14 August 2009

But Why the Huge Flagpole?

The origins of this post began with an innocent-enough question: "Why does 135 Bowery have such a big flagpole protruding from its facade?" It looks like it could hold a whopper of an Old Glory, though it's un-used at present.

I thought a little research might uncover whether a particularly patriotic business once occupied the three story, dormer-windowed building. And hot dog!, but some wild times went down at 135 Bowery over the years.

Roundabout 1881, one Gottfried Walbaum, known to the authorities as "Dutch Fred," ran a "gambling house and dive" at 135 called, with amusing cynicism, the Red, White and Blue. Walbaum was a gambling king who later built the Guttenberg Race Track, which, if you believe the papers, brought degradation to Hudson County.

Walbaum must have had his gambling den on an upper floor, because around the same time, and for many decades, the address was the place of business for the more law-abiding William H. Wilson, who made hats for volunteer fireman. Wilson grew up and lived his life around the Bowery and was a respected figure. In the late 19th century, when some were thinking of changing the name of the street to Parkhurst Avenue in order to improve the Bowery's reputation, he said to a reporter, "I think, for my part, you could find worse men and tougher men on Sixth Avenue to-day than ever frequented the Bowery. The modern fellows are not so eccentric in their dress as our old rounders used to be, but they have not nearly as keen a sense of what is fair as they used to have."

The Pig & Whistle, a well-known, 19th-century tavern, was next door at 131 all these years.

The building of Walbaum and Wilson was replaced by a new one in 1900. But that doesn't mean the fun stopped. Seemed the people who lived at the address were always being hauled in by the cops for such offenses as stealing from a church. In 1921, two young tuffs tried to rob a jewelry store that was located there. The left-handed owner Henry H. Edson reacted by grabbing his gun and firing back. The "swarthy-skinned, undersized robbers" fled.

In 1943, George Somarindyck Gill, who had owned the property for 75 years, finally sold it. It was recently sold again, in December 2007, to First American International Bank.

That's a lot of history. Doesn't explain the flagpole, though.


Ken Mac said...

where do you find this stuff?
I have an upcoming post dedicated to you : Who goes to Francisco's Centro Vasco?

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Just trolling the internet archives and paging through my old books.

Anonymous said...

I would guess that at one time a banner/flag with the name and logo of the first floor business (a store?) hung from the flagpole. Many Manhattan businesses have these so that folks on foot can spot them as they approach.

Catalyst said...

In some cities like Amsterdam (Dutch) people have large poles coming off their houses. They are used for getting furniture in and out that couldn't make it up the stairs.