Friday, September 12, 2008

Bowery Tsunami

Curbed's announcement that 257 Bowery will be turned into a big glass box means that the building that long held M. Kabram & Sons will be vanishing. It is only the latest victim in the unnatural disaster that is sweeping down Bowery today.

Begun by three Kabram brothers in 1908 and moved to this location in 1920, the restaurant supply store began renting its wares to television and movies in the 1950s. A diner counter appeared in The Honeymooners. A pizza oven starred in Goodfellas.

The Kabrams sold the building (it was sold again in May for $8.5 million) and auctioned off their inventory earlier this year. Clyde Haberman covered the auction for the Times, reporting: "Just about every inch of space was crammed with wooden bars, booths, cappuccino makers, ancient cash registers, grills, soda dispensers, cigarette machines, menu boards with removable letters, butcher-paper cutters, mounds of cups and dishes, malted-milk blenders and a few tabletop juke boxes flipped to Connie Francis and Nat King Cole tunes."

For these and other relics from a vanishing New York, former city of goodfellas and honeymooners, the Bowery is becoming a gallery destination simultaneously turning into a luxury playground, like SoHo and west Chelsea before it--though usually galleries get about a decade headstart. Not anymore. Collective Hardware has come, Bowery Boogie reports the arrival of Small A Projects, and Downtown Express has the story about "major Chelsea art gallery" The White Box, "decamped for the Lower East Side."

The White Box's director "forecasted that about 150 to 200 galleries will eventually move to the L.E.S., but that they will ultimately be displaced by upscale residential and retail development. 'This neighborhood will change irrevocably,' he stated. 'It’s a natural pattern we have in New York, constantly.'"

Again we hear the common fantasy that the profound and excessive change we've seen in the city over the past decade is the same as the "natural" and constant flow of change that has made New York the living organism it's always been. It's like saying, "Since the climate has always changed naturally, there's no such thing as global warming." It may calm one's fears, but it just isn't true. Meanwhile, the water is rising.

Today's change is undeniably faster, bigger, and more monocultural than what we've had in the past. Over more than the past century, the Bowery has changed--its tenements held industrial supply stores, then opera houses, then vaudeville houses, then flophouses, then artist's crappy lofts and kitchen supply stores. How this rate and scale of change can be deemed synonymous and harmonious with the current tsunami, in which those tenements are bulldozed in bunches to erect glass towers for the uber-rich, I cannot fathom.

This tsunami is not to be outrun. No neighborhood is safe. When it's done, there will be nothing left but the tidy, shiny mess it leaves behind. And there will be no going back.

Take a walk down Bowery and see how complete the transformation is becoming. Bring along my half-assed map that includes only a handful of the changes that have come, and keep coming, since just 2005. Let me say that another way. Four years ago, none of this existed. That's fast, that's big, and that's not business-as-usual in the ever-changing city:

From north to south:


Anonymous said...

Sad but true. You are right - there is a distinction between natural civic progress and the complete upheaval and sale of Manhattan. Those who keep beating that drum can't see the big picture. Old New York will only live on in the movies, and in our memories.

"If one more letter goes to this kids' the fucking oven you're gonna go, head first" - Tooty Cicero.

Anonymous said...

It's really awful. The worst part is that they are all basically making room for these chain stores. Everything in New York is a chain and it's boring. I really don't understand the draw of NYC anymore, why go to Times Square to see Levi's, Sephora, Abercrombie, etc, it's the same stuff they have in their middle america strip mall towns.

Manhattan is really turning into the gated community I had joked about in the past. It's all thanks to people like Bloomberg, who encourage growth of super huge chains and luxury on every corner.

esquared™ said...

After all is done, Bowery will now be Bowel-y.

Jeremiah Moss said...

...or DISembowel-y

Anonymous said...

just made a half-assed google attempt to find this... but it is verifiably changing faster than the historical norm. there was a documentary on pbs a few years ago, maybe even pre-9/11, about the political wheeling and dealing behind it -- which basically amounted to real estate lobbyists throwing money at albany to change zoning laws and whatnot.


Anonymous said...

when will the yunnies stop ruining this city?

Jill said...

Did you notice on Delancey on the blue building that the for lease sign on the storefront where they can't seem to find an occupant (it's been over a year) proclaims that it's a great opportunity for a big box store. I never thought I'd see the day when someone proudly advertised that what they wanted in their fancy building is a Walmart. Unfortunately I didn't get a photo of it. Maybe tomorrow on my way to pickle day I'll get a shot.

Anonymous said...

What is going to become of the vacant building on bowery x prince?

Laura Goggin Photography said...

My morning commute down Bowery used to be my favorite part of the day. I loved seeing and chatting with the restaurant supply vendors and the industrial bustle on the sidewalk. Now, it makes me too sad; I've changed my route just to avoid seeing my favorite people disappear.