Friday, July 31, 2009

Immigration History on an Interactive Map

Newcomers to New York, an interactive map on the Museum of Eldridge Street's website, offers background on some of Lower Manhattan's immigration-related landmarks. To name a few: Italians used Banca Stabile (now the Italian American Museum) on Grand Street to store money, buy steamship tickets, and get documents translated; the graves of over 20,000 slaves were counted in the African Burial Ground, a cemetery near City Hall Park that was discovered by construction workers in the 1990s; and local political activists and writers (including Isaac Bashevis Singer) frequented the Garden Cafeteria, an eatery on East Broadway that opened in 1911, closed about seven decades later, and is currently the Wing Shoon Seafood restaurant.

Banca Stabile, an Italian immigrant bank, in the early 1900s.

-posted by Liana Grey

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Opening and Closing - Guss' Pickles

A look at mom and pop shops that are leaving the neighborhood, and the businesses that are replacing them.

It's all over the local blogosphere: Guss' Pickles, the 90-year-old neighborhood staple on the corner of Broome and Orchard, is on its way out - to a lar
ger, cheaper storefront in Brooklyn. Rent was getting too high, Lo-Down reports, and "when the city put a Muni Meter directly in front of [owner Patricia Fairhurst's] pickle barrels, blocking customers' access, it was the last straw."

Guss' may be famous for surviving decades of gentrification and demographic shifts, but it isn't the only place to buy briny cucumbers east of the Bowery. A quick browse on the web turned up a couple of relative newcomers that stay faithful to old-school preparation techniques (and may become, decades from now, the new neighborhood classics):

Pickle Guys
At his store on Essex Street (once the center of the neighborhood pickle industry), Alan Kaufman makes pickles from "an old Eastern European recipe, just as my mom used to make them." At one point, he even got a chance to work with one of the owners of Guss' Pickles.

Rick's Picks

Founder Rick Field, a former TV producer, translated a childhood hobby into a business in 2004. His artisinal corn, beet, and green bean pickles are fancier and less traditional than Pickle Guys' or Guss', but they stem from family recipes and are a regular fixture at the annual International Pickle Festival on Orchard Street.

-posted by Liana Grey

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

How to Research a Building Part 2

Earlier this month, I set off to research the history of random buildings in lower Manhattan, and discovered that 46 East Houston Street, a luxury condo just north of Little Italy, once housed immigrant apartments, a rowdy hotel and theater (known respectively as Scratch Hall and Dramatic Hall), and inventor Nikola Tesla's lab. Two mysteries remained: what did the original building look like? And did the lab and two halls ever coexist?

I headed down to the Municipal Archives office on Chambers Street to search its collection of tax photos - snapshots taken during the Great Depression of every single New York City building - for an image of the structure's exterior.

46 Houston in the 1940s, courtesy of the Municipal Archives

The hardest part wasn't locating 46 Houston in a cabinet full of microfilm; the images are organized by numbers assigned to buildings for tax purposes. Rather, it was threading the film through a malfunctioning scanner and printing out a decent copy. (During one attempt to use the machine, the spool used to secure the film to the scanner broke off.)

Museum staff member Chris Neville pointed me to a resource he used back in his days as a historic preservation consultant: the New York Public Library's online collection of postcard-sized photos of streetscapes, which turned up a high-quality image of the original 46 Houston (also known as 300 Mulberry Street). I also found an 1868 illustration of the building, which apparently housed a police station at the time, infamous for handling criminals ranging from Boss Tweed to an Italian woman who murdered her lover.

A 1913 photograph and 1868 illustration, courtesy of the NY Public Library

A trip to the library's 5th Avenue branch helped me solve mystery number two. I typed Dramatic Hall into a database of 19th century newspapers, and the headline of a 1894 Daily Tribune article popped up: "Dramatic Hall Torn Down." On a microfilm scanner down the hall (luckily, nothing broke this time), I scrolled through the May 1st issue and found the article on the last page, in a section of paragraph-long news briefs about the openings and closings of various New York City businesses. I wasn't able to print a copy, so I retyped it here (look out for some rather amusing descriptions of the building, like "nightly abode of an army of tramps" and a "breeding ground for disease").
Workmen yesterday began to tear down the four story building on the north side of Houston Street midway between Mulberry and Mott Streets, which was a well-known place of amusement in war times when the next block in Houston Street was known as "murderer's row." The building was called "Dramatic Hall' for 20 years after the war, although it degenerated to a dance hall with a bar-room on the first floor, and regular theatrical performances disappeared from the place forever. Several years ago, it was turned into a cheap lodging house and became the nightly abode of an army of tramps, fairly earning the significant name of "Scratch Hall." It became such a breeding place for disease that the Health Board revoked its license. In late years it had been occupied as a furniture warehouse. A seven-story business structure is to be erected on the site of the old building.
Tesla moved his lab into the top floor new building in 1896 (it would be interesting to find out what businesses occupied the other floors) - and it wasn't until nearly a century later that it was replaced with a luxury building. I browsed an interactive map of Manhattan for more details on the current building's status. Constructed in 1986, it's 12 stories high, about 86,746 square feet, and owned by the development firm Columbia 298 Mulberry.

So what next? A friend requested that I look into her apartment building on Avenue B, an ornate red-brick tenement that looked identical back in the 1940's (it was built in 1900), save the laundromat now on the ground floor. What caught my eye in the Great Depression tax photo was the building next door: an elegant structure reminiscent of a synagogue. I couldn't recall seeing it last time I was in the neighborhood, so a friend and I took a stroll over to Alphabet City one afternoon to check it out. In the mystery building's place (or perhaps near it - there's an empty lot next to the tenement) sat a drab 6-story nursing home built in the 1980s.

