Downtown East

The Commissioners’ Plan of 1811 was rigorously implemented here early on. The northernmost point, for various reasons, is East 23rd Street at Madison Square. The close comes at East Canal Street, and extends from the East River to Fifth Avenue, but not all the way through because Broadway crosses Fourth and Fifth Avenues, which ends at Seventh Street. Thereafter and to Canal Street Broadway separates the East and West Sides. The neighborhoods fanning out from a specific square or compact common, (with the exception of East Houston to Canal Street), from north to south, are:

  • Flatiron and Union Square encompasses the northwest, from East 23rd to 14th Street, spanning Fifth to Park Avenue South, which is Fourth Avenue.
  • Gramercy Park and Stuyvesant Squares, between East 23rd and 14th Streets, span Park Avenue South to Second Avenue’s east. (Two vast housing complexes, Peter Cooper Village, and Stuyvesant Town, occupy the First-Avenue-to-East-River blocks.)
  • East Village comprises East 14th to Houston Streets, and amalgamates Cooper Square and the Gold Coast, NoHo and Alphabet City, as one neighborhood.
  • Lower East Side and Nolita, the southern sector, cover Houston to Canal Streets along Broadway to the irregular East River shoreline.

Beginning with Colonial Times

Immediately below Madison Square (at East 21st Street), was the southernmost point of the Native people’s major north-to-south trade path, universally known as the Mohican Trail. From New Amsterdam, this was the northern homestead limit and the first stagecoach station. Moreover, beyond the hill, the north side saltwater meadows, where better farmland stretched from East 28th to North (Houston) Streets, was owned by ex-Governor Peter Stuyvesant and his wife Judith (nee Bayard). Its entirety was inclusive from the East River to The Bowery—Old Dutch for a farm road. Several dirt lanes, including 1) Art (East Seventh) Street, Greenwich Lane’s eastern link, 2)

Sandy Hill Road (now Astor Place), and 3) Stuyvesant Street (which converges with East Ninth Street)—all led to the Stuyvesant manor house, Bouwerij or farm, nearby the river. (1655-1755) A hamlet, running from North Street passed Stuyvesant Street, continuing through Union Place (East 13th to 17th Street), and ending at Love Lane (East 21st Street), was contained within the wedge-shaped area created by Bloomingdale Road (the future Broadway) and Bowery Road. Love Lane continued due east, the Bloomingdale Road moved northwest, and the easterly fork led to the Eastern Post Road (approximating present-day Lexington Avenue).

According to History of the American People, Vol. I., by Woodrow Wilson, 1902, Petrus Stuyvesant, 1592-1672, purchased outright from his employers in 1651: “a farm…along with southern Bowery No. 2… and a large meadowland north tract and…totaling over 300 acres.” Furthermore, over and over, Stuyvesant’s descendants expanded the family’s holdings. At their greatest extent in the early 18th century, the landholdings comprised the bulk presently east of The Bowery, from East 30th Street to Stanton Street. The Governor-General’s 1651 purchase along The Bowery (now Fourth Avenue), until Peter Winthrop Rutherfurd Stuyvesant’s 1970 death, miraculously remained Stuyvesant-descendant owned—the city’s longest recorded, continuous, family title. He, too, is interned in the family vault nearby the St. Mark’s Church outer wall slab marking Governor Stuyvesant’s tomb—at the outer fringe of his Bouwerij. (The 1780s)

One-hundred years after Stuyvesant’s 1672 death, with Minetta West Branch providing pure clean water for the homes and remaining homesteads, the few scattered colonial farmhouses expanded to better than 100 structures. The pie-shaped wedge developed into Bowery Village—a suburb just beyond the North Street city limit. Along East Sixth to Seventh Streets, a farmer’s market evolved to avoid a Market Wagon tax, by not entering into town. Upper Bowery Road, a country road still, filled out gradually with comfortable residences, built for artisans and greengrocers, as well as an oyster house at Love Lane, where the East Post Road rider exchanged the villager’s mail and horses, for the last leg into the city. As the thoroughfares became well established, the homesteads disappeared and the village, as such, was engulfed—with the exception of St. Marks-in-the-Bowery (at one

time, a Dutch Reformed Church). (1811)

When Stuyvesant scions, Peter G. and Nicholas W., to a lesser extent Mary, controlled this vast holding—not to mention, to the south, their innumerable tracts acquired through 18th-century marriages—Downtown East rapidly came under the planned grid. Each post-Revolutionary War northerly residential development push was tied directly to Lower Manhattan due south and that district’s composition. Post-War of 1812, the lower ward’s residential streets emptied of the wealthy as each epidemic episode occurred. So much as in fact, 1835’s late-night, Great New York Fire only took two resident’s lives. Furthermore, distinctly different residential enclaves evolved within corridors bounded between avenues. They emerged defined for dirt-poor workers or up-and-coming recent immigrants or the filthy rich.

(Early 19th-century)

The open expanses were deemed barely sufficient (as building heights quickly rose, the oversight was instantly apparent). However, respectable residential neighborhoods slowly radiated outward from the few citypurchased or donated parcels or those excised from allowable irregularities within the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811 and fashioned by the incursion of Broadway. The core early 1800s commons, beginning in the north, are:

  • Madison Square, where Broadway crosses Fifth Avenue, comprises East 25th Street to 23rd Streets, with both Fifth Avenue and Broadway on the west, as they cross, and (namesake) Madison Avenue is east. Firstly, there had been an inn—at the first to or last from the city, three miles south—and a small cemetery. Next, the tract became a War of

1812 military installation—the United States Magazine and Parade Ground. Strategically purchased by the city council, a planted park eventually opened in 1847. (The Flatiron District evolved as a neighborhood inclusive of East 18th Street, along Fifth Avenue as well as Broadway, and to Park Avenue South. However, its borders could hardly be differentiated from the 1900s Men’s Textile or 1970s Photo Districts.)

  • Gramercy Park is a green respite, from East 21st to 20th Streets, in the Park-to-Third-Avenues mid-blocks, and corresponds with Lexington Avenue’s terminus.

This straightforward common exception was its real-estate developer’s brainchild: provide a private garden in trust for adjacent residents’ use exclusively. It still is. The Gramercy area spreads in each direction and takes in East 22nd to 17th Street, which includes Irving Place, Lexington Avenue’s continuation to East 14th Street.

  • Stuyvesant Square, at the Gramercy Area’s southeastern corner, was gifted to the city by Peter Gerard Stuyvesant, the great-great-grandson of the tyrannical colonial governor.

The New-York Historical Society co-founder felt duty-bound to construct an environment with a tangible amenity, in which a better neighborhood would bloom. In 1836, of course, Mr. Stuyvesant owned the environs—as far as the eye could see.

  • Union Square covers East 17th to 14th Streets, where three key thoroughfares—Broadway, Fourth Avenue, and East 14th Street— converge. (The colonial Bloomingdale Road and Bowery Road merged exactly here too, as Union Place.)

The area continues from the Flatiron District’s south perimeter, as East 17th to 12th Streets and along Fifth Avenue, University Place, Park Avenue South, Broadway, as well as to Irving Place.

  • Cooper Square is formed at the Lafayette Street, Fourth Avenue, and The Bowery convergences, running from East Ninth to Fourth Streets. It is the heart of the East Village, which incorporates the western portion, once Minto Farm, spanning East Seventh (Waverly Place) to Tenth Streets, extending from The Bowery to Fifth Avenue.
  • Tompkins Square, the land tract gifted by Nicholas and Maria (nee Beekman) Stuyvesant, in 1829, encases East Tenth to Seventh Street, and Avenue A to B.

Alphabet City, which surrounds the park was troubled from its inception, and missed its intended mark by not attracting the genteel residents Stuyvesant envisioned attracting, but the working classes and immigrants.

  • Washington Square comprises a branch of Minetta Creek, running from West Seventh to Fourth Streets and the mid-point of Sixth-to-FifthAvenue blocks east to University Place, which approximates Madison Avenue.

