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The Bowery Mission | by Emilio Guerra
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The Bowery Mission

Chinatown, Manhattan, New York City, New York, United States


No. 227 Bowery is significant for its 103-year history as the home of the Bowery Mission, a religious-based organization that has fed, housed and cared for countless homeless men on the Lower East Side for more than 130 years. This building is also an important reminder of the Bowery’s history during the 19th century and for its transient population that once stayed at the Bowery’s previously numerous homeless shelters run by missions and cheap lodging houses.


No. 227 Bowery was built in 1876 by owner Jonas Stolts, a manufacturer of coffins and undertaker, and designed by William Jose (c. 1843-1885), who designed many multiple dwellings in Manhattan, especially on the Lower East Side and in Greenwich Village. 227 Bowery is constructed with red brick and has four bays of windows with incised stone lintels and sills at the third through fifth stories.


The ground floor has three arch-headed openings with keystone lintels, a bracketed cornice and stone banding.


This neo-Grec style building was altered in 1908-09 by architects Marshall L. Emery (c.1863-1921) and Henry G. Emery (1871-1956) when the Bowery Mission leased the building. Four stained-glass windows surrounded by Tudor Revival style mock half-timbering and a small shed roof covered with clay tiles were installed at the second story. The interior of the second story was also remodeled into a Gothic Revival style chapel at this time. The second-story stained-glass windows depict the Biblical story of the Return of the Prodigal Son and are attributed to Benjamin Sellers (1860-1930). Sellers trained at the Tiffany Studios and designed stained-glass windows for other houses of worship, including Lafayette Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn.


The Bowery Mission was established in 1879 on the Bowery and moved from its location at 55 Bowery to 227 Bowery in 1909 when 55 Bowery was demolished for the approach to the Manhattan Bridge. The Bowery Mission is a religious-based organization that provides food, shelter, employment and medical assistance to indigent homeless men. One of the oldest Christian missions still in existence in this country, the Mission became famous for its bread line. Many prominent figures have made appearances at the Mission, including President William Taft, spoke to 600 men in 1909 soon after the organization moved to 227 Bowery. The Bowery Mission also runs a camp for inner city children outside New York City that has been in existence since 1894 and a center for women in Manhattan that opened in 1990.




The Bowery


The Bowery is the oldest thoroughfare on Manhattan Island and is part of an old road once-known as the Wickquasgeck Road, since it led to lands of that tribe, and later as the Post Road to Boston. Starting in the city of New Amsterdam at the south end of Manhattan, the road veered northeast around a freshwater pond known as the Collect, The Bowery was, like Broadway, originally part of a Native American trail extending the length of Manhattan; during the Dutch colonization, slave laborers widened the portion of this pathway linking the city of New Amsterdam at the southern tip of Manhattan with a group of bouweries, or farms,established by the Dutch West Indies Company to supply its fledging settlement. After 1664, when the British took control of New Amsterdam and renamed it New York, this “Bowry Lane” became a component of the Post Road linking New York City and Boston. It was officially designated “The Bowery” in 1813.


Between 1643 and 1651, manumitted Africans, former slaves of the Dutch West India Company, received ground briefs for land in the area between the public wagon road [the Bowery] and the Fresh Water [Collect] and vicinity, creating what architect and historian I. N. Phelps Stokes described as the “first quarter for free Negros established on Manhattan Island.” The ground-briefs for small farms were offered strategically, the recipients were older slaves and the company could avoid the expense of caring for them, and the African settlement would provide a buffer and early warning system against Native American attacks on Dutch settlements. The Africans were granted conditional freedom and owed an annual tribute of produce or labor when needed to the company. These farms were interspersed among the bouweries and estates of some of the most powerful Dutch land owners of New Amsterdam.


In 1659 and 1660 Director General Petrus (Peter) Stuyvesant made several grants of small parcels and lots for houses and gardens to “Negroes” “in free and true ownership.” In 1712 under English rule, a concerted effort began, to limit the power of the growing black population, stripping the free blacks of their privileges and requiring them to forfeit their lands to the Crown, ending the brief period of conditional land ownership and liberties that started under the Dutch in 1643


The vulnerability of these scattered farms to attacks by Native Americans prompted an order in 1660 that settlers gather in towns “after the English fashion,” and Bowery Village was established on part of what had been the Company’s Great Bowerie. The road leading to it became known as “Bowery Lane,” which served as the city’s principal route of expansion during its first two centuries of growth.


