History of Allen Street


The history of this project goes back to at least 1997, when I was selected by the Department of Cultural Affairs to be the artist to work with Chris Crowley, an architect at the New York Department of Parks and Recreation, on a design for the Allen Street Mall segment between Delancey and Broome Streets. Over several years we developed 32 distinct designs and after many changes arrived at the final version which is reflected in the model. We had a great working relationship and I learned a lot about park design and the strange workings of city government from him.
   In 2005 the project was given to the landscape architects Able Bainnson Butz to finish.They finalized the design to what it is now. I am especially grateful for their choice of plants which have stayed alive without being watered and survived under less than ideal conditions.
   Over the years I met many wonderful people that helped with the realization of this project. I just want to thank a few of them. One of them was Mr. Wong, who has a Chinese antiques store on Allen Street between Delancey and Rivington Streets. He made the connection with Mr. Sheh who traveled around China and sent pictures of about 60 rocks from which I chose the five big ones that are in the mall now. They were imported by Mr. Ly’s import company outside Philadelphia and sat in his warehouse for years waiting to be installed. Mr.Ly also supplied the smaller jade rocks.
    And I want to thank Richard Rosenblum, www.rosenblumcollection.com/ whom I never met and who opened my eyes to the beauty and mystery of Chinese scholar rocks around the same time I saw a show of them at the China Institute www.chinainstitute.org/  in 1985.
   The park is still supposed to receive several historic plaques that explain the history of Allen Street as well as the people behind the names of the cross streets, Delancey and Broome. I was lucky and happy to find Joyce Mendelsohn , the historian, who wrote an acclaimed, and now out of print book ‘The Lower East Side Remembered & Revisited”  which will be updated and re-issued in 2009. She wrote the text for the bronze plaque that explains the historic significance of Allen Street.



 Following are texts that relate to Allen Street:


An excerpt from “The Street Book: An Encyclopedia of Manhattan’s Street Names and Their Origins ” by Henry Moscow( Fordham University Press 1990):

Allen Street
The Namesake: Captain William Henry Allen, youngest skipper in the Navy in the War of 1812, and one of the most gallant. He died in action at the age of 29.
A midshipman at 16, Allen first served in the war of 1812 as a lieutenant to Stephen Decatur. New York gave him a hero’s welcome on New Year’s Day, 1813, when he brought the British ship Macedonian into the harbor as a prize. Promoted to command the brig Argus, Allen transported William H. Crawford to France to serve as American minister there, then roamed the English Channel for enemy craft. He captured twenty in a month, the last, unfortunately, a wine ship. When the British brig Pelican caught up with Argus on August 14, 1813, Allen’s crew had a monumental, mass hangover. The first ball fired by Pelican carried away one of Allen’s legs, but he refused to go below. He died the next day.


An excerpt from The Lower East Side Remembered and Revisited by Joyce Mendelsohn (Lower East Side Press, 2001):
(walking along Broome)
III-21  Allen Street

This eight-block street runs from East Broadway to Houston, between Orchard and Eldridge..  Named for William Henry Allen, a young naval officer who died in the War of 1812, by the late 19th century it was a dark and disreputable thoroughfare.  From 1878-1942, trains on the Second Avenue elevated railway line (known as “the El”) roared overhead.  Romanian Jews and Sephardic Jews from Turkey, Syria, Egypt and Greece populated the neighborhood.  Many labored in basement workshops with open fires, where they hammered brass and copper wares that were sold in street-level shops.  Restaurants like Egyptian Rose, which served kosher Syrian food, catered to ethnic tastes.  Allen Street was notorious for its red-light district— operating with payoffs to Tammany Hall and the police—which flourished to the shame of the Jewish community.  The Forward warned its readers to avoid Allen, Chrystie and Forsyth Streets where prostitutes openly solicited business.  Michael Gold describes this street scene in his searing novel, Jews Without Money.
As part of a city improvement project, Allen Street was widened in 1932 from its original 50 feet to 138 feet by the removal of buildings on its eastern edge.  One of the buildings demolished was the site of the birthplace of William Bonney—known more famously as the outlaw, Billy the Kid—who was born at 70 Allen Street in 1859 in what was then a poor Irish neighborhood.  At age 16, after murdering a man in a street fight, Bonney fled out West where he led a gang of cattle thieves in a series of bloody gunfights; he was shot to death in 1881 by Sheriff Pat Garrett.
Today the lower section of Allen is part of Chinatown with a mix of deteriorating and renovated tenements, and ground floor spaces occupied by Chinese businesses like print shops, tile and flooring suppliers and food wholesalers.