Initially, this parcel was purchased from the Abraham dePeyster heirs as a cemetery. Once drained it became a parade ground, and finally an open common. It eradicates Fifth Avenue, and as Greenwich Village’s centerpiece, Washington Square Park became the southern bastion for The Avenue, the city’s aristocratic residential realm.

Additionally, now, Broadway dividing the East from West Side, and having begun its due south trajectory, (without creating grid irregularities, without open spaces either gifted or planned or otherwise), the southern sector expanse between East Houston and Canal Streets, progressed to be the infamous Lower East Side slum.

East 23rd to 14th Streets

Flatiron-Union Square-Park Avenue South

While Fifth Avenue and Park Avenue South run parallel from East 17th to 14th Streets, Broadway, however, is anything but that straightforward. In fact, here Broadway undergoes its most complex traffic hub incursion, comprising five north-to-south thoroughfares intersecting four east-to-west streets—one is a widened cross street. This is how the traffic flows: First, Broadway at East 17th Street heads east one block as Union Square East, which joins to Park Avenue South, as Fourth Avenue and continues below East 14th Street. Next, Union Square West, Broadway’s three-block long southerly extension, runs ten blocks beyond East 14th Street, as University Place. Additionally, to East 14th Street’s south, Then, Broadway picks up again, a short distance east from where Fourth Avenue continues. Meanwhile, East 14th Street continues east-to-west, as the final element, East 15th and 16th and 17th Streets, are diverted briefly by Union Square Park.

That is a chunk of changes! The key parcels to complete the intersecting streets and avenues belonged to the heirs of Henry Springler, which the city purchased. The Springler farm once spread west for two avenues and northto-south from East 16th to West 12th Streets, and it presents Manhattan’s most fortuitous real-estate conveyance surprise. Henry Springler was literally a quintessential gardener-farmer. Because, in fact, he didn’t even own the farm he worked before the British occupation and throughout the War of Independence. He merely stayed on long after its Tory owner’s departure.

For the following 20 years, Henry Springler, the loyalist’s gardener, tilled the land, sowed the crops, rode his cart with the produce to market at North Street, and most importantly, he paid the annual $20 taxes. One day, Mr. according to the “adverse possession” principle; certainly, a prodigious deed

for his heirs. (1830-90)

To prove a point—planted parks matter—as the baffling dilemma was resolved, Union Square Park’s on-and-off-again planting proposal delays affected the adjoining lots’ improvement. Though, soon enough, veritable mansions were built alongside the city’s fanciest emporiums, which were moving north up Broadway—in lockstep. Actually, this is where Brooks Brothers—founded in 1818, on Lower Manhattan’s Catharine Street—opened its first uptown store. Simultaneously, Madison Square enjoyed a tight-knit, aristocratic and brownstone-owner nucleus. Although this crowd arrived, thrived, but departed abruptly when Madison Square Garden (the 1889 city’s first sports arena) opened on the northeast corner of Madison Avenue and East 25th Street.

In 20 years, Fifth Avenue was built-out with mansions (the likes of August Belmont’s on 19th Street), and an acceptable limit was moving north fast, as was the important Broadway retail corridor ladies’ fashion emporiums encircling Madison Square, rendering it an early 20th-century commercialization victim. One “of the era” church and a few brownstones, with their stoop intact, remain on East 22nd and 20th Streets, at Broadway’s east; this includes Theodore Roosevelt’s birthplace. (1900-50)

The century mark began well. The ensuing years did not go as well. In Union Square’s heyday, before being transmuted to the city’s commercial hub, when the Fifth Avenue mansions were replaced by an up-to-the-minute office building facing the square, East 14th Street was no longer the gilded restaurant and bawdy, nightlife row. The Great Depression would reduce the southern and western park edges to pushcart-lined curbside marts—precisely where Tiffany & Co. and suchlike retail icons had stood. Perhaps the signature department store, on East 14th Street and Fourth Avenue, S. Klein’s (“On the Square,” a later add-on implying, on the level), best typifies the “rag trade” and rags-to-riches downturn. Within 15 years, a one-room retail dress shop, capitalized with $600 and 36 dresses on a rack, became the world’s largest womenswear store, selling $25,000,000 (a year) worth of merchandise to bargain-hunting, women willing to find the ultimate by pawing through bins and racks. Fifteen years hence, Hyman Philip Kuchai, the Grayson Shops’ president, bought and took the brand national. After 15 years of that, S.

Klein’s on the square was defunct. (1970-2000) The ubiquitous Men’s Textile Center, which dominated the adjacent Unionto-Madison- Squares side street loft buildings, was converted to live-work studios as a Photography District. Union Square and East 17th Street was undergoing an underground awakening at a red, neon-lighted restaurant, called Max’s Kansas City. This supra-popular watering hole, populated by the counter-culture elite, included Andy Warhol as stand-in titular host. His Factory entourage, ensconced across the square, arrived nightly. Even so, initially, nothing would awaken the moribund area. The park was closed and the plantings and paths replaced, a weekend farmer’s market occupied the north and west portions, and a protracted city-wide stagflation gradually pushed the pushcarts off East 14th Street. A colossal condominium was erected above the S. Klein’s block-front site. The Guardian Life Insurance building façade was spiffed up. Notable retailers attempted to establish themselves on the northwest and southwest corners; they failed.

Each surrounding area did revive from the catastrophic downfall: lower

Fifth Avenue regained stature as a world-class retail strip. The route to the East Village was an early 1990s gentrification poster-child neighborhood:

South along Fifth Avenue or southeast down Broadway, from East 22nd to 15th Streets, turn-of-the-century office buildings and light-manufacturing loft buildings were reconfigured for residential usage, with ground-floor restaurants or shops. The Union Square area was on the move—finally. Not on the square itself, however, though something was stirring—though, not evident from the street. Old-guard businesses had remained; much more than initially thought. The refurbished Guardian office building reinvented itself as a five-star hotel. A new residential tower rose at the southern perimeter, with a square-facing retail space and a cinema complex, on East 13th Street. The long-ignored façades, here and there, reappeared with a facelift. Union Square, too, entered the 21st century as a part of the new Downtown.

Gramercy Park

This one-mid-block wide, rectangular common creates two truncated parkfront streets, Gramercy Park East and West. The park remains Manhattan’s singular private formal garden. It’s a casual insulated place, and longtime residents refer to living in “the Gramercy area,” or simply “Gramercy” is sufficient too. As a neighborhood Gramercy incorporates the adjacent blocks running east from Park Avenue South to Second Avenue. Moreover, the strictly residential portions, excluding a post-war apartment house here and there along Third Avenue, remain very much as they have for 100 years—a pleasure to stroll.

Of particular interest, at the southeast perimeter though not provided for at its inception, is 34 Gramercy Park East. It is an archetypal, innovative apartment house—the Osborne Flats, Dakota Apartments, and Chelsea Hotel’s peer. (A fifth example, the Stuyvesant Apartments, 142 East 18th Street, at Irving Place, designed by Richard Morris Hunt, has since met its wrecker’s ball. A sixth, the Windermere Apartments, on West 57th Street and Ninth Avenue, or the seventh, a Rhinelander family effort on East 86th Street at

Second Avenue were of the age but not the peerage, luxury-wise.) (1836) Conceived and developed by Samuel B. Ruggles, an influential real-estate titan, who featured prominently in the Union Square traffic-flow solution, and he lobbied the city successfully to insert Lexington and Madison Avenues into the grid plan (while simultaneously, conveniently might occur), he acquired the undeveloped Corporation of the City of New York repatriated Stuyvesant, Rose Hill Farm, acreage to the would-be Lexington Avenue’s south. In trust, Ruggles granted the 60 parcel owners a commons, replete with lavishly planted trees, shrub-lined paths, and its signature, encasing, cast-iron gates. These two acres, a drained swamp, essentially, recreated with a decidedly Victorian-era formal ambiance, reputedly costing $250,000 (at the time, not a trifling sum, as the saying is). The brownstone-lined parkside, as well as the blocks along Irving Place to East 14th Street, became a magnet for the moneyed; specifically, those with a trickle of the Bohemian flowing with the blue blood in their veins.

