This NY Times article titled "Palimpsest Street" from 2003 gives you a mini rundown of the the Bowery's history, and details some sensibility of its different manifestations. Originally the article probably had pictures (I wish it still did).
During this time period there was no way of knowing that the Bowery was on the precipice of massive change, just that things were generally shifting in a more upscale direction. No one knew if it was sustainable at this point.
I like the author's hypothesis as to why the Bowery had essentially sat unchanged for so many decades:
"One answer is surely physical. Like most of New York, the Bowery is much cleaner than it used to be, but it is still an ungainly street, singularly devoid of shade. An informal survey counted only 19 trees, many of them little more than saplings. And in its northern reaches, particularly, the Bowery is almost as broad and as busy as a highway. Trucks rumble constantly up and down its six lanes, either serving the avenue's many wholesalers or on their way somewhere else. And if geography is destiny, then the Bowery will never change. This is where streets go to die. Prince and Spring Streets from the west; Rivington, Stanton and First Streets from the east. All come to dead ends here, creating the impression that the Bowery is somehow cosmically misaligned -- an ineluctable border area, permanently detached from any of the neighborhoods surrounding it.
Or perhaps there's a simpler reason that the Bowery has remained the Bowery. Modern cities developed for the most practical of reasons, as marketplaces of goods, services and ideas. It is only when the markets leave that cities and neighborhoods begin casting around existentially for reasons to exist. On the Bowery, neither the industrial markets nor the artists ever left. The street remained more or less content unto itself. In a way, the Bowery is the only part of the ''real'' city left in Manhattan."
You can check out some aerial photos taken from different time periods by using the NYC.gov interactive map feature (super cool).
|Bowery and Houston circa 1924|
|Bowery and Houston circa 2008|