60 Avenue B, today and in the 1940s, when it stood next to a stunning temple-like building, now an empty lot or perhaps replaced with the Cabrini Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation; it's hard to tell from the pictures.

Speaking of temples, my friend Madhavi told me, there's a Hindu one near 7th Street and Avenue B. She'd worshiped there a couple times, and was curious about its history. We headed up a couple blocks to 96 Avenue B, a rundown gray-brick building just steps from Tompkins Square Park.

A sari-clad woman with an Eastern European accent greeted us in the entryway of a two-room space cluttered with statues of deities, some strung with brightly colored garlands. In the back room, wood carving of religious scenes covered almost every inch of the walls. According to the temple's website, extensive renovations were conducted on the "simple East Village space" before it opened in 2003. ( It claims to be the first Hindu temple in New York City, but there are much older ones in Queens, like the 30-year-old Ganesha Temple in Flushing that recently underwent renovations.)

About a decade ago, 96 Avenue B housed a vintage clothing store, Metropolis, dubbed the city's "best and cheapest" by the New York Times. It was one of several outposts of hipster culture in the neighborhood, including a tattoo parlor and a leather goods shop.

For at least part of the 19th century, the building was a three story tenement with a "cloak and suit establishment" on the ground floor. The landlady, an elderly woman named Mrs. Louis Thielmann, was hosting her daughter and two young grandchildren in her top story apartment when a fire broke out, prompting a dramatic rescue by a fireman that happened to be across the street.

Once safely outside, according to an 1888 New York Times article describing the incident, both the landlady and her daughter bestowed kisses of gratitude on the fireman.

A two-story building at 96 Avenue B houses the
Radhe-Shyam Temple. During the Great Depression, it was a tenement house.

Coming up next: the history of a tenement on Second Avenue once home to a restaurant and a handful of interesting residents. And hopefully, some answers about the mystery building that once sat near my friend's apartment building on the corner of 5th Street and Avenue B.

-Liana Grey

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tenement Talks at

A few of our Tenement Talks have been filmed for CSPAN's Book TV, and they're available for online viewing.

Andrew Ross, author of Nice Work if You Can Get It, speaks about labor in America today. Originally aired May 10, 2009. Event took place on April 22, 2009.

Samuel D. Kassow, author of Who Will Write Our History, shares the amazing story of Emanuel Ringelblum, a Polish historian who recorded and secreted thousands of records of Jewish life in the Warsaw Ghetto. Originally aired February 21, 2009. Event took place on February 3, 2009.

Jay Dolan, author of The Irish Americans, gives an overview of this group's history, from the famine ships to JFK. Originally aired January 2, 2009. Event took place on November 11, 2008.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A Hydrant in the Rear Yard

The water hydrant we bought for our rear yard exhibit, right, is identical to one in a period catalog.

Slowly but surely, we're recreating the yard behind 97 Orchard where residents used the bathroom, did laundry, and even socialized. In a basement collections room, archeological fellow Jessica MacLean is busy studying and cataloging artifacts dug out of the privy over a decade ago. And
Melissa Cabarcas of the Curatorial Department is in the process of installing a period water hydrant manufactured by the Kupferle Foundry, a St. Louis company that's been churning out hydrants since the 1850s (the earliest version of this model is 1887, according to a patent we have).

According to a 1903 book compiling investigations made by the New York Tenement House Commission, backyard hydrants weren't always reliable. Tenants sometimes faced an inadequate water supply and had difficulty dragging water from the rear yard to higher floors. An inspector noticed, for instance, that a Second Avenue tenement's hydrant was broken and an Elizabeth Street building wasn't receiving enough water. "On the East Side and in Williamsburg, families were without water for whole hot summer days," he wrote. No matter the weather, areas surrounding the hydrants were coated with slimy stagnant water - a source of disgust for women who did their laundry there, but one of joy for children who used tenement yards as playgrounds.

-posted by Liana Grey

Factories in the Tenement

One of 97 Orchard's residents, Eastern European immigrant Harris Levine, operated a makeshift garment factory out of his apartment. He paid two unmarried Jewish women $8 -$9 a week to put the finishing touches on items and an old man about $12 a week to iron them. Curatorial Director Dave Favaloro discusses other businesses run from tenants' homes.

Knowledge of Harris Levine’s shop comes from the reports of the Department of the Factory Inspector. During the 1890s, inspectors investigated tenement apartments that were being used for garment production, as well as other types of manufacturing. According to the Department’s 1893 Report, in which Harris Levine was also listed, Austrian-born Herman Queller operated a broom and window brush factory out of his home at 97 Orchard Street. Queller appears to have employed one man to work alongside him. Although Herman Queller was Jewish, the Report records him as working nine hours on Saturdays, the Sabbath.

Herman Queller, date unknown

The 1893 Factory Inspectors Report also records Michael Schkedron operating a cigar factory out of his home at 97 Orchard Street. Although Museum researchers do not know where Schkedron hailed from, the Inspectors Report that he was both the proprietor and sole employee of his business, at which he worked approximately 70 hours a week, including 10 hours on Sunday.

At the time, the Department of Factory Inspectors claimed to have investigated only 1/5 of the total number of shops operating in tenement apartments, so it’s likely that other residents of 97 Orchard Street operated manufacturing businesses out of their homes. Moreover, the Factory Inspectors only listed addresses for the shops they inspected during the early 1890s. It’s very possible other shops were operating out of the home before and after the 1890s.

