Friday, May 29, 2009
Built of red and white sandstone, Glasgow tenement houses were typically subdivided into small one or two room "flats," as well as slightly larger ones for the more well-off. For more photos of the Tenement House interior, check out the museum's website.
-posted by Liana Grey
During the Great Depression, Rosaria Baldizzi, an Italian immigrant living in 97 Orchard, was forced to find work in a factory (photographed above) in the city's "official" midtown Garment District. To see how the neighborhood was depicted in movies, books, and plays at the peak of its fame, check out this 50-minute lecture by historian Warren Shaw, courtesy of the Gotham Center.
-posted by Liana Grey
Thursday, May 28, 2009
The Orchard House in Concord, MA matters to a museum educator dressed as Louisa May Alcott. The "Little Women" author and her family lived in the building in the mid 1800s.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Racism was so rampant in Levittown that the pristine Cape Cod cottages in the country's most famous chain of suburbs might as well have had signs in their windows proclaiming: "whites only." In 1957, Bea and Lew Wechsler, a Jewish couple living in Pennsylvania's Levittown, exposed the dark underside of cookie-cutter suburbia by buying the house next door for a black family (the Myers), circumventing real estate practices designed to enforce segregation. Havoc ensued: Bill and Daisy Myers received threatening phone calls, crosses were burned on their lawn, and angry neighbors rioted and displayed Confederate flags in their cars. Journalist David Kushner chronicles all this in the book Levittown, which he and the Wechslers themselves will be discussing at the museum tomorrow night.
In other Tenement Talks news, folk artist Chris Lowe has posted the two songs ("Downtown" and "The Muse of Jones Alley") that inspired the theme of tonight's Lower East Side Stories installment on his Myspace page. Lowe will be performing live at the event.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
While we didn't have any input into the doll's creation, the designers did visit the Museum to get a sense of the neighborhood's history, and we're hosting guests from American Girl Place on 5th Ave for a special tour of the Confino Family Living History program. Details, via American Girl:
New York City History Tour
June 7, 29; August 10
9:30 a.m. Cafe, 11:30 a.m. museum
Spend a day with your girl in New York City! During this special event, girls can meet our new historical character and enjoy a delicious meal in the American Girl Cafe. Then, you’ll take a private tour of the New York Tenement Museum, a National Historic Landmark on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Transportation to the museum provided by Coach USA.
Tickets: $75 per person (gratuity not included)
Reservations required; call toll-free 1-877-247-5223.
For girls ages 8 and up.
Sounds like fun! I hear there are still tickets available. What will our Victoria Confino say when she sees so many little girls toting pretty dolls into her 1916 world?
Friday, May 22, 2009
The boxes of Streit's Matzo stacked in supermarkets across the country every Passover are produced not in China or along the Jersey Turnpike, but in an 84-year-old factory on Rivington and Suffolk Streets. Founded by European immigrant Aron Streit in 1916 and passed down to his granddaughters and great-grandsons, the iconic company is one of few mom and pop manufacturing firms left on Manhattan. With a grip on about 40% of the U.S. matzo market, it's still going strong. Rumor has it, though, that the factory has been put up for sale for $25 million for the second time in two years; the owners, who were initially reluctant to give up a piece of Lower East Side history, have struggled to find a buyer. (The business isn't closing, just moving elsewhere.) Because it lacks landmark status, the 47,500 square foot building could turn into just about anything if a deal goes through. Condos? A new Whole Foods? Your guess is as good as mine.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
In 1873 prominent philanthropist and Russian immigrant Sender Jarmulowsky founded a bank on the Lower East Side. Through his astute business sense and community connections the bank grew, and in 1912 Jarmulowsky erected a structure at Orchard and Canal Streets magnificent enough for his successful company.
Unfortunately, Jarmulowsky died less than a month after the building was completed. Even more unfortunately, his bank failed only two years later, leaving thousands of its depositors penniless. Jarmulowsky himself had little to do with the bank's downfall. His seemingly risky business practices - granting loans to clients based on personality rather than financial standing - proved successful.