back to index


A text by Chris Crowley, project architect from 1997-2005, about the history of the Allen Street project:

The reconstruction of the Allen Street Center Plot between Delancey and Broome Streets was originally a portion of the reconstruction of the Schiff Malls, a Park’s Planning project in conjunction with City DOT that began in1997. An ISTEA grant for enhancement of pedestrian ways was given to Parks through DOT. The grant was to include an art component by a selected Artist. The art component was defined as having the site become the art piece as opposed to the installation of an art piece. The Allen Street Mall was the portion of the project where this would take place. An Artist was selected through a distinguished committee, which included a staff member from the Art Commission, and was administered by Cultural Affairs with the percent for art rules. The selected Artist was to collaborate with the Landscape Architect from Parks in designing the “artscape”.  This was to become the model mall for the remaining Allen Street and Pyke Street center plots. The complexity of this idea lead to the separation of the Allen Mall from the Schiff Mall project. The Schiff Mall was later completed by the Park’s Green Street Program.

In 2001 the portion between Delancey and Broome was separated from the original project. The project was “B” listed (on hold) while I believe we were awaiting matching funds. Some schematic design work was going on during 2001 and 2002, but the project was not in the commitment plan. During that time I was mostly assisting work on other people's projects.

Fiscal year 2003 we got the green light to include the project into the commitment plan. The schematic design was presented to the Art Commission in October of 2002 and received unanimous approval. When the preliminary design was presented to the Art Commission, Parks was asked to develop a master plan for the entire length of Allen Street and Pyke Street. The reason being was to demonstrate how the model mall would vary and work in the remaining center plots. The agency decided to hold off on the master plan for the time being due to the change of administrations.

The design consisted of traditional asphalt pavements, steel faced curb, 1939 World’s Fair Benches, “B” pole lighting, a new steel picket fence reproducing the existing fence, wicket hoops, bollards, colored concrete, and glass pavers. A central path six feet wide would run down the center of the mall with planting on each side. The site would be warped with stone work included. Historic reference identifying famous people descending from the area was also included in the design.

March of 2003 Parks Commissioner A. Benepe signed off on the contract documents and Art Commission form.

Chief of Design Bonnie Koeppel decided she wanted a new bench designed for the site before signing the contract documents.

April 2003 Team Leader Michael Boldger put the project on hold for the importance of the newly launched Lower Manhattan Development post 9/11, although I continued to design the bench in between assignments.

The bench was competed in July 2003 and drawings were given to Chief Koppel to sign off on. Her signature was applied in mid November.  

The project went out to bid in March 2004.  The winning bid came in on budget but was thrown out for a typo on the quantity of one item.

In June 2004 the Agency agreed on doing the master plan for the entire Allen Street Malls including Pike Street.

The project was re-bid in the fall. The low bidder came in $160k higher then the original bid. Additional money was sought and transferred over to the project. The low bidder could not get his bond money together and was defaulted. We went to the next low bidder who was an additional $100K higher, and again we needed to seek additional funds.

April 2005 we returned to Art Commission and were asked by them to address a few issues and include additional 3D drawings.

June 2005 we returned to the Art Commission and were asked to address a few new issues.

The following day I was taken off the project. At the time the Art Commission requested a master plan to show how this design would fit into the other malls. The agency decided to hold off on the master plan for the time being and the change of administrations.