Downtown East

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Each part of town has several neighborhoods. Our residential-real-estate survey condenses its developmental highlights through Manhattan’s boom-and-bust economic cycles.

In no way is its intention a complete history: rather, the survey reflects the overriding characteristics that remain (through its rise, fall, and then {often} subsequent gentrification).

Furthermore, the seven additional elements–our highlights, photographs, maps, and suchlike–aim to create a mosaic of the lifestyle and housing types throughout Manhattan.

 

Related Links:
Time lines and SidebarsHistoric MapsNeighborhoodsUpper East SideMidtown EastDowntown EastLower ManhattanDowntown WestMidtown WestUpper West SideUptownUpper Manhattan

 


 

Downtown East

Arbitrarily, East 23rd Street, at Madison Square, spanning to East Canal Street can be considered Downtown’s north-and-south borders, and covering Fifth Avenue to the East River. The New York City commissioners’ 1811 Grid Plan was rigorously implemented early on. Additionally, Broadway crosses Fourth and Fifth Avenues, which ends at Seventh Street. Thereafter, Broadway separates east and west to Canal Street. Moreover, this was the Native people major north-and-west path southernmost point. From New Amsterdam, it was the northern homestead limit. Beyond the “hill points and the north side salt water meadows,” where better farmland stretch 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 “farm road.” Several dirt lanes, including Art (East Seventh) Street, Greenwich Lane’s eastern link, and Sandy Hill Road (Astor Place), converged at Stuyvesant Street (at East Ninth Street), which lead to the Stuyvesant manor house, Bouwerij, “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. Whereas Love Lane continued due east, thereafter Bloomingdale Road moved northwest; an easterly fork lead 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 ex-governor’s 1651 purchase along The Bowery (now Fourth Avenue), until Peter Winthrop Rutherford Stuyvesant’s 1970 death, miraculously remained Stuyvesant-descendant owned: the city’s longest recorded, continuous, family title. He, too, is intern 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.

(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 the “market wagon tax,” by not entering town. Upper Bowery Road, a country road still, filled out gradually with comfortable residences, built for artisans and green-grocers, 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 enumerable 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 the city’s due south district (called a ward) 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; and, they emerged defined for dirt-poor workers or up-and-coming recent immigrants or the filthy rich.

(Early 19th-century)
The opening common 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 city-purchased or donated parcel or excised from allowable irregularities within the New York City commissioners’ 1811 Grid Plan fashioned by Broadway.

The core 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—the first to or last from the city, three miles south—with a small cemetery; next a War of 1812 military installation, United States Magazine and Parade Ground. Strategically purchased by the city council, a planted park opened in 1847. The Flatiron District evolved as a neighborhood to include East 18th Street and along Fifth Avenue, Broadway, and Park Avenue South, evolved.
  • Gramercy Park is a green respite, from East 21st to 20th Streets, in the Park-to-Third-Avenues mid-blocks, and coinciding with Lexington Avenue’s terminus. This straightforward commons 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 Streets, which includes Irving Place, Lexington Avenue’s continuation.
  • 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 Union Square area continues from the Flatiron District’s south perimeter, as East 17th to 12th Streets, along Fifth Avenue, University Place, Park Avenue South, Broadway, as well as to Irving Place.
  • Cooper Square, formed at the Lafayette Street, Fourth Avenue, and The Bowery convergence, running from East Ninth to Fourth Streets, is East Village, which incorporates NoHo (south to Houston Street), Alphabet City (east to the East River), and the western portion, once Minto Farm, spanning East Seventh (Waverly Place) to Tenth Streets, extending from the square to Fifth Avenue.
  • Tompkins Square, a land tract gifted by Nicholas and Maria (nee Beekman) Stuyvesant, was troubled from its inception, and the park missed the intended mark—by attracting the working classes and immigrants, not the genteel residents who Stuyvesant envisioned.
  • Washington Square, covers a branch of Minetta Creek, initially, purchased from the dePeyster heirs as a cemetery, then drained to be a parade ground, and finally an open common, and eradicates Fifth Avenue. Greenwich Village’s centerpiece became the southern bastion for The Avenue, the city’s aristocratic residential realm.
  • With Broadway now dividing the east and west sides and on its due south trajectory, without creating further grid irregularities, and without open spaces (gifted, planned, or otherwise), the expanse between East Houston and Canal Streets progressed as the Lower East Side.

East 23rd to 14th Streets
Flatiron-Union Square

While Fifth Avenue and Park Avenue South run parallel between East 17th and 14th Streets, Broadway is anything but. It is not that simple. Broadway undergoes its most complex incursion as a traffic hub, comprising five north-and-south thoroughfares, intersecting four east-and-west streets. Here’s how the traffic flows: Broadway at East 17th Street heads east one block as Union Square East, which joins Park Avenue South (as Fourth Avenue) and continues below East 14th Street. Union Square West, Broadway’s three-block long southerly extension, runs an additional ten blocks beyond East 14th Street as University Place. Additionally, to East 14th Street’s south, Broadway picks up again, a short distance east from where Fourth Avenue continues. Meanwhile East 14th Street continues east-and-west, as East 15th and 16th and 17th Streets are diverted briefly by Union Square Park.