It was two of Jarmulowsky's sons who caused trouble, making bad real estate investments and mismanaging the institution they had inherited from their father. As World War I raged in Europe, crowds of Lower East Siders rushed to withdraw money for family across the Atlantic. Having squandered the bank’s funds, the Jarmulovskys couldn’t make good on their clients’ deposits.
Two thousand people demonstrated in front of the bank. Five hundred people stormed the house where son Meyer lived, forcing him and his family to flee over the rooftops. Shortly after the State took over the bank in May 1917, the Jarmulowsky sons were indicted for banking fraud and the bank closed. The building, however, still remains.
Over the Rooftops
Below is a 1914 NY Times article chronicling Meyer Jarmulowsky's escape from a mob of angry depositors. A brief summary: crowds gathered around the banker's home on Fort Washington Avenue, demanding their money. Fearing for his safety, Jarmulowsky scampered from his rooftop onto a neighboring apartment house, descended into the building's basement, and dashed across the street into a waiting cab, narrowly avoiding capture by the protestors.
Click to enlarge
Sender Jarmulowsky's descendants (at least those that made it into the NY Times' extensive archive on the family) were as prone to scandal as their ancestor was widly successful. Not only were sons Albert and Meyer indicted for fraud after forcing their father's bank to close, but a third son was sent to Bellevue's psych ward. And then there was a grandson who was jailed for stealing $1,625 from a jewelery store manager, and (perhaps the strangest of all) a granddaughter, Bertha Clark, whose elopement to a linen salesman in 1911 dragged her family into a messy lawsuit. When the couple was kept apart for 17 days by Clark's furious parents, the groom demanded $100,000 in retributions.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Was it common for 19th Century Irish immigrants in New York to deposit their money in banks?
In 1873, former 97 Orchard Street resident and Irish immigrant Joseph Moore opened an account with the Emigrant Savings Bank. Given their relatively impoverished condition upon arrival, Irish immigrants appear to have had a surprising propensity to deposit their savings in banks.
The historian of Irish America Joseph J. Lee has written that, “The extraordinary savings surge on which so many immigrants embarked almost immediately upon arrival in New York City – depositing savings, however humble the amounts, on a regular basis for years—and which was presumably replicated wherever comparable institutions where available, may have reflected something of a search for security among people who had seen the price of insecurity paid through eviction and death. In fact, they quite possibly over saved, stinting themselves in order to help bring other family members out through remittances and to build up some protections against what they saw as a callous and unpredictable world.”
Source: J.J. Lee, “Introduction: Interpreting Irish America” in J.J. Lee and Marion Casey, eds., Making the Irish American: History and Heritage of the Irish in the United States (New York University Press, 2006).
Built in 1908, the Emigrant Savings Bank on Chambers Street served New York's Irish population. Click here for more photos.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
During stabalization on 97 Orchard's 4th and 5th floors, we removed over 200 pieces of linoleum with 45 different patterns. After scouring research libraries around the city for original pattern books, such as the one pictured on the right, resident linoleum expert Melissa identified 21 of the patterns. The dates of those pieces Melissa was able to identify ranged from 1913 to 1939, though the earliest patterns were recycled throughout the next few decades. We suspect, in fact, that the first layer of linoleum was installed in 1924; in a mystery we're still trying to solve, multiple copies of newspaper pages from February 14, 16, and 17 of that year were used to line the wood floor underneath.
Pattern book images on the left match two of the pieces we removed from 97 Orchard. Tile-mimicking linoleum, as shown above, was found most frequently in the building, particularly kitchens. Floral, rug-like patterns were used in bedrooms.
Monday, May 18, 2009
LostLES is on display June 5 through September, 2009
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Height regulations were first placed on buildings in New York City by the 1916 Zoning Resolution. As the first comprehensive effort at regulating the height, area, and use of structures built in an urban environment, the resolution proved influential to other U.S. cities that enacted zoning legislation after 1916.
