By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 3, 2006
Jon Bowers, 61, an attorney and real estate developer with an abiding affection for the arts, died Oct. 6 of transitional cell carcinoma at his home in the District.
In 1979, Mr. Bowers purchased the eight-story Atlantic Building at 930 F Street NW, bought out the lease of a failing punk club on the first floor called Atlantis and replaced it with his club, managed by his first wife, Dodie DiSanto. They called it the 9:30 Club, a play on the F Street address and the nightly opening time.
Small, hip and lively, the club soon became the District's "alternative" mecca -- alternative being punk, new wave, funk, reggae, roots rock, go-go and any other musical genre that more established club and concert bookers were reluctant to embrace.
At a time when music lovers were reluctant to venture downtown, a lingering consequence of the 1968 riots, Mr. Bowers and his 9:30 Club were in the forefront as low rents and cheap real estate gradually attracted new galleries, restaurants and clubs, and people began coming back.
As The Washington Post noted in 1995, "thousands of bands have passed through the 9:30's back door, many of them impressed that their equipment was loaded in from the same alley John Wilkes Booth escaped through after assassinating Abraham Lincoln at nearby Ford's Theatre."
Many of the bands -- R.E.M. and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, for example -- went on to bigger and better venues, but the 9:30 dared to book them early. DiSanto told the City Paper in 1995 that the 9:30 Club survived because of "the incredible benevolence of Jon Bowers, who financed the whole thing."
"Without Jon Bowers, there would not have been a 9:30 Club," said Seth Hurwitz, who bought the club in 1986. "He was a true patron of the arts."
Mr. Bowers also wooed artists, photographers, architects and nonprofit organizations to the Atlantic Building. Tenants included Goldleaf Studios, the Blade, the D.C. Historic Preservation League and a number of photographers and artists.
Another client was District Curators, a nonprofit arts and entertainment organization founded in 1980 to promote vanguard jazz, new music and performance art. District Curators -- with Mr. Bowers as hands-on chairman, financial benefactor and tireless fundraiser -- brought to Washington such avant-garde artists as Philip Glass, controversial composer of minimalist operas, film and dance scores; Laurie Anderson, the violin-playing performance artist; and Sankai Juku, the Japanese butoh group that hangs from wires and tall buildings.
"I think there's a younger generation, the generation I'm a part of, that's grown up and is somewhat more open" to more experimental artists, Mr. Bowers told The Post in 1988.
Jonathan Stickney Bowers was born in Harrisburg, Pa., and grew up in Birmingham, Mich. He graduated from the University of Michigan in 1967 and received a law degree from George Washington University in 1971.
That year, he opened a law firm with his friend Herman Bluestein before returning to Michigan in 1975 to negotiate the sale of family interests on the death of his father. When he returned to Washington the next year, he began investing in real estate in the Mount Pleasant, Shaw and Columbia Heights neighborhoods. In 1977, he and two partners founded the brokerage firm of Intown Properties; he served as president and managing partner. He continued investing in District properties over the years, including buildings along the 14th Street corridor.
In 1996, he took what he called the first "safe job" of his entrepreneurial career, as principal and director of recruiting at Arthur Andersen, until that company's demise in 2002. More recently, he was director of client development at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, working in the District, Virginia and New York offices.
His wife, the artist Lynn Flanagan Bowers, recalled that he traced his interest in music to his Detroit roots. "He was still listening to the newest independent music, sharing it with his children and recommending it to friends," she said.
His marriage to DiSanto ended in divorce.
Survivors include his wife of 20 years, of the District; two daughters from his second marriage, Margaret Bowers and Elizabeth Bowers, and a stepson, Thomas Flanagan, all of the District; and a brother and sister.