Top image (The Bowery in the 1860s, looking south from Cooper Square) via NYPL. Photo of scaffolding on 35 Cooper Sq. and final image, below, via EV Grieve.
As Grieve, Jeremiah, and Local East Village have all reported, there will be no reprieve for 35 Cooper Square, the lovely little Federal Era relic that’s a last remnant of the antebellum Bowery. (Scroll through the long and tortured saga of the building’s death warrant via Curbed’s #35coopersquare tag.)
The home was built in 1826, the same year General Lafayette made a triumphal tour of the United States to celebrate the 50th anniversary of American Independence. Think about that if you happen to walk by demolition this week.
Jeremiah wrote an appreciative history of the building back in 2008, highlighting especially its literary historical relevance in the mid 20th century as a home and hangout of Beat writers, New York School poets and painters, and jazz musicians. He quotes Diane DiPrima’s memories of her first encounter with the building:
“From the moment when I first laid eyes on 35 Cooper Square, I knew it was the fulfillment of all those fantasies of art and the artist’s life, la vie de boheme, harking all the way back to my high school years or before.”
She moved in sometime in 1962 and lived there until 1965. During those years she published the DIY literary journal The Floating Bear with the poet LeRoi Jones.
Over the last few months as preservationists have fought to save 35 Cooper Square, the general public has learned more about that building’s history than most previously knew. Responding in part to a wrong-headed opinion piece in the Local East Village, architectural historian Kerri Culhane offered the blog her own profile on the building, which is worth reading again as the walls come down. She called 35 Cooper
representative of the Bowery’s history as a whole, which itself tells the story of New York, coinciding with the period of dynamic transformation of the Bowery from a rural lane to the main business district in town, and from the pleasure district of the mid to late 19th century to the cultural center of downtown New York in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s.
If the Bowery’s development is a mirror of the history of New York, to lose these early artifacts is to be left with a distorted image of the city.
One of my favorite appreciations of the building, though, comes in the comments on the wrong-headed opinion piece linked above, from a writer signing off as “Bowery Boy”:
35 Cooper is the oldest and last house of what was once Bowery Village – a buggey ride north from nyc, which at the time still ended at Chambers street, shortly after the wall became Wall St. Do you get what the history of that means? It says so much about what nyc was and is. It’s called legacy and heritage.35 Cooper was built before the Civil War, before parks existed, and across the street from this house was a public garden – Vauxhall Gardens where PT. Barnum was later to mount his first productions.
35 Cooper is one of 6 remaining Houses on the Bowery. How rare and unique on this island of skyscapers that we still have a few actual houses. Please learn about the value of Intimacy and scale exemplified by such local gems that contrast the numbness of the gigantic buildings of midtown.
And what is important about these 6 houses is that they connect all of the other landmarked buildings on Bowery into one historic district from Cooper Union to Chatum Square. If you get rid of such linking sites, then the Landmarks Commission has wasted it’s decades of time designating the other buildings – cuz there’ll be no connection of a cohesive historic district, which, by the way, could be a tourist destination, tax driver, and moneymaker for all the other businesses along Bowery.
It’s not about the restuarant that occupied the space last month, or the artists that lived there in the last decade – it’s about 200 years of history that, if torn down, no one else will ever get to experience firsthand.
And it’s not about this one building, but more about what it means in context of all the other buildings on the Bowery. Please learn about this rich history. Bowery was originally an Indian trail, and then the High Road – it was nyc first highway out of town where trappers and hunters would stop before getting to the city to sell their bounty. This house was there then.
Please learn about Peter Stuyvesant who originally owned this land and what he meant to the founding of nyc. Whether you no it or not, probably not, just looking at this house teaches you much about early nyc.
The Bowery is where Vaudeville, tap dance and Yiddish theater began. So, if we tear down all this early history, all we’ll be left with is the Bowery’s seedy skid row days, and no one want’s that to be the Bowery’s only legacy.
Or will even that legacy be buried under another ugly upcropping of steel and glass luxury hotels?