Thursday, October 29, 2009

New Program - Getting By: Past and Present

Announcing a New Program - Getting By: Past and Present
“Kitchen Conversations” Dialogue Program is revised & revamped to be more dynamic and explore issues from multiple perspectives

October 29, 2009, New York, NY—Immigrants today face challenges similar to those faced by newcomers in the past: finding a job, negotiating public assistance, working in unsafe conditions, confronting racial discrimination, and struggling for acceptable housing. On the Lower East Side Tenement Museum’s new program, Getting By: Past and Present, visitors are encouraged to explore these issues from multiple perspectives.

Expanding on the Museum’s Getting By: Immigrants Weathering Hard Times tour, educators lead visitors through restored and un-restored spaces within 97 Orchard Street, discussing housing reform and the role of government assistance during economic depressions. In apartments restored to specific time periods, educators introduce primary sources, such as radio broadcasts, maps, newspapers, photos, and oral histories, to trigger conversation. Visitors are encouraged to share their own thoughts, ideas, and memories surrounding the broader issues of government, class, and “Americanization.” In each space, as well as following the program, visitors engage in a facilitated dialogue, in which they are invited to draw new connections between past and present.

Getting By: Past and Present is a rethinking of Kitchen Conversations, launched in 2004. The Museum developed the public dialogue program as part of its mission to foster an open exchange of ideas among visitors. While Kitchen Conversations was an optional post-tour roundtable discussion, the retooled concept offers in-depth conversation all along the tour. Open-ended questions and opportunities for discussion are more integrated with the tour content. A more flexible program, Past and Present will allow visitors to spend extra time in the Museum’s restored apartments and use their surroundings as a starting point for conversation.

Dialogue programs in museums have become more prevalent in recent years, thanks in part to the work of forward-thinking museums like the Tenement Museum. As Kathleen Hulser, public historian at the New-York Historical Society, said in a March 17, 2009 New York Times article, “People don’t always get along and feel refreshed by having a conversation about things they disagree about.” The museum provides a safe place in which visitors can discuss sometimes controversial issues. Past and Present continues the Tenement Museum’s groundbreaking work in redefining the role museums can play in their communities.

This two-hour program is offered daily at 2:00 PM. In 2010 the Museum plans to launch similar dialogue programs for its other building tours.

Contact the Public Affairs Department for more info: 212-431-0233 x 235, x 231; press-inquiry(at)tenement(dot)org.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Residential History of 103 Orchard Street

If you have followed along over the past week, you know that 103 Orchard Street, future Tenement Museum visitor center, was once three separate tenements, remodeled in 1916 into a single corner building. Here is a brief history of the some of the people who lived in those three buildings around the turn of the century.

The construction of 103, 105, and 107 Orchard coincided with the arrival of large numbers of Eastern-European immigrants to the Lower East Side. Most of the fifty-four families who inhabited these buildings from 1888 - 1900 hailed from the Jewish shtetls of the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires. The majority of them found work in New York’s burgeoning garment industry.

Taken two years after the tenements were erected, the 1890 Police Census represents the first comprehensive official record of their residents. The census documents occupancy by 247 individuals in fifty-four households ranging in size from three to nine people.

While union victories among garment industry workers were few during the 1890s, in 1894, the New York Times described a strike at Meyer Jonasson & Co.’s cloak-making factory on Grand Street. Meyer Jonasson & Co. was a very large garment producer, and during the 1890s the Times reports three separate strikes at their factories.

In the 1894 strike, about 500 workers gathered outside the factory, trying to block non-union replacement employees from going to work. The article states that the women in the crowd were “the worst fighters, and seriously attacked the police, scratching and kicking.” The police arrested one of these women, Mary Schumann of 107 Orchard Street, for slapping an officer in the face and throwing her baby at him when an arrest was attempted.