The key parcel to complete the intersecting streets and avenues belonged to the heirs of Henry Springler, which the city purchased. The Springler farm, which spread west for two avenues and north-and-south from East 16th to West 12th Streets, presents Manhattan’s most fortuitous real-estate conveyance surprise. Henry Springler was a gardener-farmer, literally! In fact, he didn’t own the farm he worked even before the British occupation, and he merely stayed on long after its Tory owner’s departure. For the following 20 years, Henry Springler, the gardener, tilled the land, sowed his crops, rode his cart with produce to market, and most important: he paid the annual $20 taxes. One day, he simply walked into City Hall to claim the farm’s fee ownership, according to the “adverse possession” principle; certainly, a prodigious deed for his heirs.

(1830-90)
When 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 both moving north up Broadway. In fact, 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, brownstone-owner nucleus. Although this crowd arrived, thrived, but departed abruptly when Madison Square Garden (the 1889 first “Garden”) opened on the northeast corner. In 20 years, Fifth Avenue was built-full with mansions (the likes of August Belmont’s on 19th Street), and moving north fast, as was the important Broadway retail corridor ladies’ fashion emporiums encircling Madison Square, rending it an early 20th century commercialization victim. An era church and a few brownstones, with their stoop intact, remain in East 22nd to 20th Streets, east of Broadway, including 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 transmuted to the city’s commercial hub, even the Fifth Avenue mansions were replaced by the ultimate, up-to-the-minute office buildings 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 icons 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” rags to riches to downturn: Within 15 years, a one-room retail dress shop, capitalized with $600 and 36 dresses on a rack, became the world’s largest women’s-wear 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. (1970s)

The ubiquitous Men’s Textile Center, which dominated the adjacent loft buildings, was converted to live-work studios as a Photography District. Union Square and East 17th Street, was undergoing an underground awakening was taking place at a red-neon lighted restaurant, 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, now 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. Notable retailers attempted to establish themselves on the northwest and southwest corners; they failed. Nothing whatsoever seemed to perk up Union Square’s drab appearance.

(1980-2000)
Each surrounding area did revive from the catastrophic downfall: lower Fifth Avenue regained statue as a world-class retail strip; the route to East Village, was an early 199os gentrification poster-child neighborhood; whether 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 Union Square itself however.

Somehow, something was stirring, though not evident from the street: Old-guard businesses had remained, many more than initial 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 cinema complex; a decaying building here and there appeared with a facelift. Union Square too entered the 21st century a part of the new Downtown.

Gramercy Park

This one-mid-block-wide, rectangular common creates two truncated park-front 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,” but 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 been 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. (The fifth example, the Stuyvesant Apartments, 142 East 18th Street and 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 Rhinelander family effort, on East 86th Street and Second Avenue, the seventh, 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 1811 grid plan (while simultaneously, conveniently might occur), he acquired Corporation of the City of New York (undeveloped repatriated Stuyvesant, Rose Hill Farm) acreage to the would-be Lexington Avenue’s south. In trust, he granted the 60 parcel owners a commons, replete with lavish planted trees, shrub-lined paths, and its encasing, signature, cast-iron gates. These two-acres, a drained swamp, actually, created with a decidedly Victorian-era formal ambiance, reputedly cost $250,000 (at the time not a trifling sum, as the saying is). The brownstone-lined park-side, and blocks along Irving Place to East 14th Street, became a magnet for the moneyed, specifically those with a trickle of “Bohemian” blood flowing along with the “blue” in their veins.

Immediately adjacent to the park retains an intimate scale in accordance to the trust codices, residential-only usage. Only one red-brick, Georgian mansion, on Gramercy Park South, at Irving Place, is truly imposing. 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 other sparsely scatterings surrounding the blocks to Second Avenue. However, along Irving Place to East 14th Street commercialization was increasingly rampant. Yet, throughout the tree-lined neighborhood each block is unique—for instance, the classic, brownstone, row-house strips are best contrasted by 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, which truly is a beautiful block.

Stuyvesant Square

Originally Holland Square, perhaps rightly, the Stuyvesant Square neighborhood is thought of as a co-existing Gramercy portion round 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 influential), wanted to get on with improving their property’s building lots, which had been laid out already along the 1811 grid guidelines. 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 intent was to entice the citizenry commuting to the city aboard the horse-drawn trams. (Moreover, the Stuyvesant’s were convinced that Second Avenue was destined to be a premier residential avenue.) Wrangling, however, began between donor, Peter Stuyvesant, and the city council, resulting in meager plantings. Better than a decade passed before the evenly spiked cast-iron fence was installed: three- years later, the courts ordered the city council to finish the work. Subsequently, two fountains and landscaping were completed. Immediately, a second (minor) heir, Cornelia Stuyvesant Ten Broeck, instigated developing Nos. 326, 328, and 330 East 18th Street, as brick row houses, with deep front yards and wrought-iron verandas.