Immediately adjacent to the park retains an intimate scale in accordance to the trust codicils—residential-only usage. Only one red-brick, Georgian mansion, on Gramercy Park South, at Irving Place, is truly imposing, though. Over time, there were park-facing brownstone conversions as a small apartment house. Plus, a handful of luxury, pre-war apartment houses are concentrated near Gramercy Park, with others sparsely scattering on the surrounding blocks. However along Irving Place to East 14th Street, encroaching commercialization was increasingly rampant. Yet, throughout the tree-lined neighborhood each block is unique—for instance, the classic, brownstone row house strips best draws the distinction on East 19th Street, in the Irving-Place-to-Third-Avenue block, with its array of town houses as well as three miniature (dollhouse-like) single-family homes—it is a truly special block.

Stuyvesant Square

Originally named Holland Square, perhaps rightly, but this is presently Stuyvesant Square. On the whole, the neighborhood is thought of as coexisting within Gramercy, more or less a portion around a second common. To begin with, when Second Avenue had been graded and opened for 20 years, the Stuyvesant heirs, (already among the city’s wealthiest and most influential citizens), wanted to get on with improving their properties, which had been laid out along the 1811 grid guidelines. According to the transfer agreement, the four-acre 1836 park was a gift to be: “…fenced in the manner of Union Square, and planted like Washington Square…built and paid for…and maintained thereafter…by the city.” The donor’s intent was clearly to entice the citizenry commuting to the city aboard horse-drawn trams. (Moreover, the Stuyvesant’s were still convinced that Second Avenue was destined to be Manhattan’s “the” premier residential avenue—disregarding, as a fluke, the popularity Fifth Avenue was garnering.)

Wrangling, however, began between the donor, Peter Stuyvesant, a grandson and the city council, resulting in meager plantings but nothing more. Better than a decade passed before the evenly spiked cast-iron fence was installed: three years later, the courts ordered the city council to complete the work they had agreed to. Subsequently, two fountains and landscaping were in place right away. A second (minor) heir, Cornelia Stuyvesant Ten Broeck instigated developing Nos. 326-30 East 18th Street, as brick row houses, with deep front yards, and wrought-iron verandas.


Each shortcoming aside, in particular, Second Avenue dissecting the castiron gate park, and the truncated adjacent blocks, including East 17th-15th Streets, instead, soon, the area contained numerous single-family row houses. Moreover, near to the park was an array of classic-style, uppermiddle-class town houses. The midblock’s western edge, Rutherfurd Place (named for Helen Rutherfurd Stuyvesant’s father, an 1811 New York City commissioner and signatory to the grid plan), was graced with two established houses of worship: the northerly 1856 St. George’s Church and the 1861 Friends Meeting House—both erected on land donated by Peter G. Stuyvesant, and both with the intention to lure respectable tenants. And they did! The square became among the more fashionable addresses anywhere in the city. The square-facing town houses were above all lavish, indeed. Notable among them was a grand, triple-wide town house, which was a Henry J. Hardenbergh gem; and at 245 East 17th Street, an austere 1883 French Renaissance brick-and-brownstone home, designed by Richard Morris Hunt. The eastern portion evolved, partially, as a healthcare facility, however—prior to the century mark, the neighborhood’s luster faded, its panache rubbed off—recent immigrants moved into the neighborhood. The East 15th Street homes and northern Rutherfurd Place town houses are intact to this day. The East 17th Street row houses, though, are juxtaposed to tenement apartment houses, a single-room-occupancy (or, S.R.O.) hotel, and a hulking healthcare-institution-to-residential-usage conversion at the Second Avenue corner.

East 14th to Houston Streets

East Village

There is a long rich history that evolved here, obviously. The proximity to the early settlement and rich loam, like a magnet, attracted the Dutch immediately. From the outset here is where the colonial governor owned and farmed. Over time, though, spanning Broadway to the East River—even north of Houston Street— became lumped together as one part of town, Lower East Side. Throughout the depression era and until the mid-1950s, the New York school of artists moved in because the rents were low here.

“Positively 4th Street,” the Bob Dylan classic 1965 title epitomized its mid1960s flowering, and since redefined as East Village, the easternmost sector progressed toward a startling amalgam of N.Y.U. students and the hip, contrasted by a dash of the upper-class elite, ample up-and-coming urbanites, spiked with a healthy dose of the “Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n Roll” crowd—easily recognized by their attire and accouterments, Heavy Metal—all co-residing alongside Tompkins Square Park live in’s, the homeless.

By the mid-1970s, a city-wide housing construction stoppage dried up the existing inventory quickly, and without the wartime draft, more and more young men and women arrived in Manhattan. For a decade, college grads and young, striving artists poured in, also looking for low rent, and they found it here. Beginning in the near west, say from East 13th Street and south, offBroadway and surrounding Fourth Avenue, the late 1980s brought waves of new residents, and they were decidedly not coming for the low rent, they wanted in on the lifestyle.

While virtually no opulent town houses were built, except on St. Mark’s Place, which is now a vintage clothes or trinket or whatnot shop. The East Village is no longer exclusively tenement apartment houses, though there are plenty still. For example, along East Seventh through Fourth Streets and east of The Bowery, remain uninterrupted rows of tenements. Moreover, extensive 1900-10 “new” style tenement rows are crammed one after another east of Second Avenue through to Avenue D. The present-day dwelling type range includes the starkly modern, on The Bowery, to light-manufacturing loft buildings, at the immediate west. On the side streets are several quaint working-class, single-family row house enclaves, between East 13th and Ninth Streets, spanning The Bowery to the Second-to-First-Avenue blocks and then again off East Houston Street.

Before detailing each distinct neighborhood within the East Village first is a fact of 1800s life: arriving immigrants moved into areas dominated by their fellow countrymen. Strictly on religious lines, too. Therefore, incoming boats originating from a Scottish or Irish port, German or Italian city-state, for example, was met dockside by countrymen. The city provided few social services, little in the way of healthcare or education, and each community provided protection from rival groups; they offered housing and a workplace, too. Furthermore, time didn’t change the social ordering. (1830-1890) As one example applicable for 60 years, here’s how the village along The Bowery was transformed by Peter Stuyvesant’s scions. Before opening as Tompkins Square Park, the land granted was planted and surrounded by a wrought-iron fence. Immediately a working-class, Kleindeutschland, the conglomeration of Prussian, Bavarian, Hessian, and Rhinelander communities appeared. In fact, though disparate in part, the whole were identical in that all the inhabitants were German-speaking, Protestant, literate and political-minded, as well as industrious artisans and skilled craftsmen, with a honed trade—woodworker, watchmaker, or baker and so forth. Additionally, their earliest tenement rows were built one notch better, let us say, with a rear court water pump, ground-floor retail shop or a tavern, and work rooms on the first floor. What’s more, the six-to-eight modest apartments above were neat, however, the Little German community, already in a decline, relocated elsewhere (in large part uptown to Yorkville, after the General Slocum day-boat disaster). More recent immigrants crowded into their well-kept homes and usurped the shops, taverns, and Weisse Garten—

Tompkins Square Park.

While reading each part of town, for the real-estate holders as the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811 was arriving, it’s reasonable (and will reward you handsomely) to look through the Landowner’s directory, pages 23 to 40. The present thriving neighborhoods comprising the East Village are, as follows:

In the Center

Cooper Square

The neighborhood takes in St. Mark’s Place, which is East Eighth Street, and extends from East 12th to Fourth Streets, from The Bowery (Third Avenue, above East Ninth Street), and spanning east to Second Avenue—much of which is student housing. (The 1650s)

At Cooper Square’s east, a fork at East Eighth Street creates St. Mark’s Place, and it continues east before terminating at Avenue A, Tompkins Square Park. A second fork is Stuyvesant Street, running on a diagonal to Second Avenue, covering East Ninth to Tenth Streets. Among Manhattan’s oldest streets, this attractive row-house block is a minor fraction of the country lane leading from The Bowery to the Stuyvesant farm.

