Bowery Gentrification Watch: Another Big Hotel?
July 16, 2008
With yesterday's reported purchase of the townhouse at 185 Bowery, Brack Capital now owns four adjacent properties at Bowery and Delancey (rumor: hotel in the works), but the Observer has a report on the lone tenant remaining in the townhouse, and she says she's not going anywhere.
Meanwhile, Jeremiah over at Vanishing New York dips into the history of the Bowery properties now controlled by Brack, a history that includes keno, beer bottling and suicide. [NYO; VNY]
Jeremiah's Vanishing New York
Posted by Jeremiah Moss
July 16, 2008
Something gigantic is coming to Bowery and Delancey. With the New Museum arrival and the protested EV/LES rezoning, the Bowery has become more valuable, and therefore more threatened, than ever before.
Now Rob Hollander of Save the LES sends notice of a Real Deal report that condo/hotel developer Brack Capital just bought a townhouse at 185 Bowery, adding to their clustered purchases of 187, 189, and 191. Like dominoes in a row, all four are expected to fall.
photo: dylan stone, nypl
Brack is responsible for 15 Union Square West, a boutique hotel on Grand St., and other developments in the city. It is rumored they will demolish the four low-rises for a luxury hotel. Here comes yet another giant tower, to go with the one right behind it and all the rest.
Today in #187, resident since 1980 Roberta Degnore still hangs on, the only one left and a possible roadblock to the wrecking ball. She recently told The Observer, "I’m alone in this freaking building on the Bowery, and if I scream, nobody will hear me.” (Take the money and run, Roberta--look what they're doing to Hettie Jones.)
Assuming these buildings are as old as they look, there are more stories here. #189 once had a saloon in the front and a German men's keno parlor in the back. In 1867, it was raided by the police in a "Descent upon a Bowery Keno Hell."
The Illustrated New York of 1888 tells us that #191 used to be R.H. Luthin's wholesale and retail drug house (formerly Cassebeer's drugstore) where they carried Vitalized Cordial, Wild Cherry Syrup, and Sarsaparilla. There was also "a small cigarstand and a place for the sale of hot-corn" on the site.
By the 1930s, these were all flop hotels--The Puritan at #183, The Savoy at #185--with beds and rooms from 20 cents to 50 cents apiece.
It's the townhouse at #185 that is clearly the architectural gem of the bunch. It also has the most tragic story.
According to the 1884 edition of New York's Great Industries, this address was the home of Karl Hutter's Lightning Bottle-Stoppers, Lightning Fruit-Jars, and Bottlers' Supplies. Here you could see a "full assortment of his stoppers and attachments, also siphons made of French glass, with pure metal heads, bottle-filling machines, lightning bottle-washers, siphon-filling machines, corking machines," and more.
Mr. Hutter made a fortune on his lightning bottle-stopper, which "revolutionized beer bottling." You can see its descendant today on bottles of Grolsch.
photo: robert k. chin
Even with all his wealth, prized Oriental rugs, and society club memberships, Mr. Hutter could not overcome the "acute melancholia" that led to his suicide in 1913. The Times reported that Mr. Hutter filled his bathtub with water, removed his clothing, got inside, and shot himself in the head--all in his "sumptuously furnished apartment" on Central Park. He left a note, saying, "The pain and agony endured in this world cannot be more than that to be endured by the soul in the next."
There are eight million stories in the naked city. These four buildings about to vanish from the Bowery have been some of them.
>> A NEW YORKER IS SOMEONE WHO LONGS FOR NEW YORK
A Bowery Veteran Hangs On
Is longtime resident Roberta Degnore crusading—or cashing in?
The New York Observer
by Joe Pompeo
July 15, 2008
When Roberta Degnore moved to the Bowery some 30 years ago, there were no ritzy hotels, expensive condos, or Whole Foods; no moms with baby carriages or yuppies walking their dogs.
But there were plenty of prostitutes turning tricks on the corner and bums who would use her doorstep as a toilet, and you would more likely see rats on the sidewalk than copies of The New York Times.
“It was all focused on the arts scene,” said Ms. Degnore, a petite filmmaker and psychologist with wavy red hair and cat-eye glasses, sitting in her spacious, rent-stabilized loft near the intersection with Delancey Street. “No one had any money back then. Everyone was just doing art because they loved it, and we gave each other respect because of that.”
But the more the Bowery gentrifies, the less room there is for people like Ms. Degnore.
Her landlord just sold for $7.55 million the five-story walk-up where she’s lived since 1980 in a 1,400-square-foot loft with a 25-by-22-foot terrace, for which she now pays around $1,300 a month. The apparent buyer is Brack Capital, a bullish global real estate firm whose New York portfolio includes an array of towering luxury hotels, condos and office buildings.
Brack has closed on three adjacent properties, including a four-story walk-up at 189 Bowery that it bought in November of 2007 for $9.7 million, almost $5.5 million more than the same building sold for in July of 2006.
There have been rumors the company wants to build a large hotel there, but an employee in Brack’s Manhattan office declined to comment on the company’s plans for the properties, and calls to managers handling its Bowery project were not returned.