The area developed rapidly following the turn of the 19th century and, by the 1830s, had become a bustling neighborhood composed in large part of brick and brick-fronted Federal style row houses. By the mid-19th century, as wealthier residents moved uptown, the Bowery became more commercial in character, defined by specialty shops, drygoods and fancy hardware businesses.


After the Civil War, the Bowery became known for its cheap amusements—some wholesome, some not—as music halls, dramatic theaters, and German beer halls shared the street with dive bars, taxidance halls, pawnbrokers, medicine shows, confidence men, and “museums” featuring sword swallowers, exotic animals, and scantily-clad women.


The Bowery also had a reputation for salvation; the first mission in the Lower East Side, the Gospel Rescue Mission founded by Jeremiah McAuley, in 1872 with the goal of serving the

“undeserving poor.” Founded by Reverend and Mrs. A. G. Ruliffson the Bowery Mission opened in 1879 becoming the second mission on the Bowery and the third in the nation, and becoming the leading provider of charity and evangelism on the Bowery.


With the opening of the Third Avenue Elevated along the Bowery in 1878, the street was cast into permanent shadow, and pedestrians were showered with hot cinders from the steam trains running above and next to the sidewalks.Despite its honky-tonk reputation, the Bowery also functioned as “the grand avenue of the respectable lower classes,” where Federal-era residences converted to saloons and boarding houses stood cheek-by-jowl with grand architectural showpieces constructed by the neighborhood’s cultural and financial institutions, including the Bond Street Savings Bank at the northwest corner of the Bowery and Bond Street, the Germania Bank (1898-99, Robert Maynicke) at the northwest corner of the Bowery and Spring Street, the Young Men’s Institute Building of the YMCA (1884-85, Bradford L. Gilbert) at 222 Bowery, and the Bowery Savings Bank (1893-95, McKim, Mead & White) at 130 Bowery.In the mid-1800s, boarding houses were widespread on the Bowery and were not stigmatized in the way they would come to be in later years. Young single workers arriving in New York sought housing in reputable boarding houses, typically located in the lower wards, near the trades, industries and businesses in which they worked. Historians assert that the entertainment culture of the Bowery arose to serve the young single working-class male workers lodging on and around the Bowery.


As the entertainment district on the Bowery degenerated over the course of the second half of the 19th century, the Bowery attracted legions of rootless individuals. By 1890, it was estimated that over 9,000 homeless men, many with addictions, found lodging on the Bowery. A variety of accommodations was available at a range of prices, from the top-of-the-line room with clean sheets for 25 cents, to a very undesirable squalid hammock in a windowless sub-basement for seven cents, or, for five cents, a mere flop spot on a wooden floor. Because of the conditions exposed by reformer Jacob Riis, these lodging houses became regulated by law along with tenement houses beginning in 1867, with revisions to the laws in 1879 and 1901.


When the Manhattan Bridge opened in 1909, local business owners saw the bridge as a catalyst for change, and for improving the neighborhoods’ business climate and its overall character. Local businessmen and realtors formed the Manhattan Bridge Transit Improvement Association in March 1916; seeking to get rid of the “cheap” lodging houses and “cheap” entertainment show places, they went as far as proposing to rename the Bowery Central Broadway.


In the 20th century, the Bowery’s reputation persisted as a notorious “skid row” lined with flop houses and vagrants, but at the same time, because of low rents, it became one of New York’s centers of specialty shops for goods such as lighting fixtures and restaurant equipment. The elevated railway line, reconstructed in the middle of the Bowery in 1916 (demolished in 1955), helped to deter the redevelopment of this area for decades.


Starting with a change in occupancy laws, which legalized artists’ occupancy of loft buildings in 1961, an influx of artists and creative intellectuals began to change the character of the street. However, homelessness, addiction, and vagrancy continued unabated well into the 1980s. Poets, artists, musicians and experimental theater companies all co-existed with cultural and religious organizations and the legions of homeless men. During this period an influx of immigrants from China in the late 1950s and early 1960s changed the demographics of the Bowery and expanded Chinatown northward along the Bowery from Chatham Square.


Today the Bowery is undergoing another period of change, as new development, high- end boutiques, specialty shops, restaurants and hotels have replaced the flophouses, tenements and SROs.


