The Germania Bank building in New York City is a bit of an enigma. Built in 1898, the six-story Renaissance Revival structure is now best known as the boarded up, graffiti-covered building simply called 190 Bowery. Nearly 50 years ago, photographer Jay Maisel (who is known for his shots of Marilyn Monroe, Miles Davis, and his chronicling of New York street life) bought the entire building for $102,000—a steal, to say the least, especially for 38,000 square feet of prime SoHo real estate.
It wasn’t that way when he purchased the property, though. When Maisel moved in in 1966, the neighborhood was seedy and derelict, and the building was a disaster. “Every single thing that can come out of a human body has been left on my doorstep,” Maisel told New York Magazine in 2008. “It was more disgusting than dangerous.”
Maisel began making some ad-hoc renovations to the 72 rooms and maintained the property as his private home and studio. He briefly rented out floors as studios to artists like Roy Lichtenstein and Adolph Gottlieb in the late ‘60s, and allowed the outside to become a studio of sorts to some other more enterprising artists. The façade of 190 has been called a mecca of street art, and even Keith Haring used to draw his famous “chalk babies” on the outside walls. “I never washed off any of Keith’s stuff,” Maisel said once. “Keith was the only person who did graffiti in chalk.”
Maisel quietly put 190 Bowery on the market last year, and it sold immediately for $55 million. The outside was stripped of its famous graffiti and the massive property, which was named a New York City landmark in 2005, will likely be turned into condos. But, as a one-night-only event, the building will be open to the public for an art show this Saturday featuring painters like Julian Schnabel and Harmony Korine. You'll need an RSVP, but this will likely be the only chance to see inside this mysterious real estate before it is completely remodeled.