(1850-90s)
Shortcomings, in particular Second Avenue’s dissecting the park, nonetheless, the adjacent blocks, East 17th and 16th and 15th Streets, and continuing to Third Avenue, soon, contained numerous single-family row houses; moreover, near to the park, were classic-style, upper-middle-class town houses. The mid-block western edge, Rutherford Place (named for Helen Rutherford Stuyvesant’s father, the 1811 commissioner), was graced with two established houses of worship: the northern, 1856 St. George’s Church, and the 1861 Friends Meeting House, one block south, (both on land donated by Stuyvesant to lure more respectable tenants).

The square became among the more fashionable addresses to be found anywhere in the city. The square-facing town houses were above all lavish indeed, and notable among them was: a grand, triple-wide town house, a Henry Hardenbergh gem; and 245 East 17th Street, the 1883 austere, 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, its luster faded, the panache rubbed off—recent immigrants moved into the neighborhood. The East 15th homes and northern Rutherford Place town houses are intact still; the East 17th Street row houses, though, are juxtaposed to tenement apartment houses, one single-room-occupancy (SRO) hotel, and a hulking healthcare institution-conversion-to-residential usage at the Second Avenue corner.

East 14th to Houston Streets
East Village

A fact of life first: Arriving immigrants moved into areas dominated by their fellow countrymen. Strictly on religious lines,
too. Therefore, incoming boats originating from a Scottish, Irish, or German and Italian City State port, 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, and housing and workplace discrimination. Furthermore, time didn’t change the social ordering.

(1830-1890)
Before opening, Tompkins Square Park was planted and surrounded by a fence, and immediately a working-class Kleindeutschland, the conglomeration of Prussian, Bavarian, Hessian, or Rhinelander enclaves, appeared. Moreover, their parts were identical in that the inhabitants were German-speaking, Protestant, literate and political-minded, and industrious artisans and skilled craftsmen, with a honed trade—woodworker, watchmaker, baker, butcher, et cetera. Even their earliest tenement rows were built one notch better, let us say, with a rear court water pump, ground-floor retail shop or tavern, and a work room on the first floor. The six-to-eight modest apartments above were neat and clean if not commodious. After three generations, 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.

(1890)
Broadway to the East River became lumped together as one part of town, Lower East Side. However, since redefined as East Village, the northernmost area progressed toward a startling amalgam of N.Y.U. students and the hip, contrasted by a dash of upper-class elite, ample up-and-coming urbanites, spiked with a strong dose of the “Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n Roll” crowd, by their attire and accoutrements, Heavy Metal—all co-residing alongside Tompkins Square Park live in’s, the homeless.

While virtually no opulent town house was built, except on St. Mark’s Place (now trinket shops), the present-day dwelling types range includes: starkly modern, on The Bowery; light-manufacturing loft buildings immediately to the west; and, quaint working-class, single-family row houses, between East 13th and Ninth Streets, spanning The Bowery to mid-Second-to-First Avenues blocks, and then again off East Houston Street. No longer exclusively tenement apartment houses, though there are plenty still, including on East Seventh through Fourth Streets and east of The Bowery, which are uninterrupted tenement rows, with high stoops and fire escapes interrupting the façade designs. Moreover, extensive 1900-10 tenement-style rows are crammed one after another east of Second Avenue through to Avenue D.

The thriving neighborhoods comprising East Village are, as follows:
Central:

  • Cooper Square area, which includes St. Mark’s Place, extends from East 13th to Fifth Streets, along The Bowery (Third Avenue, above East Ninth Street), and east to Second Avenue—much of which is student housing.

(1800s)
Cooper Union Foundation Building, the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art campus, occupies the East Seventh and Eighth Streets wedge, formed as The Bowery converges with Lafayette Street and Fourth Avenue, which ends abruptly at East 14th Street, Union Square, as Park Avenue South. The square’s centerpiece has an illustrious heritage; its Great Hall has stood as a free-speech bastion, and has witnessed the flow of American history and ideas. Since opening, it has boasted an impressive list of speakers—to name one, Abraham Lincoln, who proclaimed his anti-slavery position.

An early Square fixture, the third Vauxhall Gardens, a 35 year entrenched city amusement and recreation destination, which 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-era 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.

At Cooper Square’s east, a fork at East Eighth Street creates St. Mark’s Place, which continues east and terminates on Avenue A, at Tompkins Square Park; and, Stuyvesant Street, a particularly attractive, row-house block, among Manhattan’s oldest streets, running on a diagonal to Second Avenue, covering East Ninth to Tenth Streets. This short, surviving span is a minor fraction of the country lane from The Bowery leading to the Stuyvesant farm before the original Bowerij manor house burned down: a common fate for patriot land gentry’s homes in 1778. Petersfield, its replacement, comprising East 16th and 15th Streets, along the First Avenue block front, was built by Peter G. Stuyvesant and completed after the War of Independence. A far shorter portion of Stuyvesant Street remained his estate’s access from The Bowery; and it was to be the hub, designed by the family as their land development scheme.