When the original Bowerij, the manor house, burned down (a common fate for patriot land gentry’s homes, in 1778), immediately, its replacement, Petersfield, was begun by Peter G. Stuyvesant. The new manor house, comprising East 16th and 15th Streets, along the First Avenue block front, and was completed after the War of Independence. A far shorter portion of Stuyvesant Street remained his estate’s access from The Bowery. It was to be his land development scheme’s hub. Despite power and influence, his overall street design was obliterated in favor of the 1811 grid plan. Twenty-one Stuyvesant Street, the Stuyvesant Fish House, owned by the engineering college, in fact, was the 1803 wedding gift by Peter to his daughter, Elizabeth, who married Nicholas Fish, a Revolutionary war Major. Additionally, Fish was the lawyer who won the Stuyvesant Square enactment case against the

city. (The 1820s)

An early Square fixture, (the third) Vauxhall Gardens was a 35-year entrenched city amusement and recreation destination. A brief history, Residential Neighborhood Pillars, begins on page 75; it takes into account the public’s appetite for this sort of outdoor space. An update and rework of Dr. Sperry’s botanical garden provided gravel paths and shrubs, a small theater and regular fireworks, opened between East Fourth to Eighth Streets, spanning Broadway to The Bowery. John Jacob Astor owned and leased the land for 30 years, but took it over and built an up-scale residential district, between East Sixth and Eighth Streets, and, by reconfiguring Sand Hill Road (the southwest-to-northeast colonial farm lane), he created Astor Place. Colonnade Row, originally, Lagrange Terrace, a series of nine Greek revival homes and the Astor Library (now the Public Theater), were within the

enclave. (The 1850s)

Cooper Union Foundation Building, the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, founded in 1859, as a campus occupies the southern wedge, where East Seventh and Eighth Streets meet The Bowery at its convergence with Lafayette Street and Fourth Avenue. The square’s centerpiece has an illustrious heritage; its Great Hall stood as a free-speech bastion and conduit for the flow of American history and ideas. Since opening it boasted an impressive list of speakers—to name one, Abraham Lincoln, who proclaimed his anti-slavery position there. In 130 years, The Bowery block fronts, everywhere between Stuyvesant and East Houston Streets, would be the city’s longstanding “’bummy bum-bums’ Bowery,” always stocked with besotted mendicants holding out their hands. Much has changed: Fortunately, a vastly expanded East Village Historic District has been Landmark Commission approved, which permanently preserves another slice of old Manhattan for future generations.

To the West

Gold Coast

Minto Farm, owned by the Snug Harbor Trust, ran north from Art Street, East Seventh Street, and continued as far as East Tenth Street. In the west, the land tract border then stretched from The Bowery and jagged northwest to Fifth Avenue, where it approximated East and West Fourth and Fifth Street as well as Waverley Place. This included Washington Square North, at Fifth Avenue’s south terminus, and the nascent specialty shop and departmentstore rows, then following along with Broadway. The extent, essentially, was the very heart of the city’s mid-1800s social domain.

The Mineto farm’s title fell to Trustees of the Sailors’ Snug Harbor by the 1801 Will of Captain Robert Richard Randall. Additionally, the captain designated his Manhattan holdings (not Randall Island, though) to be used to build, “…an asylum or Marine Hospital to maintain and to support aged, decrepit, and worn-out sailors.” According to the last Testament, the trust was thereafter in the hands of eight eminent New York men. The board of directors included the New York State chancellor, city mayor and recorder, Episcopal and Presbyterian leaders, and The Marine Society senior officers. The Surrogate Court’s interpretation was: “…the farmland, comprised of a mansion and other buildings within 21 acres, was to be divided into 253 leasehold lots…” In a nutshell: the farm encompassed ten square blocks, and thereafter, the yearly proceeds would provide the funds, rather than occupying the property as is for the Marine Hospital’s use. A sagacious court pronouncement since within two decades, as running along and off Fifth (The Avenue), and then spanned east across Broadway, it would be a prime uppercrust neighborhood. (1809-1920)

To maintain that the Trust landholdings became more than a merely important income source barely says it all. And while the redirected funds were put to excellent use, business-wise the eight eminent New Yorkers lacked acumen. The initial years went along satisfactorily, and the prized lots were leased for development. This included the Washington Square North Row, an initial trustee enterprise, too, 100 years later, No. One Fifth Avenue’s financing, which proved to be their final proactive Downtown East real-estate investment. In between, there were years of terrible mistakes and disastrous oversight as well as misguided decisions, such as leases awarded to vast sweatshop loft swath, including the Ashe Building, on Greene Street, the 1911 Shirtwaist Factory Fire site. Additionally, the New York University’s 200-year lease acquisitions and campus-building goings-on sparked the 1834 New York

Stonecutters Riot protesting prison labor. (The 1970s)

With a lack of interest, on the part of sailors to retire at the Staten Island 130-acre farm, Sailor’s Snug Harbor closed. (Not for mismanagement, contrarily, the healthcare methods are undisputedly the elder-care beginnings.) The shoddy development and poorly managed real-estate investments—made on the Trust’s behalf, by trustees—were liquidated, however.

As the South


Situated North of Houston Street, this is a loft-conversion district, which runs along The Bowery to Broadway, which includes Bond, East Fourth, Great Jones, and Bleecker Streets. The neighborhood takes in L-shaped Jones Alley, off Lafayette, and opposite Mott Street is Shinbone Alley, which connects

Lafayette and Bleecker Streets, across the way (1827-97) The blocks adjacent to The Bowery’s west, between Cooper Square and East Houston Street, comprised an initial and penultimate fashionable residential neighborhood enclave beyond North Street—with its elegant shopping district on Lafayette Street (note, not Broadway here). To begin, the fifth-generation Manhattanite clan, led by Peter Schermerhorn and his cousins ensconced themselves one block east, along Broadway, on Fourth, Bond, and Great Jones Streets. Around the corner on Lafayette Place, at Prince Street, the United States president and statesman James Monroe died, in 1831, while visiting his daughter and son-in-law, Peter Grosvenor. Across the way was the Le Roy mansion, a merchant-prince family and the partner of the colonial ironmonger Peter Goelet. Their firm was the cutlery and hardware, known as the Golden Key of Hanover Square.

As is the Merchant’s House Museum, on East Fourth Street, the Seabury Tredwell home– another prosperous hardware merchant—the only existing home of the era. Built in 1835, it is red-brick, with white marble accents, and an archetypal three-story and dormer roof, single-family row house example. Over the next 50 years, the entire area was in flux, beginning with the nearby cast-iron-façade commercial building boom overrunning the more delicately ensconced residential streets, perhaps best exemplified by 50 Bond Street, a Classical Revival style store, and loft building, designed by Cleverdon and Putzel, which was built in 1896-97. Everywhere, the exclusive and prosperous enclave’s traditional-style homes were replaced by loft buildings. The area was then a light-manufacturing district until the Great Depression-era when wholesale factory closings attracted artists to the area’s expansive, uninterrupted, vacant spaces. (1930-90) Hans Hofmann, a noteworthy Depression-era abstract expressionist as well as a renowned art teacher, withdrew from Art Students League of New York to open his school on Eighth Street, near to Broadway. The list of distinguished artists who studied there is remarkable, including Lee Krasner, Helen Frankenthaler, Larry Rivers, Robert de Niro Sr., and Red Grooms. The enclave was home and studio to Marcel Duchamp, Edward Hopper, and Léger. Its influence became the New York School of Art. The area’s “Artists-inResidence” were Wilhelm de Kooning, Clyfford Stills (first in 1945, then briefly in the 50s), Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, Jasper Johns, Robert Motherwell, Rachel Rosenthal, Jack Tworkov John Ferren, and Conrad MarcaRelli—to name a few masters of their oeuvre.

