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 2: A Hierarchy of Sub-tenement Housing  

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A HIERARCHY OF SUB-TENEMENT HOUSING:

Toward the end of the 19th century, life on Manhattan’s lower East Side became synonymous with the tenement, cheap apartment houses built on spec. Although the Bowery had its share of tenements, it mostly catered to a population even poorer and more unstable. In those days, there was a range of cut-rate lodging.

As noted by social observer and photographer Jacob Riis, “There is a wider gap between the ‘hotel’…that charges a quarter and the one the furnishes a bed for a dime than between a bridal suite and the every-day hall bedroom of the ordinary hostelry.” Sociologists Charles Hoch and Richard Slayton--and Riis, in his famous “How the Other Half Lives”--sketched out this hierarchy of cheap living:

Workingmen’s Hotels: The top of the heap, workingmen’s hotels catered to skilled craftsmen and mechanics. Rooms cost up to a dollar a night, with services like trouser pressing and stationery. These hotels were scattered across the city until public pressure led to legislation in the 1950s that prohibited new developments. Many of these hotels, now known as Single Room Occupancy (SRO) hotels, were demolished, converted into commercial hotels or permanent housing.

Cubicle Hotels: Also called lodging houses or cage hotels, these buildings are now more commonly known as “flophouses.” Housed inside manufacturing buildings, each floor consisted of long rows of wooden cubicles, roughly 6 ½’ long, 4 ½’ wide and 7’ high, just large enough to fit a wire spring bed frame and a foot locker. The cubicles typically rose only three-quarters of the way to the ceiling so as to allow for light and air, and were covered with chicken wire to prevent theft. One floor might have as many as 200 cubicles, each of which cost 15 to 25 cents a night in 1890. At their height, more than 100 lodging houses served about 10,000 people along the Bowery. Now only seven are left.

Dormitory lodging houses: The precursor to the maligned armory shelter, these facilities would rent cots or bunks in large open rooms for ten to fifteen cents per night.  As with cubicle hotels, they were typically located over taverns or saloons.

Flophouses: For two to five cents a night, men could rent a space on the floor of a large room. Newspaper or coats provided bedding. Men usually slept in rows.

Barrel Houses: Saloons might allow steady customers to sleep for a penny or so on a bar stool, in a back hallway, or even draped over a rope strung across the bar.

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