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. In 130 years, The Bowery block fronts, between Stuyvesant and East Houston Streets would be the city’s longstanding “bum-my bums’ Bowery,” stocked with besotted mendicants holding out their hands. Much has changed: Fortunately, a vastly expanded East Village Historic District has been Landmark Commission approved; a good thing, as it permanently preserves another slice of old Manhattan for future generations.

West

The Gold Coast was Minto Farm. It stretched from Fifth Avenue and spanned east across Broadway, as it jagged northwest, and then continued east to The Bowery; the tract then ran north to East Tenth Street. This included Washington Square North, at Fifth Avenue’s south terminus, and the initial department-store row along Broadway. Minto Farm, essentially, was at the very heart of the city’s 1800s society’s domain.

The farm’s title fell to Trustees of the Sailors’ Snug Harbor by the 1801 Will of Captain Robert Richard Randall’s. Additionally, designating 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, including 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…”

Covering ten square blocks, the yearly proceeds would provide the funds, rather than the property itself “used” for the Marine Hospital. A sagacious court pronouncement since, within two decades, along and off Fifth (the) Avenue would be prime real estate.

(1809-1920)
To maintain that the Trust landholdings became more than merely “important,” barely scratches the surface as to what its underlying Manhattan schist’s value actually was. The initial years went along satisfactorily, and its prized properties were leased to be developed. This included the Washington Square North “Row,” an initial trustee enterprise; and 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 oversight decisions, such as leases awarded to vast sweatshop loft swaths, including the Ashe Building, on Greene Street, the 1911 Shirtwaist Factory Fire site; and New York University’s 200 year lease acquisitions and campus-building goings-on, sparking the 1834 New York Stonecutters Riot protesting prison labor.

(1970s)
With a lack of interest on the part of sailors to retire at the Staten Island home, a 130-acre farm, Sailor’s Snug Harbor closed. (Not for mismanagement, contrarily, the healthcare methods are undisputedly the elder-care beginnings.) The shoddy real-estate development and poorly managed investments—made on the Trust behalf, by trustees—were liquidated however.

Southerly

NoHo (North of Houston) is the loft-conversion district, which runs along The Bowery to Broadway, and includes Bond, East Fourth, Great Jones, and Bleecker Streets. It takes in L-shaped Jones Alley, off Lafayette and opposite Mott Street, Shinbone Alley, connecting Lafayette and Bleecker Streets across the way.

(1810-70)
The blocks adjacent to The Bowery, between Cooper Square and East Houston Street, comprised the initial fashionable residential neighborhood beyond North Street, with its elegant shopping district on Lafayette Street. 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; and, around the corner on Lafayette Place, at Prince Street, the statesman James Monroe died, in 1831, while visiting his daughter and son-in-law, Peter Grovnor; and across the way was the Le Roy mansion, a merchant-prince family and partner of ironmonger Peter Goelet, the cutlery and hardware Golden Key of Hanover Square. As the Merchant’s House Museum, on East Fourth Street, the Seabury Tredwell home –a prosperous hardware merchant—is the only existing home of the era. Built in 1835, it is red-brick, with white-marble accent, three-story and dormer-roof single-family row house example. With the nearby cast-iron façade building boom, perhaps best exemplified by 50 Bond Street, a Classical Revival style store and loft building designed by Cleverdon and Putzel, and built in 1896-97. 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.

(1930-60)
Hans Hofmann, a noteworthy Depression-era abstract expressionist as well as renowned art teacher, withdrew from Art Students League of New York to open his school on Eighth Street. 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 importance came as the New York School of Art hub. The area’s “artists-in-residence” 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 Marca-Relli—to name a few masters of their oeuvre.

(1960-95)
The next reincarnation began unassumingly, and slow enough as a tightly-knit artist’s district as Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein, Chuck Close, documentary filmmaker, Jay Maisel, and groundbreaking photographer Diane Arbus, just a sampling, moved nearby. Within 20 years, these very same loft-building-lined streets were metamorphosing as NoHo. Then, 20 years later, NoHo reinvented itself yet again: 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. And so they do at every turn.

Easterly

Alphabet City, constituting Tompkins Square Park and the blocks surrounding East Tenth to Seventh Streets, and spanning the Avenue A to B. The neighborhood extremities reach East 13th to Third 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 east portion, East 10th Street, near to Avenue C, met the wharves’ northernmost point. 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 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—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 United States vice president under President James Monroe—opened.