The next reincarnation began unassumingly and slow enough as a tightlyknit artist’s district, with Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein, Chuck Close, documentary filmmaker, Jay Maisel, and groundbreaking photographer Diane Arbus, moving nearby. Within 20 years, these very same loft-buildinglined streets were metamorphosing as NoHo. Then, 20 years later, NoHo reinvented itself yet again; and now, drawing an elite crowd with uptown inclinations and decidedly downtown tastes. These techno-metro-sexual residents expect their loft-converted spaces to provide five-star amenities and services. So, they now do—at every possible turn.

Easterly, too

Alphabet City

At its heart is Tompkins Square Park, and the neighborhood encompasses the surrounding blocks. The extremities reach East 12th to Fifth Streets, and between First Avenue and Avenue C. The Bowery streets leading to Tompkins Square Park—with a checkered past all of its own—became longstanding problematic slum blocks. The farthest easterly portion, East 10th Street, near to Avenue C, met the wharves’ northernmost point. The predominant dwelling type, the precursor of tenement apartment houses, promoted the bare minimum for the ongoing immigration waves, and it lined the slumlords pockets—for 150 years. During the Federal era, all the land to East 15th Street’s south, spreading from The Bowery beyond First Avenue, belonged to Nicholas Stuyvesant. On his cousin’s death, Peter consolidated the Stuyvesant holding’s control; he was then (thought to be) the city’s wealthiest citizen, possible the nation’s.

Like Stuyvesant Square and Gramercy Park the notion that a common open space was for the exclusive benefit of the adjacent owners and tenants—not public parkland—prevailed. This 1829 land grant to the city came with a specific intention (all at the city expense, again): anchor a respectable neighborhood. However earnest, well-heeled residents simply didn’t show up—that wasn’t in the near-term future—in fact, not for 165 years. The common land was planted with venerable, American elm trees and surrounded by a cast-iron fence immediately—and virtually closed off for fifteen years. The 1837 Financial Panic nipped in the bud expansion plans (throughout the city), so, unfortunately, the funds were not available to complete the common’s paths. Then, upon Stuyvesant’s death in 1848, the logger jam over the common’s direction (private or public) ended. Two years after Tompkins Square Park—named for Daniel Tompkins, a New York State governor and the United States vice president under President James Monroe—opened. This one square was it for miles around, and there was no riverside access for the public—as the Commissioners’ assumed wrong-

headedly. (The 1850s)

Meanwhile to the southeast, which was thought to become Market Place for produce and suchlike, didn’t go as Stuyvesant foresaw either. The Industrial Revolution river activity attracted heavier commerce to move in dumping waste, with toxic seepage underground, became the reality. Simultaneously, the slums radiated out in every direction, offering the workers underprivileged housing, which became a fixture. Obviously, there were no public social services, including education; worse, if a child was sick the closest facility was better than a mile away, at Bellevue Hospital. By the mid-century point, moving around town had become nightmarish wherever the grid design had been applied. Although private companies were operating surface transit lines along Broadway to North Street, they were too far from the worst of the East River wharf rooming and boarding houses to be practical. Workers and their families were trapped: the fare was beyond their means. Moreover, the situation went on and on for 50 years.

A mass transit scheme would help, and it was evolving. Abraham Brower, the innovator, and mastermind behind the transit routes was consolidating, and he added the Sociable and Omnibus to the original 12-seat stagecoach, the Accommodation. Then, the early New York and Harlem Railroad introduced a horse-drawn street railway system; a coach with metal wheels, running on a metal track. Within 25 years, 593 carriages traveled 27 Lower Manhattan routes, with horse-drawn omnibuses, using railways on Second, Third, Sixth, and Eighth Avenues. Fifteen years later, the Second Avenue Elevated Railroad structure was overhead, originating with a sister Third Avenue line at Chatham Square. “The El,” then, followed Division Street, and turned north onto Allen Street, (First Avenue above Houston Street). The overhead railway continued along First Avenue to East 23rd Street and continued on Second Avenue. So, at an affordable fare, rapid mass transportation arrived nearby Tompkins Square—affording accessibility to the fastest growing slumdwelling district anywhere in the world. (1850-95) Tompkins Square Park was the single open space amid uncountable slum blocks, and it evolved as the backdrop for social unrest and violence, a perpetual mass demonstration venue—some turned increasingly violent, with periodic outright public disturbances resulting. At first, these large- scale demonstrations involved immigrants protesting unemployment and food shortages, but they were not yet terribly violent. Subsequent periodic roving mobs created temporary chaos throughout the area. Resentment—of those who could afford to pay $300 to avoid military service went wild—in a malevolent turn, 119 participants and passersby were massacred, which culminated in the ongoing, violent 1863 New York Draft Riots. The 1874 Tompkins Square Riots involved overworked, underpaid workers, a precursor to deadly labor-management conflicts, and they became bloody as the police stormed demonstrators. Three years later, the most raucous riot of all occurred when the National Guard, called in to control 5,000 demonstrators amassed to hear the more riot provoking and roiling incendiary socialist revolutionary speeches, engaged in hand-to-hand combat with the mob.

(1900-90) The initial cohesive German community was no longer. By now, as the slum conditions surrounding the park grew exponentially, social and political unrest continued to intensify. It was these hungry and out-of-work masses who precipitated Tompkins Square Park being reconfigured through a Robert Moses, Great Depression-era, city-wide, park rehabilitation program. The square’s new park design had one specific objective: curtail riotous violence by creating paths to better manage the unruly crowds. The plan worked, that is, until the Vietnam War sit-ins. During the ensuing period, Tompkins Square Park’s downward-spiral spun out of control. It became dangerous, a community-wide blight, because Tompkins Square Park was the city’s Mecca for crime and drug trafficking, in addition to the perennial homeless.

(The 1990s)

A series of, violent incidents forced the city to lock the park gates, cordon off nearby streets, and institute day and night surveillance. Then a curfew— in Manhattan, the city that never sleeps a curfew is enforced. After a twoyear renovation, the Tompkins Square Park reopened, and then—finally—it drew, if not the genteel yet, but the soon-to-be-prosperous, young, professionals (referred to as Preppies). Once a new, mega-urbanite generation staked out Avenues A to B to C, something new was born—Alphabet City. And that something was far closer to what the Stuyvesant heir envisioned; the cornerstone for a neighborhood rather than everything else it had become in between.

East Houston to Canal Street

This vast part of the town stretches from The Bowery to the East River. It is massive. It no number designated streets or avenues. And, it is easily understood by overlaying the post-1811 design employed—as best as it could— on a slight angle. First, though, even thirty years prior to the Revolutionary War, where Manhattan widens (and then north was controlled by Stuyvesant heirs), say at Crown Point or Van Corlaer Hook north, was five prominent Dutch colonial family reserves—two of which with acreage better depicted in square miles than square feet.

  1. Nicholas Bayard, one descendant of Anna, Peter Stuyvesant’s sister, with an estate extending half a mile along The Bowery, as well as a half mile west. Bayard, by trade a sugar merchant, built his manor house in 1751, on The Bowery and overlooking a distant neighbor’s farm. The far southeast acreage, those nearest to the Collect Pond, which would become Pump Street, comprised Broad Way to The Bowery. It was the first section to be improved, in 1745, and was laid out as parallel roadways at a right angle to one another, with subdivided lots build-out with modest, wood, single-family homes.

Designated as the Outer Ward, the unique quadrangle’s evolution, relatively speaking, as a working-class enclave, proceeded swiftly and comprised north-to-south running (present-day) Lafayette, Center, Baxter, Mulberry, Mott, and Elizabeth Streets. They crisscrossed the east-to-west lanes, inclusive of (contemporary) Hester, Grand, Broome, Kenmare, Spring, and Prince Streets. In 40 years the Bayard manor house and gardens were merged into Vauxhall Gardens, a popular amusement grounds, stretching along The Bowery to East Fourth Street.

Prior to the War of Independence, most single family homes had an income annex in back; also, many were already turning into rooming and boarding houses. After the Civil War, there were still a meager few multiple-family dwellings with running water.

