Op-Ed: Taking Stock of the Surviving Federal-Style Row Houses on the Bowery

Posted on: March 27th, 2014 at 10:07 am by

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35 Cooper Square before it was demolished, January 2011

The storied Bowery, today running from Chatham Square to Cooper Square, is a broad, crooked arc, first traversed on foot by Native Americans then enlarged as a wagon road by the Dutch in 1626. Incredibly, not only does it still retain most of its original footprint but there are still a surprising number of row houses on the Bowery that are well over 200 years old! These row houses are most often characterized by their 2 ½ to 3 ½ story height, gambrel or steeply-pitched gable roof with single or paired dormers, stone lintels and sills, and brick walls laid in Flemish bond (alternating headers and stretchers within each row). Unfortunately, they are disappearing at a rapid rate. Less than a handful are protected by NYC landmarks designation.

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Edward Mooney House, May 2013

The earliest survivor is the landmarked ca. 1785 Edward Mooney House at 18 Bowery in Chinatown, the oldest documented building on the Bowery, and the oldest remaining brick row house in New York. Constructed shortly after the British evacuated New York but before Washington was inaugurated President, the 3 ½ story corner house has architectural features that show a transition from the Georgian to the newer Federal style. Edward Mooney was a well-to-do merchant in the wholesale meat trade, an industry associated with many of the early buildings on the Bowery. A public slaughterhouse opened in 1750 near present-day Bayard and Baxter Streets and at 50 Bowery the long-gone Bull’s Head Tavern had an adjoining stockyard where butchers obtained their stock in trade. The tavern, a stop on Washington’s triumphal re-entry into the city upon the British evacuation, was in the news several months ago when hand planed/axe-hewn joists and stone foundation walls were exposed during demolition work in preparation for the construction of a 22-story building on the site.

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206 Bowery still in landmarks limbo, January 2012

Calendared by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, but not yet designated is 206 Bowery, one of the last intact Federal-era row houses on the Bowery. It remarkably survives in close to original condition from the first period of development on this stretch of the Bowery. The modest 2 ½-story, three bay-wide building has one-foot thick walls of Flemish-bond brickwork, a stone foundation and a gambrel roof with paired gable dormers. 206 was likely erected around 1810 as part of a group that included the houses sharing party walls at 202, 204 and 208 Bowery. John Brown and his wife Lydia lived in number 206 and Brown operated a porterhouse next door at 208 Bowery. Many of these Federal-era buildings erected on the Bowery housed a store or workshop on the first floor with a residence on the second floor and a usable attic lit by dormer windows in the pitched roof.

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140 Bowery lost its dormers in November 2011

Endangered is 140 Bowery, also originally owned by men associated with the butchering trade. This house may have been built as early as the 1790s and still boasts Federal-era features including paneled stone lintels and a steeply-pitched roof. Regrettably, its twin gabled dormers with round-arch windows were removed in 2011 and together with its contemporary, though more altered neighbor at 142, are up for sale as a development site.

134-136 Bowery are also endangered treasures. This remarkable pair of Federal houses was built about 1798 for Samuel Delaplaine and during their long history housed the Carmel Chapel of Reverend Dooley, the New York City Mission and the art studios of Eva Hesse, Billy Apple and Gilda Pervin. These survivors should be treasured for their steeply pitched roofs, gabled dormers, Flemish-bond brickwork as well as their significant cultural associations.

Another important pair of Federal houses still stands at 40 and 42 Bowery. Built prior to 1807, they retain their original 3 ½ story height, two-bay width, Flemish bond brickwork, gable-end chimneys, stone paneled lintels and stone sills at the third floor window openings, and steeply pitched roofs with single gabled dormers, front and back. Number 40 was the headquarters of the nativist Bowery Boys in the mid-19th century. It housed a saloon in which the infamous Five Points Riot began between the Dead Rabbits, a local Irish gang and the Bowery Boys on July 4, 1857.

Luckily, several surviving Federal-style row houses are protected within the NoHo Historic District. 306 and 308-310 Bowery were built about 1820 by the Lorillard family. While the more modest 306 features incised sandstone lintels, its more elegant and grand neighbors display elaborate stepped stone lintels with ornamented center plaques. In the Noho Historic District extension, 354 and 356 Bowery, which are now five stories, started life around 1832 as Greek Revival style residences with stores. Altered about 1854 in the then-fashionable Italianate style, 354 housed the artist Peter Dudek and 356 was home to painter Cy Twombley, both in the 1970s.

Although much altered and with additional floors added, a number of Bowery buildings still retain evidence of their early construction. Numbers 14 and 76 still retain their Flemish bond brickwork and splayed stone lintels of the same style and era as the Mooney House. The four-bay width of 102 and 216 Bowery and the three-bay 156 Bowery, both with flat stone lintels at the window openings, reveal their mid-19th century Greek Revival origins.

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135 Bowery, circa 2011

Sadly, despite the best efforts of preservation groups, including the grassroots Bowery Alliance of Neighbors, two of the most architecturally significant and well preserved row houses were demolished in the last couple of years. 135 Bowery was a remarkably intact example of a 2 ½ story Federal house with a Flemish bond brick façade, an interior end chimney, and a peaked roof containing twin gabled dormers capped by a cornice with returns and wood spandrels suggesting arched windows. It was built about 1818 for John A. Hardenbrook who operated a soap and candle manufacturing establishment next door at 133 Bowery. Recognizing its importance, the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission moved to protect this rare treasure and designated it a landmark. Politics intervened and the designation was overturned by the NYC Council. Incredibly, a new 8+ story office building, simply termed an “alteration” and taking advantage of a loophole in the Department of Buildings’ regulations is now under construction on the site of the former landmark.

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