Bowery Lands on State Register of Historic Places
MANHATTAN — It's gone from seedy skid row to historic treasure.
Preservation efforts on the Bowery got a boost this week with the ancient roadway's inclusion in the State Register of Historic Places.
The designation sets the stage for the thoroughfare’s recognition in the National Register of Historic Places, which affords building owners tax breaks and grants for preserving properties.
But unlike the city's historic districts, designation on the state or national register does not protect buildings from alteration along the strip, which runs from Cooper Square south to Worth Street.
The move comes amid continued calls by local neighborhood groups to landmark more historic buildings on the Bowery, as well as establish height caps on the road's eastern flank to prevent large-scale development. Portions of Bowery's western side are already protected by the Special LIttle Italy and NoHo Historic Districts.
“The Bowery nomination is unique — it not only recognizes the architecture and cultural history of the street, but it acknowledges the earliest planning history of New York,” said historian Kerri Culhane, who wrote the Bowery’s 171-page nomination, in a statement.
“By extension, the Bowery nomination should be used as a planning tool to help guide better planning, zoning and contextual infill on this vibrant and dynamic thoroughfare, which continues to make history today.”
The Bowery dates back to Dutch times and has a long history as an entertainment district that eventually gave way to flophouses and street dwellers before undergoing a renaissance in recent years.
The famed roadway is considered the birthplace of tap dance and housed the Yiddish Theater's first American venue, historians have noted.
It also hosted the first stage adaptation of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," early vaudeville shows, as well as performers ranging from a young Irving Berlin to punk rockers The Ramones.
In addition, artists like painter Mark Rothko and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe have called the Bowery home through the years.
The Two Bridges Neighborhood Council and Bowery Alliance of Neighbors, which sponsored the designation, have long advocated for more preservation efforts in the former entertainment district, losing a fight to prevent demolition of the nearly two-century-old building at 35 Cooper Square, as well an attempt to landmark the 1817 rowhouse at 135 Bowery.
The groups noted that more than 10 percent of the street’s current buildings, which are “out of scale and character with the historically low-rise Bowery,” were constructed in the last decade.
“It’s hard to believe that a case had to be made for the significance of one of our most historic streets and all of the folklore that surrounds it,” said Two Bridges president Victor Papa.
“This isn’t just Lower East Side history — this is national history. It is now undeniably clear that the Bowery plays a central role in the canon of American history.”
The Bowery’s designation in the State Register will be forwarded to the National Register, which is maintained by the National Park Service and seeks to protect and preserve significant American landmarks.