Although the Sunshine Hotel has closed, we include this stop at 245 Bowery on our tour because it was the last of the flophouses—low-cost, no-amenity accommodations that gave much needed shelter to men who had seen better days. The flophouses were part of life on the Bowery and contributed to its gritty yet neighborly vibe. The beds were either a cot in a shared room or a “cubicle,” which was a 4’x6’ (1.2m x 1.8m) wide and 7’ (2.1m) tall wooden frame, covered with chicken wire, that contained a bed, locker, and light bulb. Even in the 2000s the beds rented for just $4.50-$10 per night, keeping men out of shelters and giving them spaces of their own.
The Sunshine Hotel was made famous due to a 1998 radio documentary by David Isay and a 2001 film documentary by Michael Donovan. Both featured Nathan Smith, who found himself at the Sunshine after he lost his job and left his wife on the same day in the 1980s. He went on to become the manager of the hotel until he died in 2002. He was a friendly character who could usually be found at the checkin desk on the second floor, called the “cage” in flophouse terms.
The Sunshine saw all types come through its doors, from upstanding citizens who were down on their luck to hardened criminals. Its walls contained a microcosm of society. Many men preferred paying the small price for this community to staying in shelters. Eventually the neighborhood’s flophouses were pushed to the outskirts of the city and out of Manhattan altogether. The old Sunshine building houses a high-end diner, and next door is the New Museum, a literal illustration of how shiny, new buildings are replacing the old grit of the Bowery.
|1922||Sunshine Hotel opens|
|link||Bowery Will Have Sunshine For A Little Longer|
|link||All Things Considered: Sunshine Hotel|