The Bowery Mission


The Bowery Mission is a religious-based organization established in 1879 by the Reverend and Mrs. A. G. (Albert Gleason) Ruliffson to rescue and reform indigent homeless men. It was the second mission of its kind in New York City and the third of its kind in the United States. In the beginning, the mission offered prayer services in a small room located at 14 Bowery; as its services expanded, larger quarters were needed and the mission used space at 36 Bowery from 1880 to 1887. The mission then relocated to 105 Bowery in 1887, until a devastating fire forced the mission to move to 55 Bowery in 1898. In the spring of 1895, the Mission’s long-time Superintendent and founding member Mr. J. Ward Childs died placing the mission in a crisis to stay solvent and open.


Christian Herald owner and philanthropist, Dr. Louis Klopsch (1852-1910) purchased the Bowery Mission in 1895, saving it from economic hardship and possible closure. The Bowery Mission was formally incorporated in 1897. The construction (1901-1909) of the Manhattan Bridge, which resulted in the demolition of 55 Bowery in 1905, forced the Mission to yet again find a new home, finding temporary residence at 37 Bowery until the alterations were finished at 227 Bowery. On November 6, 1909, the Bowery Mission settled in its current location at 227 Bowery. One month after the Mission opened at its current location, President William Taft addressed the staff and residents. The ongoing task of the Bowery Mission has been to maintain a Christian presence in one of the most densely populated neighborhoods on the Lower East Side and to provide charity and evangelism to the city’s “downtrodden” by offering food, clothing, shelter, and, starting in 1994, a Christian-oriented recovery program.


Philanthropist Mrs. Sarah J. Bird (1832-1914) was considered “the Mother of the Bowery Mission” serving it from 1881 to 1914. Mrs. Bird had a long history of charitable efforts and Christian rescue work. Initially, working with women’s mission at Henry Ward Beecher’s Plymouth Bethel Church in Brooklyn, then helping to found a men’s mission in a Madison Street basement, and later Mrs. Bird became a constant presence at the Bowery mission. Without training, staff or the backing of any church or organization, Mrs. Bird conducted Thursday and Sunday prayer services for many years at the mission before it was saved by Dr. Louis Klopsch. Later Mrs. Bird took on a wider role as a board member after the Mission was incorporated. Mrs. Bird devoted her life to the service of the disenfranchised men of the Bowery, offering “a gospel invitation to all who were in need.” After the death of her husband Thomas H. Bird in 1891, she chose to live in the heart of the Lower East Side of Manhattan.


In 1895 the Mission added food service to its outreach, with a restaurant, which offered a hearty meal for a nominal sum. In 1900, the mission came under the supervision of John Greener Hallimond, originally from England and associated with the West London Mission and later with the Volunteers of America. Mr. Hallimond introduced many innovative programs; an employment agency that helped find employment for over a thousand men annually, and the Bethesda Home in Brooklyn for women, which helped young women and girls find shelter and counseling. The famous Bowery Mission breadline started in 1902 to serve breakfast to the homeless at 1:00 am every morning between Thanksgiving and April 1st.


In June 1894, with funds left over from a winter food drive, it was suggested to Dr. Klopsch that the monies could be utilized to help the needy children of New York City in the form of a “Fresh Air Home.” Dr. Klopsch rented the estate of The Reverend Doctor A. D. Lawrence Jewett, in Nyack-on-the-Hudson River, for a nominal sum. In 1895, Dr. Klopsch officially opened a “Fresh Air Home” for inner-city youth in Nyack, at the Mount-Lawn Estate. That year a total of 1,200 inner-city children were selected from some of the poorest families with no distinction made as to creed or nationality. The average stay was ten days and the season was for ten weeks in the summer months.


During the Great Depression, the Bowery Mission expanded its services to the homeless and extended their bread line hours of operation. The organization has provided food, shelter, employment and medical assistance to indigent homeless men and inner city youth for more than 130 years.


Design and Construction of No. 227 Bowery


No. 227 Bowery was built in 1876 by owner Jonas Stolts, a manufacturer of coffins and undertaker, and designed by William Jose (c.1843-1885). The neo-Grec style 227 Bowery is constructed with red brick and has four bays of windows with incised stone lintels and sills at the third through fifth stories. The ground floor has three arch-headed openings with keystone lintels, a bracketed cornice and stone banding. The building was altered in 1908-09 by architects Marshall L. (c.1863-1921) and Henry G. (1871-1956) Emery when it was leased by the Bowery Mission. Four stained-glass windows surrounded by Tudor Revival style mock half-timbering and a small shed roof covered with clay tiles were installed at the second story. The interior of the second story was remodeled into a Gothic Revival style chapel at this time. The second story stained-glass windows depict the Biblical story of the Return of the Prodigal Son and are attributed to Benjamin Sellers (1860-1930). The front fa9ade of 227 Bowery was altered again at a later date by replacing the fire escape and the roof cornice, and altering the center masonry opening at the ground floor. The Stolts family retained ownership of the property for close to 70 years, initially leasing No. 227 to the Bowery Mission in 1908 until 1928, when the property was purchased by the Christian Herald.