In some sense, Natalie Gumpertz’s dressmaking shop could also be considered a manufacturing enterprise even though it’s unlikely she employed anyone but her children. As mentioned above, it’s likely that other manufacturing enterprises employing non-family members operated at other times in 97 Orchard Street but, unfortunately, Museum researchers have found no evidence of their existence.

Friday, July 24, 2009

This Week's Current Immigration News

Sheriff Joe (The New Yorker)
In this compelling profile, writer William Finnegan explains how Sheriff Arpaio earned his reputation as "America's Toughest Sheriff." Joe Arpaio, of Maricopa County, Arizona, is one of hundreds of participants in a U.S. Department of Homeland Security program called 287(g), which delegates federal immigration enforcement to local law enforcement agencies. Arpaio's harsh treatment of inmates and his raids on Latino towns have resulted in the loss of health accreditation for his county's jails and an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Report Says Immigration Agents Broke Laws and Agency Rules in Home Raids (New York Times)
On Wednesday the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law released a report stating that federal immigration authorities have violated their own rules and the Constitution in hundreds of raids throughout New York and New Jersey. Federal agents acted without judicial search warrants or failed to obtain informed consent for raids. While the raids were supposed to find dangerous criminals, Latinos with civil immigration violations were the target of the vast majority of arrests.

Census Bureau: immigrants and miserly pensions may save Britain (The Guardian)
Around the globe, many countries face aging populations. The shrinking labor pools may strain the economies of the United States, China, Japan, and Italy, just to name a few. However, in Britain, high net immigration will offset a smaller labor pool (as aging workers retire). The total dependency ratio (the ratio of children and pensioners to the total population) is predicted to fall between now and 2020 to the lowest of any large European nation.

-posted by Penny King

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Twilight Thursday Profile - Wendy Mink Jewelry

Shop managers participating in our Twilight Thursdays program, in which tickets for special evening tours double as coupons for local businesses, share their thoughts on the surrounding neighborhood.

Store manager Kelly Christy outside Wendy Mink Jewelry on Orchard between Broome and Grand. Photo courtesy of Google Images.

Wendy Mink likes the Lower East Side so much that she shuttered her jewelry store in the West Village a year and a half ago and moved it to Orchard Street. Most days, she's too busy designing earrings and bracelets alongside a team of Tibetan artisans in her TriBeCa studio to spend much time in the neighborhood. (Her work is inspired by travels to the Indian subcontinent and flea markets in Europe.)

But I spoke with one of the shop's managers, Kelly Christy, at the boutique just south of the museum. Her thoughts on the neighborhood: "It keeps changing, but it still has its heart and soul." Locals seem to accept its shifting nature, she said, and because "people who live here shop here" - particularly younger residents and teachers who work at nearby schools - its a good place to run a small business.

Kelly herself is a milliner, and has a studio in the back of the store. She sells some of her hats alongside Wendy's jewelry, and did the reverse when she ran a shop of her own (now shuttered) in TriBeCa. The two artists met through a mutual friend 19 years ago, not long after Wendy first launched her collection, and fast became buddies after taking a martial arts class together.

The economic climate has changed a lot since then - but Kelly ensured me that her longtime friend is doing well and "has a good following."

More info: Check out the store's new blog and Twitter page.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Schneider's Saloon Probe Photos

We're in the process of recreating a saloon once housed in 97 Orchard's basement. A team of conservators peeked behind the basement's metal and sheetrock walls for clues of its history, and sent paint and wood samples off for analysis. Here's some of the work they've done so far:

Exposing wood panelling behind the sheetrock

Charred wood indicates long-ago fire damage.
Bubbled-up paint is further evidence of a fire.

Our longtime handyman, Bob Yucikas, removes sheetrock from the ceiling.

-posted by Liana Grey

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

From the Archives - Hair Care Product in the Privy

When Jessica MacLean, our archeological fellow, was catologing artifacts excavated over a decade ago from the privy behind 97 Orchard - as part of an effort to recreate the rear yard where tenants did laundry, socialized, and used the bathroom - she came across a scrap of ceramic that once belonged to the lid of a jar containing 19th century hair care product. The formula originally called for bear grease. But once the animals had been over-hunted, manufacturers switched to beef marrow, readily available in every large city's meatpacking district.

This particular product, Jessica determined through an online search that turned up an image of an identical container, was manufactured by a well-known soap maker named Jules Hauel, who worked in a row house at 120 Chestnut Street in Philadelphia. (The name and address were inscribed on the jar's lid, and Jessica found an illustration of his workspace in an old atlas of Philadelphia businesses.)

Hauel, who displayed some of his work at the 1851 World's Fair, likely produced the beef marrow solution, designed to strengthen and add shine to hair, somewhere between the late 1830s and early 1850s - decades before 97 Orchard was built.

So how did the container, which was used in New York in the 1850s and 60s after being shipped here by boat, wind up behind 97 Orchard?

When the outhouse was shut down, sometime after hallway toilets were installed in 1905, trash was packed into the abandoned privy vault. The redeposited fill is a treasure trove of everyday objects from around the city that illustrate life on both ends of the socioeconomic spectrum. Jessica found, for instance, a piece of expensive hand-painted porcelain imported from China - as well as scraps of a lower quality ceramic mass-produced in British factories. (Jessica's extensive work with ceramics helps her readily identify the type and date range of a given piece.)

Only two objects dug out of the fill belonged to residents of 97 Orchard: a German beer mug, possibly from Schneider's Saloon in the building's basement, and a chamber pot.