(1850s)
Meanwhile to the east, which was to become Market Place, didn’t go as Stuyvesant foresaw either. Industry moved in with power plants, dumping waste and toxic seepage underground, and suchlike became a reality. Simultaneously, the slums in every direction, offering these workers under-privileged housing conditions, became a fixture. Moving around town, for workers and material alike, was becoming nightmarish. Private companies had been operating surface transit lines along Broadway, from the Battery to North Street, far from the East River wharves. Abraham Brower, the innovator and mastermind, was consolidating them, and added the “Sociable” and “Omnibus” to the 12-seat stagecoach called “Accommodation.”

A train scheme was evolving: the New York and Harlem Railroad, a horse-drawn street railway system, had a coach with metal wheels, running on a metal track; and, within 25 years, 593 carriages traveled 27 Manhattan routes, with horse-drawn “omnibuses” using street railways on Second, Third, Sixth, and Eighth Avenues. Fifteen years later, the Second Avenue Elevated Railroad structure, originating with a sister Third Avenue line at Chatham Square, then followed Division Street and turned north onto Allen Street, (First Avenue above Houston Street). The overhead tracks 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 slum-dwelling 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 mobs created temporary chaos throughout the area. Resentment—of those who could afford to pay $300 to avoid military service—went wild: in an 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 socialist revolutionary speeches, engaged in hand-to-hand combat.

(1900-90)
As the slum conditions surrounding the park grew exponentially social and political reform unrest continued to intensify. It was hungry, out-of-work masses that 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 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: Tompkins Square Park was the city’s Mecca for crime and drug trafficking, in addition to the perennial homeless.

(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, after a two year renovation, the Tompkins Square Park reopened and finally drew—not the genteel—yet, the soon-to-be-prosperous, young professionals, referred to as “Preppies.” Once a new, mega-urbanite generation staked out Avenues A to C, something new was born—Alphabet City. And that something was far closer to what the Stuyvesant’s heir envisioned, the cornerstone for a neighborhood rather than everything else it had become.

East Houston to Canal Street

This vast part of town, stretching from Broadway to The Bowery, and from there to the East River, as unnumbered-designate streets and avenues, is easily understood by a brief sketch outlining the pre-1811 grid plan lay out employed, which reinforced the existing three sectors, promoted the predominant dwelling type, tenement apartment houses, as the upshot of ongoing immigration waves, and lined the slumlords pockets—for 150 years.

Thirty years prior to the Revolutionary War, as much as the land to North Street’s north and from The Bowery east was controlled by Stuyvesant heirs, where the island widened (as Crown Point south to Van Corlaer Hook), was three prominent Dutch colonial family reserves; two of which with acreage better depicted in square mileage.

1. Bayard, one descendant of Anna, Peter Stuyvesant’s sister, with an estate extending half mile along The Bowery, as well as half-mile west. He built his manor house, in 1751, on The Bowery, and overlooked distant neighbor’s farms. The far southeast tract, near Collect Pond, between Broad Way and The Bowery, Pump Street, the first to be improved in 1745, was laid out as parallel, on a right angle to one another, subdivided as lots, and built-out with modest wood single-family homes. In 40 years the manor house and gardens was included as Vauxhall Gardens, stretching along The Bowery to East Fourth Street.

Designated as the Outer Ward, the unique quadrangle’s evolution, relatively speaking as a working-class enclave, proceeded swiftly and comprised (present-day) north-and-south running Lafayette, Center, Baxter, Mulberry, Mott, and Elizabeth Streets; as well as the crisscrossing east-and-west Lanes, inclusive of (contemporary) Hester, Grand, Broome, Kenmare, Spring and Prince Streets.

2. The descendants of Etienne deLancey, a French-Huguenot refuge importer and dry goods true merchant-prince, owned two tracts (equal in size to the westerly lying Bayard estate), which encompassed 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 east-and-west streets followed the Bayard estate “grid,” as: Hester, Grand, Broome, De Lancey, Rivington, and Stanton Streets. The north-and-south streets included Christie and Forsyth—with Sara Roosevelt Park between—Eldridge, Allen (subsequently widened), Orchard, Ludlow, and Essex Streets. The northwest portion was the manor house, with gardens extending to Orchard Street, not too far from their neighbor, Nicholas Bayard.

The south lots, let on a short-term basis, were built-out by carpenters, and given a wide 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 and 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. The de facto British colonial Governor’s son, James De Lancey, attempted duplicity but when labeled a loyalist: he fled to England, and had his sprawling, 339-plus-acre holdings confiscated, in accordance with New York State’s Commissioners of Forfeiture. Therefore, its entirety, controlled by Corporation of the City of New York, was sold off (by 1790), embellishing upon the existing grid.

3. Rutgers properties, two influential Dutch brewers, Henry and Anthony, 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 dePeyster) Rutgers laid out north-and-south running streets, developed the lots, and then offered long-term leases with Covenants that required substantial brick buildings as stores along the shoreline, and wooden and brick structures along the east-and-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.