While the 1916 Zoning Regulation was in a sense formulated as a reaction to the ways in which a new building form, the “skyscraper,” blocked sunlight to the surrounding streets (resulting in the setback, pyramid-style designs typical of New York City high-rises) it applied to the entire city. Neighborhoods such as the Lower East Side were divided into height districts where limitations were formulated in relation to the width of the street. The Lower East Side was deemed a 1½ times district, meaning that no building was to be erected to a height in excess of 1½ times the width of the street. However, for each foot that the building or a portion of it was set back from the street line, three feet could be added to the height limit of the structure.
Although many of the tenements on the Lower East Side were erected prior to 1916, the height of those constructed after were subject to the limitations imposed by the 1916 Zoning Resolution.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
A recent PBS Sunday Arts profile gave a great behind-the-scenes look at our history and mission. And Columbia University's Uptown Radio covered "Coping While Broke," an April installment of our Lower East Side Stories series. Listen to museum educator Max Weissberg discuss the Yiddish term "luftmensch" and its relevance to economic downturns.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
A large corporate landowner in Lana'i City wants to demolish historic buildings to make way for commercial developments.
Lack of maintenance and plans for replacement have put the East Coast's oldest vertical lift bridge at risk.
Thanks to everyone who came to enjoy a wonderful evening and supported the Tenement Museum's P.S. 97 campaign, the proceeds of which help underwrite NY public school visits.
Guests having fun in the Capitale ballroom
Monday, May 11, 2009
In what percentages did immigrants return to their homelands? Are there differences if looked at by time period and ethnicities?
Many immigrants came to America with the ultimate intention of returning to their home countries after earning enough money to buy land or houses. Between 1900 and 1920, 36 percent of immigrants arriving in the United States returned home. In turn-of-the-century New York, the degree to which Russian Jews became permanent settlers was remarkable. Escaping virulent anti-Semitism and political oppression, many emigrated with no intention of returning.
Nevertheless, many more went back than is ordinarily assumed. Between 1880 and 1900, 15 to 20 percent returned to their homes. After 1900, however, return migration dropped off as political upheaval and religious oppression intensified. In contrast to Russian Jews, the return rate among Italians reached 50 percent in some years—of every 10 Italians who left for the U.S. between 1880 and World War I, 5 returned home.
Sometimes called “birds of passage,” many of the first Italian immigrants were young men who came to America with the intention of earning enough money to return to Italy, buy land, and raise a family.
According to Nancy Foner, author of From Ellis Island to JFK: New York’s Two Great Waves of Immigration, “Italians called the United States ‘the workshop’; many arrived in March, April, and May and returned in October, November, and December, when layoffs were most numerous… For many Italian men, navigating freely between their villages and America became a way of life.” Nevertheless, many returnees or ritornati chose to re-migrate to the United States.
What is the source for the claim that the Lower East Side was the most densely populated place on earth at the turn of the last century?
Crowds on Hester Street
The source for the claim that the Lower East Side was the most densely populated place on earth at the turn of the last century comes from a housing survey conducted by the newly created Tenement House Department of New York City in 1903, charged with insuring the implementation of the Tenement House Act of 1901. The detailed survey found the Lower East Side’s 10th ward the most densely populated in the city and, indeed, the world.
In 1903, the ward had a total population of 69, 944 or approximately 665 people per acre. The most densely populated block in the ward, bounded by Orchard, Allen, Delancey, and Broome Streets, encompassed 2.04 acres and had a population density of 2,233 people per acre.
The extraordinary population density in the Tenth Ward and neighboring Lower East Side wards was caused by several factors. The major cause was the increasing population as incredible numbers of immigrants - largely Eastern European Jews and Italians - arrived in New York.
Immigrants initially settled on the Lower East Side because this was an area with affordable housing where immigrants were welcome by building owners. Members of particular ethnic or religious groups tended to cluster where their compatriots had already settled, leading to larger communities. Here people spoke their language and shared their customs. The religious and social institutions, and the commercial establishments that eased the transition to life in America, were already in existence.
Friday, May 8, 2009
Because they were published for a broad working class audience, turn of the century comic strips captured the pulse of immigrant life in a way that paintings, photos, and other forms of high-brow art couldn't.