-posted by Liana Grey

Monday, July 20, 2009

Opening & Closing - Hudson Street Papers

A look at small businesses in the Lower East Side that have shuttered, or are about to, and what's moving into the neighborhood to replace them.

If you've ever passed by Hudson Street Papers on Orchard Street between Stanton and Rivington, you might have wondered what the tiny stationary shop was doing outside the West Village. Turns out its owner moved it from across town a short while ago and shut the store down at the end of last month after realizing, as he told Curbed, that "the Lower East Side is bad news." The vacant space (once home to cards, stamps, and quirky items, like freezy freakie mittens - see a former customer's review) is for rent by Misrahi Realty, whose strip mall-like retail center under construction about a block away contributed, perhaps, to the owner's changing impression of the neighborhood.

-posted by Liana Grey

Friday, July 17, 2009

This Week's Current Immigration News

Massachusetts Takes a Step Back From Health Care for All (New York Times)
Massachusetts, which enacted ground-breaking laws with the goal of universal health care coverage in 2006, may eliminate health care coverage for approximately 30,000 legal immigrants to reduce its budget deficit. As unemployment increases, enrollment in Commonwealth Care, the state’s subsidized insurance program for low-income residents, has risen sharply. Nondisabled permanent residents ages 18-65 who have had green cards for less than five years will lose coverage in August to save the state an estimated $130 million. Governor Deval Patrick has introduced a proposal to restore $70 million to Commonwealth Care, but Robert A. DeLeo, the speaker of the State House of Representatives explained, “there is only so much money that we have.” Under 1996 welfare laws, the 30,000 immigrants affected by the loss of coverage also do not qualify for Medicaid or other federal assistance.

New Curbs Set on Arrests of Illegal Immigrants (Wall Street Journal)The Obama administration has expanded a program known as 287(g), which gives U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) the authority to delegate the enforcement of federal immigration law to state and local police. New agreements between ICE and local jurisdiction will prioritize the pursuit of illegal immigrants who have committed serious crimes. Critics say that the program promotes racial profiling and makes immigrants "fear and avoid the police," undermining any attempts at community policing, which requires "building trust among those the officers serve and protect." However, supporters believe that the program has been effective in combating illegal immigration.Read a New York Times editorial about 287(g).

Few options for veterans who await deportation (The San Diego Union-Tribune)Among the 32,000 foreign-born detainees awaiting deportation from the United States are some who have served in the United States military. Fernando Cervantes emigrated legally from Mexico to the United States in 1961 and enlisted in the Vietnam War at age eighteen. Later, he was convicted of possession of methamphetamine for sale. After serving a three-year prison term, he was turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Cervantes' crime is felony for which he can be deported. Such cases raise questions about whether military service merits special consideration in deportation proceedings.

Queens one of 'most diverse places on Earth,' new figures show (New York Daily News)According to Joseph Salvo, a demographer with the NYC Department of City Planning, Queens is one of the most diverse places on Earth. From 2000 to 2006, the borough's foreign-born population grew 6.3%. Unlike other boroughs, Queens has a fairly equal distribution of white non-Hispanic, Hispanic, black non-Hispanic, Asian and multi-racial people. Assemblyman José Peralta stated that the constant influx of immigrants to Queens is an “economic engine that is vital for the borough.”

-posted by Penny King

Thursday, July 16, 2009

180 Orchard Street - Former Tenement, Future Shopping Mall

At least there's no parking lot...

A rendering of the future 180 Orchard Street, posted on a concrete column in the massive construction zone between Houston and Stanton streets, looks like a strip mall straight out of Southern California: squat and long, with smooth beige walls and a pointed red roof.

After a five-year saga involving stalled construction (the half-finished skeleton of what was originally supposed to be a 22-story luxury hotel hung in limbo as the Department of Buildings sorted out a permit problem), a rumored shift in ownership, and a startling design change, local brokerage firm Misrahi Realty is now soliciting tenants for an 11,000 square foot retail center set for opening next May.

The building's future may be somewhat of a mystery (Misrahi told that the finished shopping center may not turn out exactly like the rendering), but I was at least able to dig up a thing or two about its past.

The construction site at 180 Orchard once looked much like the historic tenements surrounding it

Back in 1870, when the block was occupied primarily by Irish, Jewish and Italian immigrants, the site housed a four-story tenement that made it into the New York Times after kerosene oil exploded in one of the apartments, causing a small fire and $100 dollars worth of damage. A year later, it was back in the news when a resident, Henry Lunsman, was attacked on his way home by a stranger wielding a baker's peel. (Henry walked out of a bakery without paying, perhaps?)

According to the Department of Buildings website, a new building was constructed at the address in 1900 - though exactly what type is unclear. It received a string of "unsafe building" notices beginning in 1914, a handful of complaints throughout the mid 20th century, and was leased out to several trendy boutiques and galleries in the late 1990s when the Lower East Side was just beginning to gentrify.

-Posted by Liana Grey

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Reminder - Twilight Thursdays

Been meaning to visit the museum, but can't get out of work early enough to catch the last tour? We're extending our hours into the evening every Thursday through September 3rd. Tours of 97 Orchard, and Immigrant Soles, a guided stroll past, among other neighborhood sites, a historic movie theater on Canal Street and and a former Yiddish newspaper headquarters near Seward Park, run from 5:45 to 7:15 (Details on the bottom right corner of our website). The best part: tickets double as coupons for local businesses, so you can catch a post-tour dinner in the neighborhood or browse boutiques like Earnest Sewn or Wendy Mink Jewelry.