What was to become the Lower East Side urbanized within three corridors: the early property development sites round The Bowery, a farmland plain and easterly wharves. The port district expansion was continuous, and stretched around Corlaer Hook to East Houston Streets, by-passing the Rutgers developed commercial streets. This real-estate- treasure trove (referred to as the Planation), was sold by von Corlaer to Wilhelmus Beekman, founder of the Beekman family conglomerate; his son, Gerardis Beekman, was born in 1653 and raised on the plantation; his grandson, James Beekman, 107 years later, rebuilt a later-day riverside family mansion, Mount Pleasant, on another riverside tract, also purchased in the mid-1650s by Wilhelmus Beekman. Not only a commercial wharf district alongside the extensive docks and warehouses, the former Beekman plantation now quartered raucous taverns, contained rows of shoddy boarding room houses. Overall, the wharves regressed into the city’s red-light district, with accommodating streetwalkers, the Corlaer “hookers.”

  • During the 50 year West Indies Company’s management, the slips lined the shoreline as far north as Wall Street, and then a slaughter district stretched to the New Slips, which ended above Maiden Lane.
  • During the 100 year British colonial-era, the wharves were expanded by landfill, which added Front and South Streets, and the streets were built-out with abundant slips, including Peck, Rodman, Murray and suchlike.
  • By the 1820s, with commercial shipping innovations, in the main, steam-engine shipping through Erie Canal. Therefore, the East River port limits were pushed northward: and rapidly at that.

(1790-1860)
Prior to the 1811 grid plan implementation, the confiscated de Lancey Farm lands (as many other landholdings) were subdivided as standard tracts and building lots, without a “Great Square, but set at a slight tilt to what would be the New York City commissioners’ 1811 Grid Plan, which overall was applied and expanded upon using the same basic reasoning. The lots and tracts sold to a group of wealthy businessmen and lawyers, some to the current leaseholder, which set the stage for an expansive slum district while simultaneously abetted high-end residential housing development northward.

  • First, sheer volume: By comparison the island’s vast protrusion doubles the land mass east of Essex Street—without a major north-and-south thoroughfare.
  • Second, narrow cobblestone streets: Only three wider east-and-west exceptions, Hester, Broome, and Grand Streets, provided the only street-level relief.
  • Third, no commons: Without a diagonal intersecting avenue, with no public open space authorized to be purchased by the city council, and with none immediately gifted by a prosperous citizen, the area was entirely east-and-west streets crossed by marginally wider north-and-south streets.
  • Fourth, limited zoning or urban plan: The established wider streets—The Bowery, leading to Third Avenue, Christie Street to Second Avenue, and Allen Street to First Avenue—were concentrated at the west. Moreover, the northwestern portion, the De Lancey mansion and gardens, was dismantled, and the “grid” continued to North Street, with Rivington and Stanton Streets added.

For 200 years, events such as the nearby Collect Pond’s pollution turning toxic and subsequently a botched landfill, wars with fires, epidemics and even greater fires, and then immigration waves had taken over completely. Furthermore, the deteriorating overcrowded housing conditions spun out of control, the city building codes attempts mere Band-Aid-like patches, and inadequate politically corrupt fixes: nothing could eradicate the overcrowded housing problem.

(1875-95)
With the advent of IRT El lines on Third and Second Avenue, here, running from Chatham Square and along The Bowery, Division then Allen Streets, an even further differentiation was foisted on the farthest east, the streets between the El lines, and west of The Bowery. Moreover, for a nickel, the working poor slum-dwellers could work farther away; though the stops on The Bowery and Allen Street were 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.

(1900-50)
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; then, a second swath, encompassing the entire de Lancey Farm easterly tracts, from Essex Street (Avenue A) through to the wharf district, was gone; and finally, the third massive reclamation, south and east from East Broadway to the shoreline—all of the former Rutgers property—were replaced by housing project series.

(2000s)
What remains after that wholesale (needed and inevitable) bulldozing solution, are the two early neighborhoods off The Bowery, closely interwoven and overlapping one another, always:

  • The western sector, the Bayard estate east portion, incorporating a northern extension to Bleecker Street, is present-day NoLita. (At his death in 1765, Nicholas Bayard, by trade a sugar importer was the largest landholder in Manhattan.)
  • The eastern sector, the De Lancey Farm west portion, is the new Lower East Side, Manhattan’s latest real-estate phenomena. (Upon James De Lancey’s death, the British Colonial Lt. Governor, his son James inherited the 339-acre farm in 1760.)

The Lower East Side

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, and Northern Italy, of course England too. During the years following the Revolutionary War immigration to Manhattan renewed: however, circumstances changed as well as the numbers seeking a better life.

Keeping in mind that once reliable statistic were kept, between 1870 and 1915, 25 million immigrants were documented. The Lower East Side was the first stop for arriving immigrants, who seemingly 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, seeping 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 the Lower East Side slum hardest.

The effect of ongoing immigration waves was a mid-19th-century vast shantytown, made up of dozens 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.
  • Moreover, 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, overtook the established Italian-American population 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, who would work in the rag-trade sweatshops, by the tens of million.

