Monday, July 19, 2010

97 Orchard Street's Decor and Architecture

What is the architectural detail on the façade, archways, and cornices of the buildings?

The front façade of 97 Orchard Street is an extremely simple version of the Italianate style, the most popular style for buildings erected in New York City during the early 1860s.
By the time 97 Orchard Street was built, the Italianate style, featuring arched openings for doors and windows, projecting stone lintels (a supporting wood or stone beam across the top of an opening, such as that of a window or door or fireplace), and foliate brackets (decorated with carved leaves), had filtered down to even the most modest projects. At 97 Orchard Street, the brick façade of the upper floors is ornamented by segmental-arch window openings (the circular arch above each window in which the inner circle is less than a semicircle) with brownstone trim. An Italianate projecting-metal cornice caps the façade and is coated with brownstone-colored sand paint.

What do we know about the wallpaper in 97 Orchard Street?

Around 1905, the main hall on the first floor was redesigned with the addition of an inexpensive, but durable covering of burlap painted red, and later shellacked with a brown varnish. In the late 1880s, wallpaper began to replace paint on the front room walls of apartments in 97 Orchard Street. We believe the landlord arranged for the walls to be papered probably every time new tenants moved into an apartment. Landlords may have opted to use wallpaper instead of paint because with its busy patterns, it better hid imperfections in the walls. In some cases tenants apparently added wallpaper in order to beautify the room.

In some of the apartments at 97 Orchard Street, up to 22 layers of wallpaper were discovered by paper conservator Reba Fishman Snyder. 7-10 layers of paint were found underneath the wallpaper in the front rooms. The walls of the kitchens and bedrooms exhibit an average of 37 to 39 layers of paint. Because the building was occupied for 72 years (from 1864 through 1935), simple statistical analysis shows that the interior surfaces were painted approximately every two years.

All photos can be found at the Tenement Museum's online photo archive,, and are part of the Museum's collection. Arch photo and facade photo by Jerome Liebling.

- Posted by Kate

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