A true testament to the times we are living in was the recent closure of the Bowery’s last branch of the helping institution, the Salvation Army. The Army moved in a little over 100 years ago into what was called then “Booth House.” The veteran institution came to the Bowery to help down and out men, a population that has frequented the Bowery for almost as long as the neighborhood existed.
During World War II the country’s economic situation improved and the number of homeless men declined. Services for populations at risk improved. Many of the alcoholics, prostitutes and vagrants who had inhabited the area fled as a result of a concerted effort by the city to remove them.
Through the decades since the war the neighborhood has gone through many changes. The latest upheaval has been the hurried gentrification of the Bowery with an increasing number of renovations, new restaurants and other shops opening up to satisfy a new population of upwardly mobile residents.
As a result institutions like the Salvation Army play a smaller role in the neighborhood’s culture. Perhaps even more of an influence is the real estate boom Manhattan is experiencing now, where even old, dilapidated apartments and buildings are fetching awesome prices.
The building at 223-225 Bowery is one of the tallest along the one-mile stretch of street, its height a symbol of the hope the Salvation offered to the most downtrodden among New Yorkers. Now the building will take on a whole new meaning, as it is turned into a high-end hotel and luxury condominium. The developers paid $30 million for the premises, and will most likely be able to recoup their investment many-fold as apartments in the area are fetching as much as $2,500 per square foot.
The Salvation Army will be setting up their new shop in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. That neighborhood was chosen as it is also has burgeoning ethnic Chinese population similar to that the Bowery.