A Little Bit of History...
Rob Hollander, of Save the Lower East Side, and Eric Ferrara, director of the Lower East Side History Project, spoke about the historical contrasts of the street known as Bowery, the city’s first theater district and at the same time the notorious red light district of early New York City.
The term “Jim Crow,” meaning black segregation, originated with a character in a Bowery minstrel show, according to a timeline that BAN has issued. The great 19th-century American actor Edwin Booth performed on the Bowery, and later, so did Eddie Cantor, W.C. Fields, Al Jolson and Jimmy Durante. Yiddish theater in America was born on the Bowery and “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” had its opening on the Bowery.
Punk rock and the Ramones rocked at CBGB (closed in October 2006) on the Bowery. The Bowery Mission, which takes its name from the street famed as the city’s Skid Row, has been saving derelict bodies and souls since 1879. In the 1890s there were a dozen gay bars in the Bowery neighborhood. It was where early gangs — associated with political clubs and volunteer fire companies — constituted the underworld. McGurk’s Suicide Hall, a brothel that got its nickname from the prostitutes who decided to end it all there, was at 285 Bowery.