Each and every wave, every daily arriving boatload, all those preceding and succeeding them, needed shelter in the same limited, already over-occupied 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 not to be ignored, which turned into a daily struggle: the Lower East Side was a fertile breeding ground for disease as well as social unrest. (All a stark contrast, as evidenced by the opulent mansion- and town-house-building explosion in the uptown neighborhoods, especially near Central, Morningside and Riverside Parks, which were the epitome of comfort.)

(1812-65)
Housing: a fact of life. A minimal familiarity distinguishes tenement-dwelling from life in a single-family home. At best—Bowling Green, which ran along the harbor, was conceded to be the city’s socially exclusive street. The street was torchlight at night, and an hourly watchman check for chimney and roof fires. Consequently, the houses were elaborate, of the highest quality construction and materials, with fine-fine furnishings. Yet, until 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. Light was by candle or by wicks sticking in a dish of whale oil, and a wood burning stove provided heat.

At its worse—even without these indispensables, briefly, here were tenement-dwellers’ living conditions. Initially, water was drawn from the strategically placed neighborhood street wells. Some pre-Civil War tenements included an exterior rear court pump (adjacent to the outhouse, used by the tenants and ground-floor commercial enterprise patrons alike—many were taverns). This was way beyond mere convenience: it was pure luxury. The streets dark, rooms without windows, no heat in the winter, no air in mid-summer’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). Interior plumbing was a long time coming, though rarely updated in an existing tenement. It did provide one common sink and commode on each floor.

Nevertheless, the apartments remained unchanged, a corner lot such as at Orchard and Hester Streets allowed “railroad” layouts; mid-block tenement units were a compact three rooms, approximating 300-square feet (a “straight studio”), for each family of four to six or more, with one exterior exposure: two rooms were entirely without natural light and ventilation.

(1878)
First mandated by a Tenement Housing Act proviso, the “Old Law,” housing modifications to address safety, health and sanitary standards progressed via a building-trade-magazine-sponsored, multiple-dwelling design contest. The Plumber and Sanitary Engineer competition directive was, as follows: “…on a 25-by-105 feet 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 prizewinner was the noted architect James Ware. His design was dubbed the “dumbbell” tenement design—after two airshafts at the middle of a six-story structure. It consisted of front and rear units, connected by the long hallway, where 2-300 people could be housed in 72-84 rooms.

(1879)
Immediately, Ware’s design was constructed by the thousands. While built in accordance with the proscribed 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: garbage receptacles, with all matter of refuse rarely cleaned out—remaining to rot. The long, unlit, hallway communal water closets and sink, for four families, caused constant spillage. The stench alone was horrible, but using the same basin to clean food, dishes and clothing as well as to bathe, imposed serious unsanitary conditions. In wintertime, the dark hallways froze; the icy steps became dangerous. Over 23 years, throughout the late-19th century, untold tens of thousands of tenement apartments houses were quickly put up; burned to the ground; left deteriorating, with poor masses huddled in overcrowded, unsafe and unhealthy slum conditions.

(1885-95)
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 two apartments per floor, “railroad” configurations. All the reformers efforts though could not halt northward slum-expansion, and at the 20th century’s advent, two-thirds of Manhattan’s population lived in 42,700 tenements. Housing reform movement did ameliorate the worst quality-of-life issues for the city’s population still living in “Old Law” tenement apartment houses. The revised code to come, especially conversion from gas to electricity, brought fewer fires, lighted hallways, and new sanitary provisions provided clean water and better ventilation—for most.

(1900s)
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, nothing of the sort was even contemplated to alleviate the Lower East Side’s rampantly deteriorating slums. Downtown East’s residential blocks were worsening slums, covering every street and avenue from Broadway to the East River; even engulfing once-thriving, working- and middle-class pockets, and transforming the few distinctive row-house streets, where each single-family dwelling became little better than a rooming house. The culturally diverse, multi-lingual communities, between East 14th and Houston Streets and surrounding Second Avenue, where Ukrainian, Polish, and Slavic dialects, and Yiddish shared the same streets, and these ghettos were gobbled up and slowly faded away. Eventually, Downtown Manhattan’s entire east was one enormous and continuous urban landscape: slum.

NoLita

The Bayard Estate lanes’ development saga can be summed up with the smallest westerly section’s ups and downs. According to Bernard Ratzen’s 1767 survey map, from Avenue B west to The Bowery included a de Lancey Road, a country lane continuing farther west, through the neighboring Bayard estate. The Bayard’s were the first landowning family to “improve” a parcel, starting with their southeastern portion, and by 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 lots. Contrarily, the de Lancey Farm lots opposite The Bowery, leased without strict Covenants, developed with lesser structures.

By and large, the Bayard Lanes were populated with German-Americans established enough to move out from the burgeoning southeastern district, an increasingly congested and unsavory public market. Here, they would find better housing and 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; the tenement-apartment house antecedent originated. Collect Pond, a sixty-foot deep pool fed by an underground spring became toxic, and then a defective landfill in 1811, the Chatham Square area deteriorated as Five Points.

