New York historian and author David Freeland emailed over the weekend with some exciting and alarming news regarding an ongoing demolition going on at 50 Bowery, south of Canal Street. This address was the site for many years of the Atlantic Garden, a popular and long-lasting German beer garden that opened in 1858 and was the site of many seminal musical and vaudeville moments. ("A Bicycle Built for Two," for example, was first sung there).
But the site holds an even older historical significance. The original building that held the Atlantic Garden was believed to have been a renovation of the 18th-century Bull's Head Tavern. This famous bar was built around 1750 and sat at the northern edge of New York City as it then existed. Anyone traveling in or out of the city by land passed it. During the revolution it was occupied by soldiers, including General Washington. The saloon was for a long while owned by butcher Henry Astor, of the Astor family, until it finally closed sometime in the 1820s, driven out by societal forces that object to the farmers who would herd their numerous cattle in pens surrounding the tavern. In 1858 Kramer took possession of the Bull's Head building and opened the Atlantic Garden in it. He expanded that building in the 1860's and added the big steel frame beer hall in back of that building. The steel frame, I am told, is there now.
A friend of Freeland's suspected there might be something to see on the construction site, which is become a Peter Poon Hotel. (That's the site above, photo courtesy of Curbed NY.) He gained access to the site, and took the above photo of what he believes to be the building's original cellar under 50-52 Bowery, complete with 18th-century hand-planed/axe-hewn joists and stone foundation walls. It it is was it appears to be, it is perhaps the oldest partial, surviving structure in Manhattan by almost a half century.
When Atlantic Gardens closed in 1911 (it was never demolished—the shell of it remained, until now), the New York Times called it "one of the show places of New York in past years, and one of the oldest buildings on the Bowery." It added, "The site on which Atlantic Garden stands was a part of the Bull's Head Tavern, where Gen. Washington once established his headquarters... For many years it was a centre for the German life of the city."
Landmarks Commission, anyone?