One of the earliest strips was drawn by German immigrant Rudolph Dirks and appeared in the New York Journal in 1897. Dirks and his family settled in Chicago after landing in the US, but his cartoons - which were written in a hybrid of German and English and followed the misadventures of two mischievous brothers nicknamed the Katzenjammer Kids - would have struck a chord with New York's German population.
Even closer to home (literally) for residents of the Lower East Side was a comic strip set in the Fourth Ward's tenements, rear yards, and alleyways. The title character of Richard Outcault's extremely popular Yellow Kid cartoon, which wound up spawning the term "yellow journalism," embodied a somewhat stereotypical notion of the immigrant slums with his hand-me-down nightshirt, shaved head, and hard-knocks attitude. It's possible the Yellow Kid had fans in 97 Orchard; we've found scraps of newspapers throughout the building which might have once contained this or similar cartoons, as well as a comic strip from a 1931 issue of the Daily American in Apartment # 10.
The Yellow Kid comic strip was an offshoot of Hogan's Alley, an earlier Outcault cartoon set in the slums of the Lower East Side. The now-famous boy in the yellow nightdress was one of Hogan Alley's main characters.
A Yellow Kid strip published in William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal in 1896. Lice infestations were frequent in working-class neighborhoods, which would explain the little boy's shaved head.
Recent photographs of the former Sons of Israel Kalwarie Synagogue on Pike Street (now a Buddhist temple) and Gertel's Bakery. Deroo's prints aren't floating freely on the web, so we couldn't post them here. Check them out on her website!
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
Born in the Lower East Side in 1916, photographer Rebecca Lepkoff kept her camera trained on the neighborhood for over six decades, charting its gradual shift from melting pot to hipster hot spot. Early in her career, Lepkoff joined the progressive (and eventually black-listed ) Photo League, a group of New York shutterbugs that captured, like the Ashcan artists decades before them, the gritty realities of urban street life. Her classic black and white snapshots of the el train, tenement buildings, and mothers with baby carriages are featured in the book Life On the Lower East Side, and were on display for a while at the Howard Greenberg Gallery in SoHo, where visitors could ask to see rare original prints. The gallery's collection still includes works by a number of famous 20th century New York artists, including Jacob Riis.
A Lepkoff photo from the 1940s. Baby carriages were as common a sight on New York's streets back then as they are now.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Thomas Edison shot some of the world's first movies in his West Orange, NJ studio (pictured above). When he decided to branch out to other locations in the mid 1890s, it's no surprise he often chose the big, bustling city only 20 miles away - and that some of his short, soundless films feature Ellis Island and the Lower East Side. The Library of Congress has a great selection of these early experiments in motion picture technology. So, of course, does YouTube.
The market in the following film was located on the Lower East Side, probably somewhere near Hester Street, where thousands of pushcart owners were licensed to sell fish.
Monday, May 4, 2009
Friday, May 1, 2009
The Wing Luke Asian Museum sits in the heart of Seattle's Chinatown, but its exhibits cover all corners of the world's largest continent. Check out this photo essay on the Pacific Northwest's Sikh community, which hails originally from the Punjab region of India. Despite intense discrimination and a series of prohibitory laws, Sikhs have been settling in Oregon and Washington since the late 19th century, first as railroad and lumber mill workers and later as white collar professionals.
Though located in historic Point Loma, the San Diego neighborhood where Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo first landed in 1542, the New Americans Museum celebrates the country's newest arrivals rather than preserving the past. According to its website, one in five U.S. citizens was born abroad or is a first generation American. That's roughly 60 million people, each with a story that will probably go unrecorded unless it winds up in the museum's extensive audio and video archive, soon to be available online. The museum especially seeks to engage the country's youngest immigrants. Check out some of the winning entries of an essay contest inviting local students to share their family histories, and a slideshow of a children's citizenship ceremony hosted by the museum earlier this year.
A recent photo exhibit at the museum by Ricardo Ocreto Alvarado (1914-1976) captured life as a Filipino-American in 1950's San Francisco