Earlier this year, the other tenants in Ms. Degnore’s building, who were all on market-rate leases, were bought out in deals negotiated by Robert A. Cohen & Associates, a real estate investment and property management company that appears to be involved in the sale. Ms. Degnore said she has repeatedly declined buyout offers, and Mr. Cohen declined to comment for this article.
Now, Ms. Degnore and her dog, a 14-year-old Lab named Patsy, are the building’s sole occupants (“it’s a very creepy feeling”), but she said she won’t give up her digs: “I refuse to be forced out by developers.”
Since the late '90s, the Bowery has been undergoing a vast luxury transformation. It’s evident in the massive hotels that have started to line the avenue from Canal Street, where the 18-story Wyndham is being built, all the way up to Sixth Street, where the 22-story Cooper Square Hotel is nearing completion; in the shiny New Museum of Contemporary Art, which looms like a giant robot above the weathered old buildings that flank it; in the neighborhood’s plethora of trendy bars; in the John Varvatos boutique that opened where the legendary CBGB used to be; and in a new Chase bank up the street, where it costs $3 to use the A.T.M.
For better or for worse, developers are capitalizing on skid row’s legacy of art and alcoholism—grime is what gave the Bowery its character, and character is what makes it a cool place to be.
But longtime residents like Ms. Degnore still can’t believe that a street once dominated by flophouses, winos and eccentrics is becoming a luxury destination.
A Detroit native, Ms. Degnore came to Manhattan in 1972 in her early 20s. Her first apartment, a split-level studio with lots of windows, was on 15th Street in a newly renovated brownstone just west of Eighth Avenue. She can’t remember exactly how much the rent was, but she said it must have been “next to nothing, 200 bucks or something.”
Over the next few years, she bounced around among various apartments in Lower Manhattan, finally moving by January of 1980 to her loft on the Bowery, which she said has been an ideal setting for creative endeavors—screenplays, novels and several short films, including an experimental documentary about the art of glass blowing that’s more reminiscent of Kenneth Anger than it is the Discovery Channel.
The day she moved in was cold and snowy, but the loft had a working fireplace at the time. So the first thing she did after lugging up all her stuff up was buy some bundles of wood from a guy selling them out of his pickup truck, get a fire going, and invite over her friend Sam Wagstaff, Robert Mapplethorpe’s mentor and companion, who died of AIDS in 1987. They sat around for hours smoking cigarettes, she recalled.
Back then, Ms. Degnore was cool with the prostitutes since they never really bothered anyone; and, really, the bums only got annoying when they would occasionally defecate in front of the entrance to her building, or rummage through people’s trash on garbage night.
The Bowery’s come a long way since that time.
“It’s pretty remarkable when you think that the Bowery used to be code language for urban blight,” said Robert Freedman, CEO of GVA Williams, the real estate adviser to the Salvation Army, which has been quietly marketing its 10-story property on the Bowery between Rivington and Stanton streets. “Now you have a more animated streetscape.”
“It’s more vibrant,” said Fred Harris, senior vice president of development for Avalon Bay Communities, which owns the eight-story luxury rental complexes at Avalon Chrystie Place (above the Whole Foods) and Avalon Bowery Place (just north of East Houston Street). “There’s lots of people shopping there, lots of people going to the New Museum, lots of people living in our buildings. We’re certainly contributing to the economic revitalization of the Bowery.”
Of course, luxury living isn’t for everyone. Opposition to development on the Bowery has been mounting over the past year since it came to light that the street wasn’t included in the Department of City Planning’s East Village rezoning plan. In June, some 100 people rallied in front of the Bowery Wine Company, housed on the ground floor of Avalon Bowery Place, to protest what they characterized as the yuppification of the once grimy corridor. And Ms. Degnore said she “almost died” recently when she saw the doorman for a nearby building walking a resident’s dog: “It was like, ‘Oh, ****! This is not what I signed on for.’”
Ms. Degnore’s current lease isn’t up until May 2009, and since she’s a rent-stabilized tenant, she’s legally entitled to have it renewed. Her attorney, Jacob Shakarchy, said the new landlords could apply to have the building demolished, but that would take a considerable amount of time.
Ms. Degnore said she heard of plans to demolish two of Brack’s neighboring buildings, though no demolition applications have been filed yet with the Buildings Department.
The other option is a buyout. Ms. Degnore would leave only if compensated for the full amount the loft is worth, so that she could buy a comparable space. On average, apartments in her neighborhood sell for roughly $1,200 per square foot, according to data from the appraisal firm Miller Samuel, which would make hers worth around $1.65 million. She was offered $750,000, but turned it down, she said.
In the meantime, she’s sitting tight. She said the quietness of being the only person living in the building has set in, though, and she gets freaked out every time she hears a creak or a bump.
“It’s really made me aware of how socially interrelated we are,” she said. “Can you imagine going home to your building tonight and there’s nobody there? You’re the only one? It’s creepy.
“Of course, it’s your own mind that does it. You know, like when you were a child having night terrors and thinking you can’t put your foot on the floor because the monster under the bed is gonna reach out and grab it. So there’s those kinds of irrational fears, but beyond that, there’s the very real fear that, hey, I’m alone in this freaking building on the Bowery, and if I scream, nobody will hear me.”
© 2008 Observer Media Group