Allen Street at dusk

-Posted by Liana Grey

American Girl Doll - Tour and Raffle

American Girl Doll Company not only visited the museum to conduct research while its new doll, Lower East Sider Rebecca Rubin, was in the development phase, but it's offering a tour of 97 Orchard's Confino family apartment on August 10th.

Visitors will meet for lunch at American Girl Place on 5th Avenue, and then head down to the neighborhood where Rebecca's background story is set (much like Victoria Confino, who grew up in 97 Orchard, Rebecca's parents are early 20th century Jewish immigrants). More details here; scroll down to New York History Tour.

In other Rebecca Rubin news, we're raffling off the new doll at the museum shop - so make sure to pick up your ticket before July 31st.

-posted by Liana Grey

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Historic Preservation Society's Oral History Project

In a new oral history project on its website, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, which is lobbying for historic district designation for the South Village, looks back over the decades at well-known preservation efforts in the area, including several urban planners' campaigns to prevent Robert Moses from extending Fifth Avenue through Washington Square Park.

Washington Square Park in 1950

-posted by Liana Grey

Monday, July 13, 2009

Tenement Architects - Entirely Unneccessary?

It’s a good thing 19th century architects rarely got famous for their work on tenement houses. According to Andrew Dolkart, a historic preservation expert at Columbia who studies they city’s everyday, or “vernacular,” structures, tenement architects (and even the renowned designers of some cast-iron commercial buildings in SoHo) did little more than sign legal documents and select pre-fab ornamentations from warehouses.

The Italiante stone lintels above the windows of buildings surrounding the museum, for instance, which were in fashion at the time and helped stabilize the window frames, were probably chosen from a manufacturing lot somewhere in the city. (97 Orchard's have since been scraped off and smoothed over.)
And as for the design of the tenements themselves, the boxy four or five story buildings – subdivided into equally nondescript two or three room apartments – are among the simplest structures in the city to build. Contractors hardly needed to follow blueprints; in fact, they often improvised as they went along.

For more info: Check out Dolkart's book, Biography of a Tenement House in New York City (featuring none other than 97 Orchard), on sale at the museum shop.

97 Orchard in the 1940s, stone lintels still intact. Courtesy Municipal Archives.
-posted by Liana Grey

Friday, July 10, 2009

This Week's News on Current Immigration

As Ireland’s Boom Ends, Job Seekers Revive a Well-Worn Path to New York (New York Times)
Like many before them, Irish immigrants are traveling to the United States to seek employment, as unemployment in Ireland reaches nearly 12 percent. Many Irish immigrants have arrived on tourist visas and plan to stay illegally, so there are not exact figures on immigration trends. However, anecdotal evidence from Irish-American business owners, construction unions, and landlords in Irish neighborhoods like Woodside and Sunnyside in Queens, suggests that the population of new Irish immigrants is growing.

Illegal immigrants again in the budget spotlight (Los Angeles Times)
In California, where the budget deficit is approximately $26.3 billion, lawmakers are debating whether to cut services to illegal immigrants as well as to their U.S.-born children. It is difficult to determine the net economic impact of California's 2.7 million illegal immigrants, who make up approximately seven percent of California's population. Immigrants contribute to tax revenue, but they cost the state $4-6 billion annually in education, prisons, and health care. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed to limit welfare and health care to illegal immigrants and their families, but the Legislature has not passed his plans.

Immigration laws are breaking families apart, deporting too many parents with US-born children (New York Daily News)
The United States Department of Homeland Security released a study showing that at least 108,434 parents of U.S.-citizen children were deported between 1998-2007. In such cases, parents must leave their children behind, or bring the child to a country that may be foreign to them. The study, commissioned by Representative José Serrano, underscores the need for immigration reform that would give judges the discretion to avoid breaking families apart.

-Posted by Penny King

Thursday, July 9, 2009

National Public Housing Museum Seeks Project Director

If you happen to be job hunting, a new museum in Chicago dedicated to preserving a Great Depression-era public housing development is looking for a project manager to oversee planning and grant writing for Our Stories: Resident Voices of Public Housing, a program supported by a Planning Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Email your CV or resume to kmagee(at), or fax it to 312.641.5736.

The only remaining building in the Jane Addams Homes complex, established in 1938 on Chicago's Near West Side.

posted by Liana Grey

Adventures Inside the Tea Cart

Artist Michele Brody chats with a visitor outside 108 Orchard over tea served in cups passed down by her grandmother

Pick a nationality, and you're bound to find its variety of tea somewhere in the New York metro area: South African rooibos, British Earl Grey, green tea, or masala chai, a delicious blend of black tea, milk, spices, and sugar that my friend Kavita's mom, who grew up in a South Asian community in Kenya, would serve when I'd come to visit back in high school. (I've tried, and failed, to replicate the drink at home using a box of masala mixture Kavita gave me, and the sugary, mild Starbucks variety just can't compare.)

The universal quality of the steaming hot drink - it draws friends together in cafes and living rooms around the world, and is something immigrants bring with them when they settle, say, in the Lower East Side - is what artist Michele Brody had in mind when she set up a tea cart, designed to evoke the pushcarts that once crowded the neighborhood, in front of the museum shop earlier this summer, and invited passersby to drop inside.

While chatting in the handmade copper cart two weeks ago on the exhibit's opening night, Brody and I sipped, in keeping with an ancient Argentinian tradition, a ceramic bowl of Yerba Maté from a single straw. On display were two intricate Moroccan glasses, mugs of all shapes and sizes, and a pair of floral china cups passed down from Brody's grandmother, a descendant of Eastern European immigrants who took classes at the Henry Street Settlement here on the Lower East Side. (Brody herself grew up in Brooklyn and New Jersey).

