A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeyes fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from January 22, 2005
McGurk’s Suicide Hall (the Bowery)
McGurk's (or McGuirk's) Suicide Hall at 295 Bowery was torn down in 2005. It used to be a saloon and whorehouse. Several women committed suicide while working there in the 1890s, giving it that name.

21 March 1893, New York (NY) Times, pg. 2:
Agents Schultes and Pruizle of the Gerry Society raided Patrick McGuirk's concert saloon and dive, 253 Bowery, Friday night. They charge McGuirk with admitting minors to a concert saloon where intoxicating liquors are sold. When they visited the place the agents found it overrun with men and women of the lowest type. Everything was carried on openly and in a disgusting manner. The agents found Mary Ormsby, fiftenen years old, of 249 Spring Street, in the place, and they at once arrested McGuirk. The girl was taken to the rooms of the Gerry Society.

22 January 1894, New York Times, pg. 2:
Net deterrent result of a raid by Police Captain Moses W. Cortright on John H. McGurk's resort, 253 Bowery, just before midnight of Saturday - only one prisoner out of 221, John H. McGurk, held by Justice Hogan for keeping a disorderly house. But for evidence that the guests of the "hotel" annex to his establishment were too transient, naught would have come of the raid.

This drag-net descent on McGurk's place, which, in London, would be called a "boozing ken," with disreputable adjuncts, came of investigation prompted by Superintendent Byrnes.

3 July 1920, Atlanta (GA) Constitution, "Bits of New York Life" by O. O. McIntyre, pg. 10:
The evolution of the bouncer has been gradual. The first bouncer on record was at McGuirk's Suicide hall on the Bowery. He was an ex-pug with a cauliflower ear, pock-marked, and he wore a flaming cerise tie and a derby at a tilted angle. When a patron stood up and announced he was ready to lick the world the bouncer didn't stop to argue. He merely swung on him with a powerful right and the little birds began to twitter.

11 July 1921, Atlanta (GA) Constitution, "Bits of New York Life" by O. O. McIntyre, pg. 4:
Passed too McGuirk's old Suicide hall which has become a mission house with a great sign over the door: "When did you write to mother?"

25 August 1935, New York (NY) Times, pg. XX5:
There was John McGurk's "Suicide Hall," where so many of the Bowery sisterhood went to drink poison that, as one memory recalls, "It got to be quite a fad." But that is not the loyal Bowery memory. "That stuff," one is assured, "was mostly talk!"

People are vague. One inquires along the block below Houston Street. Outside the china store the bareheaded man in shirtsleeves politely removes his cigar. "McGurk's?" he says. ""It's quite a while since I heard any one asking for McGurk's. Yes, it was around here some place." But he doesn't know where. If one wants to learn about the bad old days at John McGurk's, one will have to read it up in books.

13 May 1999, New York (NY) Times, pg. B7:
That the city's ambitious plans may hinge on, or at the least be inconvenienced by, 295 Bowery could be viewed as either curious or fitting, given the transformation of the thoroughfare and the small building itself.

The building had been a hotel during the Civil War, catering to returning soldiers. By the 1890's it was a brothel and a dive where it is said a half-dozen destitute courtesans drank carbolic acid and died. John H. McGurk, the owner of the saloon on the ground floor, then capitalized on the notoriety of the place by renaming it McGurk's Suicide hall.

Later, beginning in World War I and continuing into the 50's and early 60's, it was a flophouse for Skid Row veterans. In the mid-80's it was converted into artists' studios.

Despite this colorful past, the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission denied landmark status to the building, finding that it did not have sufficient historical, cultural or architectural merit.

Off the Grid (Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation)
Death, Debauchery, and Destruction on the Bowery: McGurk’s Suicide Hall
Dive bars and dead prostitutes! While these could be plot points in any Hollywood movie, back in the late 19th century these unwholesome characteristics gave the infamous McGurk’s Suicide Hall its name. Originally located at 295 Bowery (between Houston and East 1st Street) and opened in 1893, McGurk’s was the latest in a string of saloons opened by John McGurk, each prior one having been shut down by the police. Even before it became the “Suicide Hall,” McGurk’s already had a reputation as being the lowest place even the most degraded of society during that time could end up. However, McGurk’s already low reputation would descend further in 1899 after a string of 6 suicides and 7 attempted suicides by the girls that frequented the establishment.
The “Suicide Hall” closed down as a bar in 1902 and became a hotel that also catered to ‘Bowery bums.’ In the 1960’s, it was taken over by a co-op of female artists, who held the space for over 40 years. However, in the 1990’s, the property entered the sights of developers who, after a failed attempt to get the space landmarked by the artists living within the building, demolished the structure in 2005. Now, the Avalon Bowery Place, a steel and glass building, stands at the former site of the suicide hall.
Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityBuildings/Housing/Parks • Saturday, January 22, 2005 • Permalink

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