C U L T U R A L HISTORY of the BOWERY
Beginning with the earliest stages of its Western colonization, the Bowery has served an integral role in the evolution of Manhattan. Originally a primary route for indigenous Native Americans traveling North from the lower regions of the island, The Bowery has continually re-invented itself as a social and commercial axis.
"To a certain extent the Bowery was self-contained and self-sufficient during the early 1800's. Its manners and customs were uniquely its own [but would soon be emulated across the country as the Bowery B'hoy figure was adopted by American popular culture. It had its own theater, and its turbulent nightlife separated it from much of the City. Within its boundaries could be found the traits of the mature City with its multifarious and complex cultural background. As the century progressed the Bowery grew to become not atypical of the City but rather a microcosm of its essence."
Once a rival to Broadway as a center for entertainment, both high and low, a series of socioeconomic transformation have contributed to the gradual degradation of its reputation and debasement of its institutions. Its central location in the booming city of New York made the Bowery seem an obvious refuge to immigrants as well as the masses of soldiers rendered homeless, first by the Civil War, and later following the two world wars. Lodging houses and tenements were built at an alarming rate on The Bowery, and throughout the surrounding areas, along with an increase in saloons, dime museums, tattoo parlors and theaters which catered to the tastes of the its ever-changing population. However, the neighborhood continuing to attract members of the elite class wanting both to participate in the spectacle and observe "how the other half lives."
With the erection of the elevated railroad at the level of the third story, the lower, and thus public realms were literally cast in shadow, strengthening The Bowery's characterization as an underworld of sorts; "The Bowery was an open valve that functioned as a release in New York City. Anything might go on in the Bowery, and be marginally tolerated as long as it was sufficiently concealed." Authorities learned to turn their back more than in any other neighborhood in Lower Manhattan, despite its central location, and the Bowery became a haven for alcoholism, drug abuse, prostitution, pornography and other "illegitimate" enterprises" Its seedy reputation and infrastructure for supporting the poor remained self-perpetuating phenomena until the 1955, with eventual demolition of the elevated rail.
Upon the excavation of the Bowery's social arena and widespread slum clearance efforts, executed throughout the ensuing decades in the name of urban renewal, its resilience to outside influence was undermined. Continuing to serve as a focus for the artistic and literary circles of men such as Andy Warhol and William Burroughs, the Bowery eventually gave rise to the punk movement of the late 1970's, early 1980's.
With the appropriation of its culture and the gentrification of surrounding neighborhoods, the identity which had been so inextricably bound to the Bowery is today more vulnerable than ever. Yet the Bowery has retained some of its most definitive characteristics, continuing to support institutions such as the restaurant equipment supply industry, lodging houses (however sparse), and eccentric nightclubs, perhaps as much because of its heritage as because these establishments simply "would not be tolerated on any other street."