Local cafes donated the tea leaves, and visitors (including a European tourist and a New York native who moved to Vietnam over a decade ago to run a business) supplied the stories that Brody will eventually transcribe onto tea-soaked paper bags and hang in the windows of 97 Orchard.

Come share your stories with Brody tonight from 4-7 pm outside 108 Orchard Street.

L. to r: Green tea, rooibos, and masala chai, a spicy South Asian tea

-posted by Liana Grey

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Last Night's Murder Mystery

Thanks to all of you who came to last night's Tenement Talk. We had a great time.

It was overwhelming to see how many of you were interested in this kind of program... if you come to Tenement Talks often, you know that we average 30-60 guests per program. And that we can only fit about 100 in our space. We had over 150 people show up last night!

We're really bummed we couldn't accomodate you all... we had no idea this program would be so popular. I guess free + theater + mystery + Lower East Side + listing in Time Out = a good thing.

Thanks to Carlo d'Amore, who organized it all, and the wonderful actors, who really got into it and were very entertaining.

Some photos from the night:

The Landlord:

The Fortune Teller:

All photos courtesy Greg Scaffidi,
-posted by Kate Stober

How to Research a Building Part 1

Blog writer Liana Grey charts her experience researching the history of lower Manhattan's everyday buildings.

Today, it's a seven-story apartment complex with a Subway, dry cleaners, and billiards hall on the ground floor - so nondescript you wouldn't give it a second glance. But from what I've pieced together from 19th century city directories and newspaper
articles, 46 Houston Street, on the billboard-cluttered border between Little Italy and the East Village, once housed a famous inventor's lab, an auditorium, a rowdy lodging house, and apartments possibly crowded with Jewish immigrants.

46 Houston's conversion into a luxury building (the rent for one bedrooms is about $4,500 a month) obscured its eclectic and at times seedy history.

The building took a while to locate. I had to circle the block a couple times and conduct a property search on the Department of Buildings website before I realized that 46 East Houston is now known as 298 Mulberry Street - and that a series of renovations and a 1962 demolition had all but buried its fascinating past.

Not exactly what I had in mind when I set out several weeks ago to research centuries-old buildings in the Lower East Side. After strolling through the neighborhood and picking buildings at random – the eye-catching orange-and-white-striped synagogue on Rivington Street, the ornate brown brick tenement on Orchard Street just north of Delancey – I headed over to the National Archives office on Varick Street, picturing myself sorting through files and poring over microfilm slides.

Once there, a staff member directed me to a computer, and I quickly learned that most genealogical records have been scanned into online databases and that few, if any, instantly reveal the history of single street addresses.

So I decided to scrap my list of buildings (at least for the moment) and work backwards, scouring historical data for mention of tenements, shops, or other physical structures. And, curious to see how far internet research could take me, I figured I'd stick primarily to online sources.

Left: the synagogue at 58 Rivington Street, now an apartment complex for artists, turns out to have a well-known and interesting history, and may be the topic of a future post. Right: the ornate tenement at 121 Orchard Street.

An online copy of an 1896 city directory - a sort of precursor to the phone book listing nearly 400,000 ordinary New Yorkers' occupations and home addresses - seemed like a good place to start. I browsed the book's 463 pages, crammed with ads for banks, umbrella companies, and storage facilities, for residences on the Lower East Side, and settled on 79 East Broadway, home of Joseph Mooney, a fireman.

A page from Trow's 1896 New York City Directory, courtesy of, a subscription-only database that can be accessed for free at the National Archives regional office.

When a Google search of the address failed to turn up much background on the building's occupants (A 55 year old resident was mentioned in a New York Times obituary in 1899, and another made it onto a list of Tammany Hall's Republican Party members, but that's about it) and a trip to the site, in a section of Chinatown once home to working class Jewish immigrants, revealed nothing historical - only a two-story shopping center under the Manhattan Bridge overpass that was probably built within the last few decades - I scratched 79 East Broadway off my list and headed back to the Archives.

I gave the city directory a rest and tried my luck with the 1910 4th Ward census, which covers parts of the Lower East Side - but no matter how many times I zoomed in on the digital copy of the document, I struggled to read the census taker's handwriting.

Finally, after about an hour browsing the web, I stumbled across the resource that would lead me to 46 Houston Street: a 1900 book of biographical data on New York's most prestigious bankers, merchants, lawyers, and scientists. By chance, I came across an entry on Serbia-born inventor Nikola Tesla, best known for his work with alternating current, radio, and wireless electricity:

In 1896, Tesla set up a laboratory on the top floor of 46 Houston Street following a fire that destroyed his workspace on West Broadway. His new lab nearly suffered the same misfortune four years later, according to a biography of the inventor, when part of the building caught ablaze: "The Jews on the lower floor [were] burned out...[and this] frightened me nearly to death," he wrote in a letter to friends. It seems, from this account, that at least part of the building was subdivided into apartments. Whether Jewish immigrants (or even first or second generation Americans) were the only tenants remains a mystery.

Fire wasn't the only disaster to strike Tesla and his neighbors. An 1888 earthquake that shook the area around 46 Houston Street, drawing police and ambulances, was supposedly caused by one of his experiments. (Tesla claims he invented a device that could cause tremors in the earth through the transmission of vibrations.)