Therefore, the north-and-south streets, inclusive of (the more recent) Crosby, Lafayette, Center, and Baxter, were created in addition to the existing Mulberry, Mott, and Elizabeth Streets; in addition, the east-and-west (contemporary) Hester, Grand, Broome, as Kenmare, Spring and Prince Streets were developed. Shortly though, these projected residential streets were hemmed in both to the west and north—the overflow escaping Five Points was pushed to the northeast, into the thick of it, which exacerbated the housing conditions there.

(1798)
Here is how it ultimately came about: Once Broadway (at the extreme west) was graded and paved in cobblestones and a stone, arch bridge across the Collect Pond, subsequently connecting Canal Street, then Pump Street: the city’s near-north was primed to become the premier retail district. Broadway, (the narrower) Lafayette and Center Streets blossomed. Soon fashionable New Yorkers preferred these fabric and linen dry- goods providers, the silver and jewelry stores, and dress- and boot-makers and hairdressers. Twenty years later, the former shopping district along Water, Front and South Streets to Hanover Square was abandoned, leaving warehouses for produce wholesalers; shortly, they joined Bear Market’s move to Washington Market on the Hudson River. Furthermore, the second Vauxhall Gardens, a popular amusement park opened north of Broome and to East Houston Street, occupying The Bowery to Broadway swath on which Nicholas Bayard (3rd) built his manor house in 1752, when only de Lancey and Stuyvesant manor houses were to be seen—in the distant horizon.

(1800-50)
Recurring epidemics and fires overwhelmed the contained and 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: 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 ever-northward, engulfing every working- and middle-class row-house patch in its path.

(1855-65)
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 more so, as rural southern Italian immigrants fleeing political and economic strife move nearby. And, on the blocks nearby the rebuilt cathedral is where the Italian-American community put down roots lasting 150 years—where 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 were devolving on the near-east streets across The Bowery. Then, with the transcontinental railway complete, gradually, Chinese workers moved into the Irish-dominated Five Points district near Chatham Square. Three immigrant communities were elbow to elbow, eyeing the same turf. Meanwhile, the Rutgers properties, wedged between the southern and northern port activity, was being squeezed to the west, as the slum blocks were moving east. The north-and south Rutgers Streets succumbed easily; the easterly stores were sucked up.

The Rhinelander family’s Manhattan commercial rental income was a mere trifle, and later bought as a simple fee. After all, their Hudson River holdings had become choice wharves—once improved with others money, and leased back to the investor. In spite of—suspect, shady—land and water-rights deals, the family was to become richer still by assimilating, through marriage, the Rutgers family fortune in land. Mary (nee Rutgers) Rhinelander, granddaughter of Anthony Rutgers, and a great-niece of Mrs. Catherine dePeyter Rutgers obtained the 70-acre patchwork of lots southeast of Collect (referred to on maps as Fresh Water, though by 1800, it was anything but). In 1907, her second son, William C. Rhinelander—the firstborn son having been disinherited—died, leaving a $50,000,000 estate.

(100 years later)
As downtown Manhattan’s demographics began to change again, traditional Little Italy was pushed farther north from Canal Street. Present-day Little Italy is North of Little Italy, beginning at the old (though second) cathedral, so north from Broome continuing to East Houston and to Bleecker Streets, encompassing Center Market Place as well as three blocks east to The Bowery, which was once Vauxhall Gardens. The remaining neighboring Hester and Grand Streets, from Lafayette Street to The Bowery, were needed as greater Chinatown.

(2ooo)
At The Bowery’s east, astonishingly to even longtime Manhattanites, the notable high-speed gentrification proceeds as a rejuvenated Lower East Side. It lies at NoLita’s east and Alphabet City’s southwest, between East Houston and Delancey Streets, inclusive of Christie Forsyth, Eldridge, Allen, Orchard, Ludlow and Essex Streets—aligning as Second to Avenue A—all de Lancey Farm west and manor house epicenter. Even Freeman Alley, a short portion from Eldridge Street to The Bowery, as is as, lies on The Bowery’s access to the Dutch colonial real estate-development family’s proposed building site de Lancey Square, a (could-have-been) mid-1700s upper-middle-class suburb. Being on the wrong side of the Revolutionary War scotched that visionary urban plan, and put it on hold for 260 years.

After the mid-20th-century slum-clearance program, and once the 40 year Downtown’s prosperity was underway could a quintessential Lower East Side subsection morph into five-star-lifestyle neighborhood—with sleek, new-construction apartment houses, specifically, along The Bowery and Second Avenue, Houston and Allen Streets. The fast-lane spillover from neighboring districts proudly carries the Lower East Side heritage by embodying an international flavor infusion, a global cosmopolitan sensibility, where world-class hotels and restaurants alongside tenement apartment houses, with fire escapes protruding above, seems right and fits in just fine.

 

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