  1. The descendants of Etienne deLancey, a French-Huguenot refuge importer and dry goods merchant-prince extraordinaire, owned two tilled fields (equal in size to the westerly lying Bayard estate), which incorporated one-half mile along The Bowery to Essex Street. Continuing east, their second tract ran for nine blocks starting with Norfolk Street (approximating Avenue B) near to the East River wharf district. (The immediate shoreline lots fell by intermarriages to the Stuyvesant clan.)

The east-to-west streets followed the Bayard estate “grid,” as Hester, Grand, Broome, De Lancey, Rivington, and Stanton Streets. The north-tosouth streets included Christie and Forsyth (now with Sara Roosevelt Park between), Eldridge, Allen (subsequently widened), Orchard, Ludlow, and Essex Streets. The northwest portion contained the manor house, with its gardens extending to Orchard Street, not so very far from a neighbor, Nicholas Bayard.

The south lots, let on a short-term basis, were build-out by carpenters, and given a wider berth as to what could be developed. However, the overall improvement master plan design included a Great (de Lancey Estate) Square east of The Bowery—to be enclosed by Hester, Grand, and Broome, and Eldridge, Allen, Orchard, Ludlow and Essex Streets—which, of course, never developed as an upper-middle-class suburb. Why? James De Lancey, the de facto British colonial Governor’s son, also James De Lancey, attempted duplicity but when labeled a loyalist: he fled to England, and his 339-plusacre landholdings was confiscated, in accordance with New York State’s Commissioners of Forfeiture. Additionally, Oliver De Lancey, whose father, also Oliver De Lancey, and brother, also James De Lancey, absconded to the United Kingdom, and he died there in 1785. Therefore, the entire De Lancey Farms, controlled by Corporation of the City of New York, was sold off (by 1790), embellishing upon the existing grid.

  1. Rutgers properties, two influential Dutch brewers, Hermanus and Antony, a prosperous colonial family for 200 years, owned a 55-acre parcel with extensive shoreline frontage, and just barely touching The Bowery at its southwestern point. Essentially the swath east of (present-day) Chatham square to the East and south of River Park (Corlaer Hook), with East Broadway as the westerly boundary, which cut northeast—essentially a rectangle, set at an angle to the de Lancey Farm’s Grand Street.

In 1753, Hendrick the heir of Hermanus and Catharine (nee de Peyster) Rutgers laid out north-to-south running streets, developed the lots and then offered long-term leases with covenants. They required only substantial brick buildings as stores along the shoreline; with wooden and brick structures along the east-to-west streets perpendicular to the river. The community immediately attracted well-to-do merchants and professionals, and established artisans and craftsmen who sublet from the prime leaseholders. With the shipping and trading center at the near south, dry good stores, in particular, Brooks Brothers, in 1818, and Lord & Taylor, 1826, opened on Catherine Street. The southern edge was then the city’s premier retail district. In the 1830s, the Rutgers property passed to William Crosby, a nephew by marriage, and then by marriage the long-lease at expiration passed to Mary Rutgers Rhinelander, and, incidentally, her sister married Leonard Lispenard, a prominent westerly Lower Manhattan landholder. Therefore, what was to become the Lower East Side was urbanized within three corridors: The early property development sites around The Bowery, the farmland plain, and the easterly wharves. (The port district expansion was continuous, and stretched around Corlaer Hook to East Houston Streets, by-passing the Rutgers developed commercial streets.)

  1. With all that said, it turns out that the true Downtown East realestate treasure trove (referred to as Planation), was obtained by Wilhelmus Beekman, founder of the Beekman family conglomerate, from Antony Van Corlaer. (Sifting through the myths, it seems probable that Van Corlaer, a schoolmaster and the garrison trumpeter, had been gifted a handsome riverside tract by Governor-General Stuyvesant for an act of heroism. He retired and returned to Amsterdam.) Regardless in 1653, Wilhelmus’ son, Gerardis Beekman, was born and raised on the plantation. As was his son, James Beekman, who built a latter-day riverside family mansion, Mount Pleasant, on a mid-island tract purchased by Wilhelmus Beekman as well. The former Beekman plantation, eventually, quartered raucous taverns, contained rows of shoddy boarding room houses alongside the extensive docks and warehouses. Overall the wharves regressed into the city’s red-light district, with accommodating streetwalkers—dubbed, Corlaer “Hookers”. 5) Finally were the late-comers to the party: William and Frederick Rhinelander kept a bakery shop on Williams Street before the Revolutionary War. They had picked up a sugar factory (by foreclosing on its Spruce and Rose Streets lot). Prospering from wartime rationing, and armed with $100,000 in cash, the brothers accumulated Lower Manhattan land. In spite of—suspect, shady—land and water-rights deals, the family was to become richer still by assimilating, through marriage, a major portion of the Rutger family fortune in land. Mary (nee Rutgers) Rhinelander, granddaughter of Anthony Rutgers, and a great-niece of Mrs. Catherine de Peyster Rutgers obtained the 70-acre patchwork of lots southeast of Collect Pond (referred to on maps as Fresh Water Pond), by 1800, though it was anything but fresh. She held it as it developed into Five Points. One hundred years later, in 1907, her second grandson, William C. Rhinelander died, leaving a $50,000,000 estate—their firstborn son having been passed over and disinherited.


The Bayard Estate lanes’ development saga can be summed up with the southeasterly section’s rise and peaking, then fall and decline. According to Bernard Ratzen’s 1767 survey map, a de Lancey Road, the farm lane, began at Avenue B and continued west to The Bowery, and included a further west extension, through the neighboring Bayard estate. The Bayard’s were the first landowning family to improve a parcel, starting with their smallest tracts, by using the country road and laying out crossing lanes and streets. From the onset, these half-dozen blocks was a working-class residential section, with subdivided lots for modest housing. (Contrarily, the de Lancey Farm lots opposite The Bowery were soon let as well; however, without strict covenants, and they developed with lesser structures—a precursor to its 150year over-usage, and the distinction grew wider.)

By and large, the Bayard lanes were populated with the established German-Americans who moved out from the burgeoning southeastern district—an increasingly congested and unsavory public market—seeking better housing with (planned) nearby communal water pumps. With the first of several British occupation fires, the nascent village filled to overcapacity with multiple-family boarding houses converted from the single-family houses. Immediately following the war, Collect Pond, a 60-foot deep pool fed by an underground spring, became toxic; the Chatham Square area (to the southeast) deteriorated into the infamous Five Points. Eventually, therefore, the Bayard estate added more and more north-to-south streets, inclusive of Crosby, Lafayette, Center, and Baxter, in addition to the existing Mulberry, Mott, and Elizabeth Streets. At the time, the east-to-west (contemporary) Hester, Grand, Broome, as Kenmare, Spring, and Prince Streets were improved. Shortly, though, these residential streets would be hemmed both to the east (by the confiscated De Lancey tracts) as well as from the south— the overflow escaping Five Points was pushed out to the northwest, which

exacerbated the housing conditions. (1798) The residential enclave encasement, at its west and to the north ultimately, came about once Broadway (at the extreme west) was graded and paved in cobblestones, with a stone arch bridge crossing the Collect Pond. By overpassing Pump Street, the city’s near-north, specifically, Broadway and (the narrower) Lafayette and Center Streets, was prime to blossom as the premier retail district. They did, and fashionable New Yorkers soon preferred these fabrics and linen dry-goods providers, the silver and jewelry stores, and dress- and boot-makers and hairdressers. Twenty years later, the former upscale shopping district, running along Water, Front and South Streets to Hanover Square, was abandoned. Furthermore, to the north a second Vauxhall Gardens, an update to the popular amusement park, opened on Broome and to East Houston Street, occupying The Bowery swath, where Nicholas Bayard (3rd) built his manor house in 1752—when only the de Lancey manor house, (and Stuyvesant orchards in the distant horizon) were to be seen. (1830-50) Recurring epidemics and fires overwhelmed the already overcrowded Bayard estate streets. The single-family dwellings converted to boarding houses were now full-fledged tenement dwellings. Whatever remained of the German enclave joined a new community, northward and adjacent to Tompkins Square, which was recently planted and surrounded by a fence: there, a new Germantown was established. The second-generation Irish, who had been moving into the neighborhood between Baxter and The Bowery, took it over completely. Always a substantial community with additional immigrants continuously arriving, the Irish-American citizenry constituted 25 percent of the city’s population. Yet, unfortunately, new Irish arrivals were forced to the east and southeast, and these poorest districts would be infamous, hardcore, Lower East Side slums—endless blocks, creeping forever northward, engulfing every working- and middle-class row-house patch in its

path. (1855)

A new St. Patrick’s Cathedral was proposed for the 50th to 51st Streets block front along Fifth Avenue, gradually Irish-Americans moved farther north for better accessibility to the new cathedral. After the original St. Patrick’s burned to the ground, the migration accelerated, and then some, as rural southern Italian immigrants fleeing political and economic strife moved nearby. On these nearby blocks to the rebuilt cathedral, the Italian-American community put down roots lasting 150 years. Traditionally, as housing became available, one Italian-American generation after the next took up residence in their former generation’s apartment, hence Little Italy.


