This abandoned-looking, graffiti-covered building at 190 Bowery belies an unexpected history. What started as a grand building for Germania Bank in 1898 eventually became one of the largest single family homes in Manhattan, which it remains today, despite the exterior that seems to say otherwise.
At the turn of the 20th century, the neighborhood was known as Little Germany, and the bank figured that would be a good place to base itself. Architect Robert Maynicke, a graduate of the Cooper Union just up the street, kept the renaissance revival style simple, clean, and strong to convey the stability of the institution. The granite facades, vault, and elevator still remain intact, and the building is fireproof. It cost $200,000 to build at the time, which is about $5.5 million today.
While the structure was solid, the neighborhood’s identity was not so much. Anti-German sentiment caused by World War I and the General Slocum Ship disaster dispersed the Little Germany community. The building was finally abandoned in 1961, riddled with trash, and used frequently as a loo.
Its fate changed in 1966 when photographer Jay Maisel, another Cooper Union graduate who was upset about a rent increase, visited a broker who had found housing for other artists. The broker showed him this 72-room, 6-storey building at 190 Bowery, and despite objections from his family, Maisel quickly raised the money to buy the place—$102,000, or just under $750,000 in today’s dollars.
He cleaned up the building, and in the late 1960s he rented the second and fourth floors to artists Adolph Gottlieb and Roy Lichtenstein, respectively. In 2005, the building was declared a New York City landmark, and in the 2008, New York Magazine called it “maybe the greatest real estate coup of all time,” estimating its worth up to $50 million.
At the time Maisel purchased the Germania Bank Building, he was best known for the photo of Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” album cover. There was some controversy about this cover in 2010 when entrepreneur and artist Andy Baio used a pixelated version of the photo for a Kickstarter-funded album called “Kind of Bloop,” an 8-bit tribute to “Kind of Blue.” Maisel sued, and they ended up settling out of court with Baio paying Maisel $32,500 to use the art. The case raised questions about art appropriation and what rights an artist has when his or her original work is changed to create a new piece.
|1899||Construction finishes, building opens|
|1966||Jay Maisel buys building|
|2005||Designated a national landmark|
|link||The 72-Room Bohemian Dream House|
|link||German Traces NYC: Germania Bank|
|article||Kind of Screwed|
|internal||Germania Bank Building - Wiki|
|article||Bowery Boys: General Slocum Disaster 1904|