Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Work has begun on our Storefronts exhibit!

In addition to starting work on the rear yard exhibit, we have also begun serious work on Schneider's Saloon, which has long been in the planning and research stages. If you subscribe to our newsletter, you may have read about this exhibit already.

In 97 Orchard Street's basement, from 1864 until the late 1880s, John Schneider ran a lager bier saloon. This was a place for food and drink but also socialization, political discussions, and families to spend time together. We'll be reconstructing the saloon but also discussing some of the other businesses that were once housed in 97 Orchard, including a butcher shop and auction house.

Earlier in the summer, Jablonski Building Conservation completed some architectural probes in the basement. Now we've dived in even more, removing large sections of sheetrock on the walls to see what we can find underneath. The existing historical fabric is largely intact from decades earlier. Even seemingly insignificant information (like whether a column is painted all the way around or whether there is decorative woodwork on the ceiling) can tell us how the space was used at different times in history.

We found evidence of wallpaper in the north-rear room, which is used for storage (see Chris and Bob at work in the slideshow below). This is significant because it suggests that there were rear apartments in the basement space, something the Museum had suspected but never confirmed with physical evidence. In the late 19th century, wallpaper was largely identified with residential spaces, not commercial.

In all likelihood, there were two apartments in the rear and a large storefront up front, which in the mid-19th century would have been the saloon. The Schnieders may well have lived in back. Sometime in the 1890s, it seems the storefront space was subdivided into two, but the apartments probably remained for a bit longer, and the storekeeps may still have lived in back of the store. Eventually they were cleared out completely and both sides of the basement were turned over to storefronts.

Here are some photos from the space. Later this week, I'll post more on the work.

- Posted by Kate

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