said...

Scuba Diva, thank you so much! This must be him: http://www.theragblog.com/carl-r-hultberg-how-they-busted-hippie-hill/

Scout said...

Not entirely related to this particular post, but - it got me thinking about Alphabet City/East Village in the early 80s when I first lived there. I remember lots of tiny, chaotic second-hand shops, tucked into ground floor holes in the walls. They were terrific for finding unusual and cheap furnishings and clothes. There was one in particular - I think it was on 7th between 1st and A? - that looked more chaotic than all the others. The door stood open in warm weather, and you could see a light glow from lots of tiny lamps and stacks of... things.

I finally poked my head in one evening, and saw a grizzled man sitting about 10 feet from the door. "Hi," he said, "what's up?" I said, "I thought I'd like to look at your stuff," I replied. "This isn't a store," he said mildly, "I live here. But I'm glad it looks interesting." I apologized and moved on.

And I always think of him as the barometer for true bohemianism, which is now completely vanished from all of New York City, as far as I can tell.

chris flash said...

Scuba Diva is right. That was Carl's place that he inherited from his grandpa, noted nightclub operator, record company producer (Circle Records) and author (he wrote a great biography on Buster Keaton) Rudi Blesh, another longtime Noo Yawka....

Jeremiah Moss said...

thanks Chris. trying to track him down...

susan said...

I remember both signs (the neon and the hand-drawn) and I remember reading an interview, too. I poked around the NYT but couldn't find anything in their archives. If not Village Voice, could it have been in the New York Press?

Anonymous said...

Carl also used to work at NYU, running its recycling operation.

Ali Tirone said...

Rudi Blesh is my grandfather and Carl H is my Brother. yes he reside in NH now