With the post-Civil War rural population migrating to urban areas, the cohesive enclave social orderings on the near-east streets, across The Bowery, were devolving rapidly. Then with the transcontinental railway complete, gradually, Chinese workers moved into the Irish-dominated Five Points district near to Chatham Square. Three ever-growing immigrant communities were now elbow-to-elbow, eyeing the same turf. Meanwhile, the Rutgers properties (not controlled by Mary Rhinelander), wedged between the southern and northern port activity, was being squeezed from the west as the slum blocks spread east. Beginning with East Broadway, the adjacent north-to-south, once the “Rutgers Property Streets” succumbed easily; where the easterly stores were, was sucked up as well. (100 years later) As downtown Manhattan’s demographics changed, from its longtime roots, at Canal Street, traditional Little Italy was pushed farther to the north. Present-day Little Italy, for instance, was the northerly portion of Little Italy, now, as Nolita, its beginning are from the old (though, actually, the second) cathedral, north from Broome, and continuing across East Houston to Bleecker Streets. Now, Nolita encompasses Center Market Place in the west, as well as three blocks east to The Bowery, which was once Vauxhall Gardens. The remaining neighboring Hester as well as Grand Streets, from Lafayette Street to The Bowery, was a greater Chinatown. But, then full circle, came the young and well-heeled push downtown, from Union Square, along Broadway to The Bowery, and with it a fresh strain to the mix living in the Bayard estate area, arrived.

Lower East Side


Prior to the 1811 grid plan implementation, the confiscated de Lancey Farm (as true for any number of landholders) were immediately subdivided as standard building lots, without a Great Square but set at a slight tilt to what would be the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811. Overall and wherever possible, the grid plan was applied and expanded upon using the same rigid reasoning: Survey, grade, divide and sell the standard 25-foot-wide lots (to a group of wealthy businessmen and lawyers.) Plenty of the lots went to the current leaseholders, too, which set the stage for an expansive slum district, while simultaneously helping to create the high-end, residential housing central corridor’s development northward along with the Broad Way. Consequently, the subsequent reality created by an unadoptable grid design, consisting of east-to-west streets crossed by marginally wider north-to-south streets entirely, includes:

First, by sheer volume: By comparison, the island’s vast protrusion doubles the land mass east of Essex Street—without a planned major northto-south thoroughfare.

  • Second, as excessive narrow, cobblestone streets: Three wider east-towest exceptions, Hester, Broome and Grand Streets, provided the only street-level relief.
  • Third, with no open space or commons: The area was also without a diagonal intersecting avenue, without an authorized city council purchase, without a gifted parcel granted by a conscientious prosperous citizen, and without a single access to the East River.
  • Fourth, limited planned accesses: The established wider streets—The Bowery, Second and First Avenues, or Christie and Allen Streets—were all concentrated in the west.
  • Fifth, the northwestern portion: The De Lancey mansion and gardens were dismantled, the “grid” implemented to Houston Street, and only Rivington and Stanton Streets added.

For 200 years, events, such as the Collect Pond’s pollution turning toxic nearby, and subsequently, a botched landfill; wars with fires; epidemics coupled by even greater fires; and then overwhelming immigration waves transpired. Furthermore, the deteriorating overcrowded housing conditions spun out of control, mere Band-Aid-like patches as the city building code attempts and inadequate, politically corrupt fixes, were applied. Seemingly, nothing could eradicate the overcrowded housing problem. (1875-95) With the street-level transit fixed, the new age of innovation, and the advent of IRT lines on Third and Second Avenue running from Chatham Square and along The Bowery, Division, and then Allen Streets, an even further differentiation was foisted on the very farthest east streets. However for a nickel many poor slum-dwellers could seek work further away; though the stops were along The Bowery and Allen Street, and limited to Canal, Grand, and First Streets. Furthermore, while Chatham Square continued as an important south-to-north Manhattan hub, the narrow Division and Allen Streets were now overcast by less light, with overhead noise and street-level congestion, in a word, gloom. Therefore, cordoning off the worse massive easterly slum, eventually, rendered these streets and avenues with incorrigible, unsalvageable housing. (1934-50) During the Great Depression several narrow streets, namely Christie, Forsyth, and Allen, were widened in an effort to clear a marketplace for pushcarts. Scores of pre-Civil War multiple-family dwellings were condemned, and the tenants relocated. Fifteen years later, the eastern wharf district was razed completely. A second swath, encompassing the original Etienne deLancey farm’s easterly tracts—Essex Street (at Avenue A) through to the wharf district—was gone. The third and final massive reclamation— south and east from East Broadway to the shoreline, all of the former Rutgers property—was replaced by a colossal housing project series. (The 2000s) What remained after that wholesale (needed and inevitable) bulldozing solution are the two core neighborhoods off The Bowery, closely interwoven and overlapping one another, as always:

  • The eastern sector, the de Lancey Farm’s west portion, is the new Lower East Side, Manhattan’s latest real-estate phenomena.
  • The western sector, consisting of the Bayard estate easterly portion, incorporating a northern extension to Bleecker Street, is the present-day Nolita. This was a late 1990s breakthrough for the area between East Houston and Canal Streets.

Lower East Side—Immigration and Housing

For a better appreciation of the two present neighborhoods, a modicum of information on the immigration waves and the consequential tenement apartment houses are helpful. Since its initial settlement, Manhattan grew by incoming settlers. At first from Holland and England, then a variety of migrants escaping religious persecution, including the French Huguenots, German Catholics, even Sephardic Jews. Throughout the 1700s, a steady stream arrived from Scotland, Ireland, Northern Italy, of course, England too. During the years that followed the Revolutionary War, immigration to Manhattan renewed. However, circumstances had changed as well as the numbers seeking a better life.

Keeping in mind that once reliable statistic was kept, between 1870 and 1915, 25 million immigrants were documented. The Lower East Side was the first stop for a majority of arriving immigrants, who seemingly at first were moving five or six times each year; endlessly seeking better housing as their immediate rent budget increased—however marginally. And so, the slums crept northward to East Houston Street, and oozed eastward toward the East River’s commercial waterfront—and not gradually. Without a doubt, recurring urban blights, such as gut-wrenching poverty, infant-killing epidemics, and all-engulfing fires hit Lower East Side slum hardest. The effect of ongoing immigration waves was a mid-19th-century vast shantytown, made up of dozens of cohesive enclaves, each defending their turf. Besides, each immigration wave brought thousands of single family members set on earning enough for younger brothers and sisters to follow, increasing the following wave numbers for years, the initiating waves were:

  • Prior to the mid-century mark, with the Irish Potato Famine onset, the immigrant influx became never-ending: After the initial onslaught, the Irish-American community constituted 25% of the city’s population.

Naturally, the slum population steadily grew at the same pace.

