Place in History

The Bowery Hall of Fame

Years: 2001-2002
Project: A modular mini-museum set up on the Bowery.
Summary: The Bowery Hall of Fame is a museum in miniature, assembled from the remains of a Palace Hotel lodging house cubicle, pilfered cultural artifacts, local propaganda, and bits of historical documentation. Inside this tiny dwelling you will discover strange and wonderful facts about the Bowery, its inhabitants, its structures, its apocryphal history and its unknowable future. From the nineteenth century slumming expeditions of George Washington Chuck Connors, the Mayor of Chinatown, to the modern-day exploits of urban professionals, this museum offers the visitor an explicit view of the world's most famous down-and-out boulevard. Built at a moment of profound physical, social and economic change along the Bowery, the Hall of Fame represents a portal into twenty-first century New York, a place defined by its past yet persistently unfettered by it.

  Page 11: The Science of Skid Row  

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

THE SCIENCE OF SKID ROW

Social scientists have typically studied skid rows in order to eliminate what is often defined as a social, spatial, or moral pathology. One of their first questions usually is: “who lives here and why?” In 1954, the federal agency in charge of urban renewal commissioned Donald J. Bogue to perform an analysis of American skid rows. The following material is excerpted from this report:

DOWN AND OUT NATION

Skid rows around the nation have been disappearing in the wake of urban renewal, gentrification, and the shifting nature of homelessness. These excerpts explore the rise and fall of some of the country’s other skid rows.

LOS ANGELES

(From Mike Davis’ City of Quartz, 1990)

Although city leaders periodically essay schemes for removing indigents en masse – deporting them to a poor farm on the edge of the desert, confining them in camps in the mountains, or, memorably, interning them on a derelict ferry at the Harbor – such ‘final solutions’ have been blocked by councilmembers fearful of the displacement of the homeless into their districts. Instead the city, self-consciously adopting the idiom of urban cold war, promotes the ‘containment’ (official term) of the homeless in Skid Row along Fifth Street east of the Broadway, systematically transforming the neighborhood into an outdoor poorhouse ….  By condensing the mass of the desperate and helpless together in such a small space, and denying adequate housing, official policy has transformed Skid Row into probably the most dangerous ten square blocks in the world – ruled by a grisly succession of ‘Slashers’, ‘Night Stalkers’ and more ordinary predators. Every night on Skid Row is Friday the 13th, and, unsurprisingly, many of the homeless seek to escape the ‘Nickle’ during the night at all costs, searching safer niches in other parts of Downtown. The city in turn tightens the noose with increased police harassment and ingenious design deterrents.

One of the most common, but mind-numbing, of these deterrents is the Rapid Transit District’s new barrelshaped bus bench that offers a minimal surface for uncomfortable sitting, while making sleeping utterly impossible. Such ‘bumproof’ benches are being widely introduced on the periphery of Skid Row.  Another invention, worthy of the Grand Guignol, is the aggressive deployment of outdoor sprinklers …. To ensure that the park was not used for sleeping – that is to say, to guarantee that it was mainly utilized for drug dealing and prostitution – the city installed an elaborate overhead sprinkler system programmed to drench unsuspecting sleepers at random times during the night. The system was immediately copied by some local businessmen in order to drive the homeless away from adjacent public sidewalks.

DENVER

Larimer Square
by Bruce (Utah) Phillips, not dated

The bulldozer’s rollin’ through my part of town.
The iron ball swings and knocks it all down.
You knocked down the flophouse, knocked down the bars,
And blacktopped it over to park all your cars.

Chorus
Now, where will I go and where can I stay
When you’ve knocked down the Skid Row and hauled it away?
I’ll flag a fast rattler and ride it on down, boys.
They’re runnin’ the bums out of town.

Old Maxie the tailor is closing his doors.
There ain’t nothin’ left in the secondhand stores.
You knocked down the hock shop and the big Harbor Light,
And the old Chinese café that was open all night.

Well, you ran out the hookers who worked on the street.
And you built a big club where the playboys can meet.
My bookie joint closed when your cops pulled a raid,
But you built a new hall for the stock market trade.

These little storekeepers just don’t stand a chance
With the big uptown bankers a callin’ the dance.
With their suit-and-tie restaurants that’re all owned by Greeks,
And the counterfeit hippies and their plastic boutiques.

Now I’m finding out there’s just one kind of war,
The one going on ‘tween the rich and the poor.
I don’t know a lot about what you’d call class,
But the upper and middle can all kiss my ass.

BOSTON

(From Common Ground by J. Anthony Lukas, 1985) 

By 1900, with 37,000 lodgers, the South End was the nation’s largest rooming-house district – a drab, dismal quarter which one social worker called “the city wilderness.” Its once peaceful squares were now hemmed in by sooty factories, noisy machine shops, dusty brickyards, grim warehouses, and the incessant rumble of trucks and steam engines…

The South End’s deterioration was greatly hastened by the erection of the El along Washington Street. Just as in Charlestown, it blighted everything in its path with soot, noise, and darkness. Nor was it there to serve the immediate population. The El didn’t even stop within the South End... It had been built to provide the burgeoning suburban middle class with speedy service to and from their offices, and if, by so doing, it had to pass through Charlestown and the South End, then the businessman from Dedham or Wakefield could simply avert his glance and spare himself the bleak vistas which flashed past the windows.

When Scollay Square and the West End were demolished in the late fifties and early sixties, many of their denizens migrated to skid row, which, by 1963, provided refuge to 7,000 homeless men, eleven poolrooms, twenty-four liquor stores, and forty-one saloons.  More than ever, the South End became the principal haunt of the city’s “night people,” notably the “white hunters,” suburban men who prowled the avenues of “Momma-land” in their late-model cars, looking for black prostitutes.

SAN FRANCISCO

(From “Third and Howard: Skid Row and The Limits of Architecture” by Paul Groth)

At the sidewalk edges of Third and Howard Streets began various retail outlets for those with low incomes. This retail street life expanded into most ground-floor spaces along each block. Prominent first-floor elements were workingmen’s saloons, boldly advertising their nickel beer. Along Third Street, men found the greatest concentrations of worker’s saloons, many with backroom bookie joints, legal in California until 1938. By 1910, San Francisco’s saloons no longer served a free lunch, but they offered hearty 10-cent to 15-cent meals with the purchase of a glass of beer. Nearby was a distinctly grubby class of poolrooms and penny arcades. Added to the mix along the ground floors were occasional amusement halls; concert saloons, with their cheerful and gladdening bathing beauties; and, later, cheap all-night movie theaters. The saloons and entertainment establishments were frequented not only by the neighborhood residents but also by working men from throughout the city and by adolescents who stole away to see something of life other than what the purveyors of the dominant urban culture thought appropriate for them. The South of Market also had fifty-one secondhand clothing stores…Trunk shops and commercial storage-locker businesses catered to men leaving town for a season. Radical bookstores supplied reading material aimed at a workers’ revolution….There were barber colleges offering free haircuts; medical and dental schools offering low-cost clinics…In the evenings, some of the shops offered exotic dance shows. Houses of prostitution or assignation were never far away, but a typical single-worker’s zone had fewer women and children visible on its streets than any other residential or commercial district of the city.

Next Page
©2017 Place in History