Neighbors fight to save the Bowery
Martin Scorcese is the latest addition to a long list of old-school New Yorkers and artists fighting to protect the Bowery.
In a recent letter to the City Planning Commission, Scorcese credited “the grittiness, the ambience, the vivid atmosphere” of the neighborhood with inspiring his best work.
“Having grown up in Elizabeth Street, the neighborhood and residents of the Bowery became clear catalysts for turning me into a storyteller,” Scorcese wrote in a plea to acknowledge a plan from the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors to preserve the east side of the Bowery.
The area has been on the State Registry of Historic Places since October 2011, and cause for new celebration arose just a month ago, when the Bowery was added to the National Registry, joining such American historical institutions as Beacon Hill in Boston and New Orleans’ French Quarter.
But the National Registry is only honorific: it merely recognizes the value of a place, but does not instate any development restrictions or protections, which is why some residents of the neighborhood continue to plead with the City Planning Commission to review their East Bowery Preservation Plan.
The Plan stipulates that all buildings would have a maximum height of 85 feet, or eight stories, to remain in line with the late 18th and early 19th century buildings.
The wide street has significance dating as far back as 1626, with a rich history encompassing everything from tap dance and vaudeville to abstract expressionism and punk music. Once the home of a rich Yiddish Theater scene, some say the only remnant of the once vibrant arts community is the Bowery Poetry Club.
A letter from Bruce Lee Gallanter of Downtown Music Gallery, a quirky record store that was once located on the street, mourned the loss of CBGB’s, the Bouwerie Theatre, and his own displaced shop, insisting, “Something must be done in order to preserve the creative spirit that once defined this historic area.”
Lou DiGennaro, a Brooklyn resident who has been visiting the Bowery area frequently since childhood, noted that while the area is safer and cleaner, and the buildings taller, “some of the character is lost.”
“It’s lost a little energy,” DiGennaro said. “It’s pushing out a lot of people who are more creative.”
Mark Nourieli, 57, has owned a restaurant equipment store on the Bowery for 20 years, and said he and other restaurant equipment businesses along the block will have to relocate within a year to a year and a half.
Nourieli didn’t mince words: “The millionaires came in and they bought all the real estate,” he said. “They sold the building and we have to move.”
“They destroyed us,” Nourieli added. “The Bowery is finished.”
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