  • In addition, a German-born population explosion occurred simultaneously—starting with 50,000 the total grew to 250,000, in just under 15 years. Likewise, the southern Italian flight, erupting from political turmoil followed by economic strife, overwhelmed the established Italian-American housing reserve.
  • Next, the post-Civil War-era displacement migrations (off farms and into any industrialized area) compounded Manhattan’s swelling numbers, and with their quick success hordes followed.
  • Next, 1870s Chinese railroad workers came to Manhattan looking for a new life, trailed by three million relatives. Next, teeming 1880s masses began arriving—via Ellis Island now—escaping Europe’s economic problems.
  • Finally, spreading political unrest throughout Europe and pogroms included East European Jews by the tens of million, who would work in the rag-trade sweatshops.


Housing: another fact of life. To bring into as sharp a focus as possible, a contrast is needed. First, a minimal familiarity can distinguish the tenement dweller’s lifestyle from living within a single-family home. So then, starting with the best—the Bowling Green “area,” if it can be called that—which ran along the harbor was conceded to be the city’s long-standing socially exclusive streets. Consequently, the houses were elaborate, of the highest quality construction and materials, with fine-fine furnishings. A kitchen was in the rear, family and formal receiving rooms in front, and sleeping chambers were upstairs—often under a dormer roof. The cobblestone streets were torchlight at night, and an hourly watchman checked for chimney and roof fires. Yet, for several years after the War of 1812, these homes were without baths. In fact, there was no running water; the communal pump at each corner supplied their needs. The nightlight was by candle or by wicks sticking in a dish of whale oil, and wood burning stoves provided heat. Now, briefly, here is housing near the wharf-side areas and at its worse— without even the indispensables to achieve a base living condition. Initially, water was drawn from the strategically placed neighborhood wells. Some pre-Civil War tenements included an exterior rear court pump, adjacent to the outhouse used by the tenants and ground-floor commercial patrons alike— many of these enterprises were taverns. This was way beyond mere convenience, it was pure luxury. The streets were dark and unprotected— from either crime or fire. Up narrow, unlit stairs, most rooms were without windows; there was no heat in the winter; no air in the midsummer’s day heat: and that was all there was. Waste, whether human or otherwise, was picked up nightly, piled at the docks to be dumped into the East River (mixing with upriver fur tanneries and lamp-oil refineries, milling timber and bolting wheat industrial waste). The single-family-residence conversions to multiple-room houses remained unchanged, interior plumbing was rarely updated in these existing dwelling—beyond providing one common sink and

commode on each floor. (1870-80)

First mandated by a Tenement Housing Act proviso, the “Old Law,” housing modifications to address safety, health and sanitary standards progressed. Nevertheless, a desirable residential corner lot, such as at Orchard or Hester Street now allowed a railroad-car-like layout. Mid-block tenement apartments were a more compact three rooms (about 300-square feet (the present-day, one room studio’s size). With one exterior exposure, for each family of four to six or more, two of the rooms were without natural light or ventilation entirely. This all stood as a stark contrast, evidenced by the opulent mansion- and town-house-building explosion, which was the epitome of comfort in uptown neighborhoods, especially near Central Park.

Lower East Side—Housing Reform, Its Decline, and Resurrection

Yes! Each and every wave, every arriving boatload, all the proceeding and succeeding hordes needed shelter in the same limited, already over-occupied and deplorable available housing. It was an immigrant’s lot—as poorly paid laborers packed into tenement units, with ignored city sanitation violations; and violent street crime, which turned living into a daily struggle—making the Lower East Side a fertile breeding ground for disease, unrest, and reform, perhaps. That changes were afoot was obvious. That the law created an industry-wide conundrum, was apparent as well. The fear of social unrest was there, too.

The first line of defense came via a building-trade-magazine sponsored, multiple-dwelling-design contest in The Plumber and Sanitary Engineer, with the competition’s directive, as follows: “…on a 25-by-105 feet standard Manhattan lot, to create an easily constructed six-story structure that complies with upcoming 1879 Tenement House Law minimum light, ventilation, and sanitary codes, and that would maximize a landlord’s profit…” The prize winner was the noted architect James Ware. His design was labeled the “dumbbell” tenement design—after the shape created by two air shafts, in the middle of a six-story structure. These tenement apartments consisted of two front and two rear units, reached by a narrow staircase and connected by the long hallway, where 2-300 people could be housed in 72-84 rooms. The potential for profit was there.

Immediately, Ware’s design was constructed by the thousands. While build-out in accordance with the prescribed standards, the H-shaped configuration provided only one window per room, with narrow shafts admitting the additional light and air. Given their width and the building height, practically speaking, these were merely wells trapping foul air; worse, used as garbage receptacles with all matter of refuse rarely cleaned out—remaining to rot. The long and narrow, as well as unlit hallways, had a communal water closet and sink for four families, causing constant spillage. The stench alone was horrible, but using the same basin to clean food, dishes and clothing as well as to bathe, imposed a serious unsanitary condition. In wintertime, the dark hallways froze: the icy steps became dangerous. Over 23 years, untold tens of thousands of tenement apartment houses were quickly put up. They either burned to the ground or were deteriorating, with poor masses huddled in overcrowded, unsafe, and unhealthy slum conditions.


To a large extent, coaxed by Jacob Riis’ stark pictorial documentation of the 1880s Lower East Side squalor, How the Other Half Lives, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1890, standard tenement apartment houses were replaced by a two narrow apartments per floor configuration. The revised code to come, in 1901, addressed conversion from gas to electricity, which brought fewer fires; lighted hallways, which resulted in fewer fatalities; and new sanitary provisions provided clean water and better ventilation—for most, a needed prevention from recurring epidemics—though Spanish influenza bouts still defied all that could be done. All the reformers efforts though could not halt northward slum-expansion. At the 20th century’s advent, two-thirds of Manhattan’s population lived in 42,700 tenement buildings. Furthermore, the housing reform movement did ameliorate the most egregious and very worst quality-of-life issues for the city’s massive population still living in “Old Law” tenement apartment houses. (1920-45) The Great War, Roaring Twenties, Great Depression and Second World War came and went. However, despite each era’s Uptown Manhattan residential housing boom cycles, no resources of the sort was even contemplated to alleviate Lower East Side’s rampantly deteriorating slums. Downtown East’s residential blocks were ever-worsening slums, overcoming every street and avenue, encroaching from Broadway to the East River. The blight engulfed once-thriving, working- and middle-class pockets, and transforming the few distinctive row house streets. Where one family had dwelled became little better than a rooming house for dozens. The culturally diverse, multi-lingual communities surrounding East 14th and Houston Streets and along Second Avenue were gobbled up and slowly faded away. Eventually, Downtown Manhattan’s entire east was one enormous, continuous urban landscape—slum. (The 2000s)

Only after a mid-20th-century slum-clearance program, and once the 40year Downtown prosperity was well underway, could a quintessential Lower East Side subsection morph into a five-star lifestyle neighborhood; supporting sleek, new-construction apartment houses, specifically along The Bowery, Second Avenue as well as Houston and Allen Streets. Astonishingly even for longtime Manhattanites, to Nolita’s east, at NoHo’s southeast and Alphabet City’s southwest, then spreading between East Houston and Delancey Streets—inclusive of Christie, Forsyth, Eldridge, Allen, Orchard, Ludlow and Essex Streets—a notable and high-speed gentrification, the rejuvenated New Millennia’s Lower East Side was on a roll. Though reduced to be sure as the Second-Avenue-to-Avenue-A span, its epicenter had been

Etienne deLancey’s manor house and gardens (at Orchard Street). Furthermore, stretching to Freeman Alley, the short bit from Eldridge Street to The Bowery, was to be The Bowery’s access onto de Lancey Square, a “would have been,” mid-1700s, upper-middle-class suburb.

Being on the wrong side of the Revolutionary War, however, scotched that deLancey visionary urban plan, putting it on hold for 260 years. This fastlane, spillover from neighboring transformed neighborhoods carries Lower East Side’s heritage proudly, too: by embodying an international flavor infusion and global cosmopolitan sensibility; as well as, by encouraging world-class hotels and restaurants alongside tenement apartment houses, with fire escapes protruding above, and that’s in addition to making it all seem right and fitting—as in just fine.