The Bowery, New York City’s oldest thoroughfare, is unsurprisingly home to the city’s oldest surviving brick row house, which dates back to the American Revolution. Identifiable by its unassuming facade that’s covered in crumbling red paint, the multi-story building (formally known as the Edward Mooney House), was built between 1785 and 1789, and presently sits at the corner of Pell Street at 18 Bowery. Over the years, it’s been repurposed several times, but it harbors a notorious history that involves a diverse mix of tenants.
“Windows on the Bowery,” a historic signage project developed in a collaboration between The Cooper Union and the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors, highlights the brick house as one of 63 notable places on Bowery. Constructed shortly after the British evacuated New York, the structure was built in both the pre-Revolutionary Georgian and Federal styles, and sits on land formerly owned by British Loyalist, James Delancey. It was finished the same year George Washington was inaugurated as the first President of the United States and New York City became the first Capital of the nation.
Following the Revolution, Delancy’s property was confiscated and later purchased by a wealthy racehorse breeder and wholesale butcher named Edward Mooney, who erected the townhouse and lived there until his death in 1800. At the time, slaughterhouses and tanneries proliferated the neighborhood, providing the ideal context for Mooney to make a name for himself.
In the time since then, the brick building has been repurposed several times: in 1807, it doubled in size with an addition to the rear. And by the 1820s, it was converted to a tavern, and then took on life as a hotel, poolroom, brothel, store, restaurant and Chinese club. The most notable occupant, however, was Barney Flynn’s Saloon, described by Mitchell Grubler, the Landmarks Committee Chair of the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors, as “the hangout of the pugilists,” where sporting men and gang members came together in the early 1900s, according to Atlas Obscura. It was also the base of operations for Chuck Connors,” self-described as the “White Mayor of Chinatown” and known for his “slumming tours,” which would bring guests to visit bars and opium dens in the neighborhood.
Though quite low-key to the casual passerby — particularly within the context of bustling Chinatown — the Mooney House stands today as a symbol of colonial New York. With many original details still intact, including its window frames and trim, the building remains in a remarkably good state of preservation. The Neighborhood Preservation Center calls it “an unique example of the domestic architecture which nourished in Manhattan two centuries ago.” For this reason, it was designated a New York City landmark in 1966, and later restored in 1971. Most recently, however, the building served as the home to the Summit Mortgage Bank, which has since moved to 15 Division Street.