Architects and Artisans


William Jose (c.1843-1885)


The architect of 227 Bowery, William Jose, was born in Prussia, and was listed as an architect in New York City directories between 1869 and 1884. Jose maintained an office at 185 Bowery, and later in Bible House on Astor Place; he was active a designer of multiple dwellings primarily in the vicinity of the Bowery, as well as in the Tribeca, SoHo, and Greenwich Village Historic Districts.


Marshall and Henry Emery Marshall L. Emery (c.1863-1921)


Henry G. Emery (1871-1956)


Architects of record for the extensive 1908-09 alterations to The Bowery Mission, Marshall and Henry Emery had an extensive and varied practice. Marshall Emery began his career with the firm of Withers & Dixon, opening his own architectural practice in New York City in 1894. By 1895, Emery won the commission for the Polhemus Clinic in Brooklyn. In 1899, his brother Henry joined him, after having worked for the prestigious firms of R.M. Hunt and Warren & Wetmore, and they formed the partnership of M.L. & H.G. Emery. The brothers designed the Jamaica Hospital on Long Island and the Elks Lodge in Albany, New York. While Marshall Emery lived in New York, his brother lived in Nyack and the firm designed many private homes in that area, as well as St. Ann's Roman Catholic Church, St. Paul's Methodist Church, the Nyack Library and the Nyack Hospital. The firm continues today under the name of Schofield Colgan Architects. Alterations to the Bowery Mission building in 1908 and 1909 by Marshall L. and Henry G. Emery included inserting a chapel with its Tudor-Revival window frame around stained-glass windows.


Benjamin Sellers (1860-1930)


The stained-glass windows illustrating the parable of the Return of the Prodigal Son are attributed to Benjamin Sellers, who trained at Tiffany Studios. Sellers emigrated from Oldbury, Birmingham, England in 1881. Sellers worked for Tiffany Studios for 10 years before starting his own studio, Benjamin Sellers & Sons. His company designed stained-glass windows for several mid-Atlantic coast churches, including those in New York City, Long Island, New Jersey and Connecticut. The windows at the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church, Brooklyn, are among his earliest works.


Subsequent History


Over the course of the Mission’s history, many politicians and celebrities have made appearances; in 1919, New York Governor Alfred E. Smith addressed the residents at the Bowery Mission’s 40th anniversary. In 1920, the Democratic nominee for the Vice-Presidency, Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke at the mission while campaigning.


In 1929, The Bowery Mission purchased 227 Bowery, the building it had leased for more than 30 years.


For 69 years, Mount Lawn Camp was held at Nyack-on-the-Hudson. Due to urbanization, the Christian Herald decided to purchase new property, and settled on an area in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania. In 1963, The “Fresh Air Home” moved to the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania.


In January 1994, the 77 bed Bowery Mission Transitional Center; a substance-abuse program opened its doors with funding from New York's Department of Homeless Services. In 1990, the Mission expanded its services to women, later partnering with Heartsease Inc. to open The Bowery Mission Women’s Center in February 2005.


In 2002, the Bowery Mission was renovated following a $1.1 million capital campaign; at this time The Bowery Mission also added free medical services for its clients and community. In 2004, the ministry celebrated its 125th Anniversary.




The neo-Grec style building has a four-bay fa9ade and is five stories in height. The brick fa9ade has Tudor style details encasing the stained-glass window at the second floor, which is surmounted by a bracketed shed roof. The windows at the upper floors have angular decorative stone lintels with incised details and bracketed stone sills. The bracketed and modillioned cornice is a replacement.


Historic: Molded stone lintels and sills from the third to fifth floors are original to the building; storefront configuration. Front wall removed from cellar to third story; second floor Tudor style window surround and stained-glass windows.


Alterations: (1877-2001); Front and side walls underpinned; transom window above central entrance windows replaced, fa9ade repointed at first and second floors; repair cast-stone lintels and sills; new clay-tile shingle roof at second floor; reframe stained-glass window; new lead- glass fanlight above entrance and in south window at ground floor; new north bay door cornice replaced.


- From the 2012 NYCLPC Landmark Designation Report

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Taken on July 1, 2012