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The Bunker

by William Burroughs, 1914-1997

222 Bowery was built in 1885 as a YMCA, but it joins our tour due to its more recent history. By World War II it was being rented out as apartments, and it soon became an enclave for artists. French painter Fernand Leger lived here in the 1940s, and Mark Rothko moved in in the 1950s. Rothko rented the basement—which had been the gym at the Y—complete with lockers and communal showers. It’s where his infamous Seagram Murals were painted, the paintings commissioned for the restaurant in the new building of the beverage company that Rothko famously reneged on.

The resident who gave the building its moniker of “The Bunker” was William Burroughs, who made his home—and this building—the epicenter of the Bowery art community in the 1970s. It was the hub of the Beat Generation, a group of post-WWII writers who rejected cultural norms and pushed the boundaries of style, drugs, sexuality, and their writing. Burroughs’ famous colleagues included Alan Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, both of who spent time here.

Other guests of Burroughs included Jean-Michel Basquiat, Dennis Hopper, Keith Haring, Andy Warhol, Lou Reed, Patti Smith, Susan Sontag, and a friend, poet John Giorno. Many would stay for days at a time, partaking in bacchanalian festivities and multi-day drug binges.

Burroughs himself was most famous for his 1959 book Naked Lunch, which was so controversial that it caused an obscenity trial to be held. Burroughs was born into a wealthy midwest family in 1914, he studied English and Anthropology at Harvard and medicine in Vienna, he was a drug addict who struggled with sobriety much of his life. He moved away from the counterculture scene of New York to quieter Kansas in 1981, which is where he lived until his death of a heart attack in 1997.

Today his home at The Bunker remains intact, and the building is a landmark. John Giorno owns and maintains the apartment, and it appears just as it did when Burroughs lived there, although it is unfortunately not open to the public.


1884 222 Bowery built
1958 Rothko leased space to work on his mural series
1962 Michael Goldberg took over studio space from Rothko
1972 Lynda Benglis moves in
1974 William Burroughs moves in
1977 Llyn Umlaf moves in
1997 Burroughs dies, Giorno preserves The Bunker

Reference Links

sight New Museum
sight Basquiat's Loft
tidbit Keith Haring
tidbit Mark Rothko
article William Burroughs - in pictures
article Bohemian Rhapsody
article Inside William Burroughs's Bowery Apartment
internal Art Nerd
internal Photographing William S. Burroughs
internal Photographing William S. Burroughs
internal 14 Photographs of personal items belonging to author William S. Burroughs
internal gDoc
movie William S. Burroughs: A Man Within