An old photograph of Tesla's lab, retrieved from a Google image search

Curiously, the New York Times archive - which dates back to 1851 - doesn't mention Tesla's connection to the building. Its entries on 46 Houston Street include an 1888 report on a drunken brawl between a 60 year old man and a thug nicknamed "The Sparrow", which took place in a 10-cent lodging house known as "Scratch Hall," (its proprietor was arrested less than 10 years later for illegally disposing of alcohol), and an 1869 article on a political gathering held by former Union Army soldiers at Dramatic Hall, an auditorium located at the same address.

In a testament to some of the limits of online research, I've had difficulty digging up more information about Scratch Hall, the auditorium, and the building in general (when were the two halls established? What was on the top floor before Tesla converted it into a lab? How tall was the structure in the first place?) - and property records on the Department of Building's website don't mention when 46 Houston was first constructed. (I sifted through all the "actions," or records of alterations, on the building, and the earliest was a 1900 elevator report.)

A visit next week to the New York Public Library's local history collection will hopefully shed some more light on the building's past - including, perhaps, the appearance of its original facade.

To Be Continued.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Patriotism on Eldridge Street

In honor of the Fourth of July, the Museum at Eldridge Street wrote in their July newsletter about immigrants celebrating America:

Happy Independence Day! Did you know in addition to being a sacred space where Orthodox Jews could worship at the turn of the last century, the Eldridge Street Synagogue was a place where immigrants embraced a new Jewish American identity?

Over the years, the congregants of the Eldridge Street Synagogue partook in many acts of patriotism. In 1889 the congregation decorated the synagogue in honor of the centennial of George Washington's inauguration and, in 1901, they held a memorial service for President William Mckinley.

During World War I, the congregation commissioned and displayed an American flag with stars for each of the congregation's sons serving in the war. These flags were placed in flagholders, each with a five-pointed American star at its base, and affixed to windowsills so that the stars and stripes would be displayed prominently in the windows of the synagogue, blending the traditional with the patriotic.

You can sign up for their e-newsletter for more. They have a great event series as well as themed neighborhood walking tours. I want to take the Love & Courtship tour!

- Posted by Kate Stober

Monday, July 6, 2009

Portrait of a Pakistani Immigrant Who Died in Jail

On Friday, we're launching a new series on current immigration: a roundup of the week's news on local immigrant communities. Here's a sample of the type of content we'll be posting.

Yesterday, the New York Times published a portrait of Brooklyn resident Tanveer Ahmad, a cab driver who emigrated from Pakistan in 1993 and died of a heart attack in a New Jersey prison after languishing there for three weeks:

When the 43-year-old man died in a New Jersey immigration jail in 2005, the very fact seemed to fall into a black hole. Although a fellow inmate scrawled a note telling immigrant advocates that the detainee’s symptoms of a heart attack had long gone unheeded, government officials would not even confirm that the dead man had existed.

In March, more than three years after the death, federal immigration authorities acknowledged that they had overlooked it, and added a name, “Ahmad, Tanveer,” to their list of fatalities in custody.

Even as the man’s death was retrieved from official oblivion, however, his life remained a mystery, The New York Times reported in an April article on the case that pointed up the secrecy and lack of accountability in the nation’s ballooning immigration detention system. Just who the man was and why he had been detained were unknown.
Yet at the end of a long trail of government documents and interviews with friends and relatives in New York, Texas and his native Pakistan, there was his name, “Ahmad, T.,” still listed last week on the tenants’ buzzer board at the Eldorado, an apartment building in Flatbush, Brooklyn, where he had lived for years. And the tenant list itself — Jones, Nadler, Mahmud, Fong, Quinones — testified to the long history of American immigration that he had tried so hard to join.
Tanveer Ahmad, it turns out, was a longtime New York City cabdriver who had paid thousands of dollars in taxes and immigration application fees. Whether out of love, loneliness or the quest for a green card, he had twice married American women after entering the country on a visitor’s visa in 1993. His only trouble with the law was a $200 fine for disorderly conduct in 1997: While working at a Houston gas station, he had displayed the business’s unlicensed gun to stop a robbery.
Read more.
-posted by Liana Grey

Questions for Curatorial - In Warm Weather and Cold

Curatorial Director Dave answers visitors' questions. To submit your own, send an email to press-inquiry(at)

When was the icebox invented? Would any of the families we describe have had one? If so, which ones?

The icebox was invented sometime during the late 19th century. Photographic and artifact evidence from turn of the century tenement apartments suggest that some immigrant families possessed iceboxes. According to the Sears & Roebuck Catalogue from 1897, iceboxes or ice chests ranged in price from approximately $3.00 to $20.00. On average, such a purchase would have represented a month’s rent for immigrant families. The cheapest ice chest advertised by Sears & Roebuck in 1897 was made of hardwood, lined with heavy metal throughout, and included a wooden slat rack on the bottom for ice and heavy metal shelves.

In their oral testimony about 97 Orchard Street, neither Josephine Baldizzi nor Henry (Rogarshevsky) Rosenthal recalled having an icebox in their apartments. However, the Tenement Museum holds one icebox in its collections that was found in apartment 18 on the fifth floor of 97 Orchard Street. In addition, the collections contain an icebox that was donated, and a pair of ice tongs.

Where did the residents of 97 Orchard Street get the coal needed to heat their stoves? Where was the coal stored?

Coal was purchased from a neighborhood coal yard and delivered to 97 Orchard Street where it was deposited in the cellar of the building. During the late 19th century, the Dougherty Family operated 2 coal yards on the Lower East Side, one at Avenue B and 12th Street and the other between 280 and 282 Madison Street. It is possible that these were still in operation by the second decade of the 20th century.

