Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Bowery Stories

Something gigantic is coming to Bowery and Delancey. With the New Museum arrival and the protested EV/LES rezoning, the Bowery has become more valuable, and therefore more threatened, than ever before.

Now Rob Hollander of Save the LES sends notice of a Real Deal report that condo/hotel developer Brack Capital just bought a townhouse at 185 Bowery, adding to their clustered purchases of 187, 189, and 191. Like dominoes in a row, all four are expected to fall.

photo: dylan stone, nypl

Brack is responsible for 15 Union Square West, a boutique hotel on Grand St., and other developments in the city. It is rumored they will demolish the four low-rises for a luxury hotel. Here comes yet another giant tower, to go with the one right behind it and all the rest.

Today in #187, resident since 1980 Roberta Degnore still hangs on, the only one left and a possible roadblock to the wrecking ball. She recently told The Observer, "I’m alone in this freaking building on the Bowery, and if I scream, nobody will hear me.” (Take the money and run, Roberta--look what they're doing to Hettie Jones.)

Assuming these buildings are as old as they look, there are more stories here. #189 once had a saloon in the front and a German men's keno parlor in the back. In 1867, it was raided by the police in a "Descent upon a Bowery Keno Hell."

The Illustrated New York of 1888 tells us that #191 used to be R.H. Luthin's wholesale and retail drug house (formerly Cassebeer's drugstore) where they carried Vitalized Cordial, Wild Cherry Syrup, and Sarsaparilla. There was also "a small cigarstand and a place for the sale of hot-corn" on the site.

By the 1930s, these were all flop hotels--The Puritan at #183, The Savoy at #185--with beds and rooms from 20 cents to 50 cents apiece.

photo: nypl

It's the townhouse at #185 that is clearly the architectural gem of the bunch. It also has the most tragic story.

According to the 1884 edition of New York's Great Industries, this address was the home of Karl Hutter's Lightning Bottle-Stoppers, Lightning Fruit-Jars, and Bottlers' Supplies. Here you could see a "full assortment of his stoppers and attachments, also siphons made of French glass, with pure metal heads, bottle-filling machines, lightning bottle-washers, siphon-filling machines, corking machines," and more.

Mr. Hutter made a fortune on his lightning bottle-stopper, which "revolutionized beer bottling." You can see its descendant today on bottles of Grolsch.

photo: robert k. chin

Even with all his wealth, prized Oriental rugs, and society club memberships, Mr. Hutter could not overcome the "acute melancholia" that led to his suicide in 1913. The Times reported that Mr. Hutter filled his bathtub with water, removed his clothing, got inside, and shot himself in the head--all in his "sumptuously furnished apartment" on Central Park. He left a note, saying, "The pain and agony endured in this world cannot be more than that to be endured by the soul in the next."

There are eight million stories in the naked city. These four buildings about to vanish from the Bowery have been some of them.


Anonymous said...

Speaking of the Bowery, Varvatos is truly a disgrace to the surrounding community.

Ken Mac said...

Thanks for another miserable report. Sigh...

Anonymous said...

Great post. A shame poor Mr. Hutter didn't kill himself at #185, where his ghost might still be hanging around, deciding to haunt the yunnies who will inevitably be moving into whatever new monstrosity takes that cool old building's place, making their lives so miserable, they'll be forced to call TAPS. If only!

Ken Mac said...

Geez. forgot to ask, is this right below Houston?

Jeremiah Moss said...

ken, it's just below delancey, kind of on the corner

Jill said...

What a great story, thanks for taking the time to write it all up. I found a bottle top of the kind you describe inside the wall of my apartment. I dated it to the period of prohibition. That building is beautiful.

I can't help but think that the loss of these old buildings wouldn't be so disgraceful if the new buildings that went up included the kind of architectural detail and richness that was common in every building 100 years ago. Tenements built for the masses had stone carvings and finials that are just masterful.

Instead the new buildings are glass or plain stone boxes with no artisanry or detail that is inspiring in any way. I can't help but think that it wouldn't feel so disastrous if the replacement buildings weren't so incredibly cheap looking and without character.

Anonymous said...

"Last evening three young ruffians made a raid on his cigar-stand for the purpose of obtaining free cigars". Ha ha ha. I love how the 19th-century Times so colorfully euphemized attempted robbery.

Anonymous said...

Oh Christ, give it up. Ever since "Delirious New York" I've longed for the Manhattan that existed before a bunch of Dutch colonists decided to build Amsterdam-on-the-Hudson. That is to say, Manhattan au naturel. New York City is the epicenter of all the things in that world that have a blatant disregard for context, for sensitivity, for the past. I can't believe that anyone could be up in arms about the redevelopment of Lower New York's "Murder Zone."

Laura Goggin Photography said...

Check out Bowery Boogie today for the bad news...