At 91 Orchard Street, there was a coal vault under the sidewalk that was accessible via a manhole on Orchard Street. The front of the cellar at 97 Orchard Street also juts out underneath the sidewalk, but there is not a brick coal vault similar to the one at 91 Orchard Street. At 97 Orchard Street, there was probably a chute for coal to be delivered into the cellar, which was perhaps placed into wooden bins that look similar to horse stalls.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Becoming a Citizen this Fourth of July

Americans across the country will become naturalized US citizens this weekend in ceremonies timed to coincide with the Independence Day holiday. Places as diverse as Cleveland, Tallahassee, Phoenix, and Annapolis will host naturalization events along with marching bands, barbecues, and fireworks displays.

For the first time, a ceremony will be held at Mount Vernon, President Washington’s home. There’s even one planned at Disney World, where a thousand people will become US citizens in the park’s “Main Street USA.” (Disney has cleverly timed this event with the opening of their new Hall of Presidents, naturally.)

Do you have a naturalization story? Will you be attending the ceremony of a loved one this year?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Immigration and the Fourth of July

1918 Fourth of July parade passing the midtown Public Library, courtesy of the library's online records

For American citizens and residents, July 4th is the day to celebrate our nation's independence and freedom with fireworks, barbecues, and parades.
But throughout history, Independence Day has raised questions of national identity for immigrants.

During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, well-off, native-born Americans were concerned about the assimilation and loyalty of immigrants. Millions of newcomers were concentrated in particular neighborhoods, like New York City’s Lower East Side, where their cultural differences in dress, language, and food were highly visible. Independence Day displays of revelry and “liquid patriotism” by immigrants, as one newspaper claimed, did not meet the expectations of some native-born Americans. Immigrants also continued to celebrate the national holidays of their home countries, even as they began the process of assimilation.

The outbreak of World War I in 1914 exacerbated fears about the dangers of nationalism. Could immigrants from Russia and Germany, two nations at war with one another across the Atlantic, maintain civil relations in America? Would German immigrants subvert the American war effort after the United States declared war on Germany in 1917?

Such concerns must have plagued the New York City Mayor’s Committee on National Defense when it planned the pageant parade for July 4, 1918. According to a New York Times article from 1918, the parade was organized so that Americans of foreign birth could demonstrate their loyalty to the United States. A reporter wrote: “…in this long, kaleidoscopic pageant, now bright with splendid costumes, now drab with long columns of civilians…there was slowly woven a picture of fighting America of today, a land of many bloods but of one ideal.”

In the parade, many immigrants wore their native clothing but carried American flags, in a symbolic reconciliation of their dual identities as foreigners and Americans.
Today, questions remain about what defines an American - is it the length of residence in the United States, the right to vote, or the country of birth? We no longer have such choreographed displays of patriotism as the 1918 pageant parade, but you can be sure that people of manifold nationalities will be watching the fireworks across the United States this Saturday, July 4.

Share your memories of past Independence Day holidays and tell us how you plan to celebrate July 4, 2009!

-posted by Penny King

Next Thursday's Tenement Talk - Jeffrey's Meats

On July 9, master butcher Jeffrey Ruhalter comes to Tenement Talks to discuss his work and how things have and have not changed in the Essex Street Market and on the Lower East Side. 6:30 pm, 108 Orchard Street at Delancey.

Here's Jeffrey's pig butchering tutorial on (vegetarians, beware):

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Historic Preservation Update - Manhattan and Brooklyn Buildings Receive Landmark Status

In a single day last week, the Landmarks Commission scheduled hearings on 1,100 buildings seeking landmark designation and took several sites under its wing- a record for the agency that's been protecting New York's historic structures for over four decades, following the demolition of Stanford White's grand, original Penn Station in 1963. On June 23rd, it named an 850-building section of Prospect Heights a historic district, and granted landmark status to several buildings in Manhattan: a four story red brick apartment house on the corner of Greenwich and Rector Streets (built in 1799 as a private residence in what was then one of New York's most fashionable neighborhoods, and converted over the years into a men's boarding house, pub, hotel, and mixed use space), a five and a half story townhouse on East 51st Street occupied at the turn of the century by a wealthy granite contractor, and a 19th century Harlem church. For more details, check out this press release.

Early 20th Century row houses in the newly declared Prospect Heights Historic District

-posted by Liana Grey

Walt Whitman Archive

Portrait of Walt Whitman by Samuel Hollyer, courtesy of the Walt Whitman Archive

Walt Whitman died in Camden, New Jersey in 1892, and spent several months in New Orleans before the Civil War, where he witnessed the horrors of slavery first hand - but all his life, the Long Island-born writer was a New Yorker through and through. He founded a weekly Long Island newspaper, edited the Brooklyn Eagle and the abolitionist journal Brooklyn Freeman, and penned, in his famous anthology Leaves of Grass, a poem about crossing the East River on the Brooklyn Ferry. An excerpt:

Cross from shore to shore, countless crowds of passengers!
Stand up, tall masts of Mannahatta!—stand up, beautiful hills of Brooklyn!
Throb, baffled and curious brain! throw out questions and answers!
Suspend here and everywhere, eternal float of solution!
Gaze, loving and thirsting eyes, in the house, or street, or public assembly!
Sound out, voices of young men! loudly and musically call me by my nighest name!
Live, old life! play the part that looks back on the actor or actress!
Play the old role, the role that is great or small, according as one makes it!

In belated celebration of Whitman's birthday, which would have been May 31st, check out this collection of published works, manuscripts, photos, and a series of letters his brothers George Washington and Andrew Jackson wrote from Union Army base camps during the Civil War.

-posted by Liana Grey