Already underway by 1890, the neighborhood’s population shift –- from German-speaking to Yiddish-speaking immigrants –- accelerated. A survey completed in 1901 by the United States Industrial Commission describes the changes in population on the Lower East Side:

The Hebrew population in the city, already dense in 1890, . . . has increased tremendously since then. . . . On the East Side they have extended their limits remarkably within the past 10 years[,] . . . driving the Germans before them, until it may be said that all of the East Side below Fourteenth street is a Jewish district. . . .The Germans did not like the proximity of the Jews, and so they left. (1)

According to the 1900 U.S. Census, a total of 269 individuals in 54 households called the tenements at 103, 105, and 107 Orchard Street home in that year. Slightly more than half of the heads of household were employed in the garment industry as tailors, cutters, cloak makers, and pants makers.

The large number of the remainder of heads-of-household were employed in similarly low-wage industries as peddlers and cigar makers. The buildings were also home to a musician, an auto maker, a plumber, two butchers, and a baker. Interestingly, a 103 Orchard Street resident was employed as a Rabbi, while his sons and daughters, ages ranging from 23 to 16, found work as cigar makers.

Through the first decade of the twentieth century, the demographic make-up of the all three tenements remained virtually unchanged. During the decade that witnessed the largest influx of immigrants in national history, the majority of their residents were eastern European garment workers.

(1) Reports of the Industrial Commission on Immigration and on Education (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1901), 465, 469; quoted in Ford, Slums and Housing,183.

- Posted by Dave Favaloro, Research Manager

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Review: Tenement Talk, The New York Times Book of New York

Who can really claim to know New York? One would think that the 306 contributors to the new anthology, The New York Times Book of New York: Stories of the People, the Streets, and the Life of the City Past and Present, might be good candidates. Still, it seems unlikely that any of them would make such a claim. As Sewell Chan, bureau chief of City Room at the Times and one of the writers featured in the book, pointed out, there is a “humility that comes with covering New York,” in part because the city remains “eternally unknowable.”

At a Tenement Talk on October 20, Mr. Chan and three other of the contributors to this compilation of New York stories addressed a packed house at 108 Orchard. James Barron of the Times’ Metro Section moderated the event. In addition to Mr. Chan, he was joined by celebrated Times writers Anna Quindlen and Joseph Berger. Each offered their own experiences living and reporting in New York.

Love for the “unknowable” city was a common theme that the guest speakers shared. Ms. Quindlen recalled that all she ever wanted to be was a general assignment reporter for the Times in New York because she knew there was a “thrill, beauty, and ease” to writing about the city. “If you can’t write it here,” she quipped, “then you need to go to law school.” While working as a young reporter for the paper, Ms. Quindlen would spend her days off riding the subway and discovering unfamiliar neighborhoods, always in pursuit of the “telling details” that journalists crave and with which New York is ripe.

Mr. Berger started exploring New York at an even younger age when, at eight years old, he convinced his brother and a friend to walk with him from their homes on West 102nd Street to Chinatown and back. As an immigrant himself, Mr. Berger has always been fascinated with the polyglot and polychrome nature of the city, which he argues is even more apparent today than in years past. He shared many stories that he has reported on featuring immigrants living in New York and compared their experiences to those of the former residents of 97 Orchard Street.

“I could be a foreign correspondent in this city,” he said, explaining that it’s possible to visit Ecuador on Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights, Russia in Brighton Beach, and Ghana on the Grand Concourse, all for the price of a Metrocard.

It was Mr. Chan’s experience with the New York Times, however, that provoked the most discussion from the audience. Recruited to launch City Room, the Times blog that reports on local issues, a few years ago, Mr. Chan talked about the rapidly changing medium of the Internet. The pace at which news is delivered has become much faster in recent years, and audience members voiced various concerns over the reliability of the information coming out of this new environment.

While the writers agreed that there are challenges, they ensured the audience that all online pieces are subject to the same measures of accuracy and integrity that the Times has employed since 1851. Mr. Chan also pointed out the benefit that blogs and other online media have in their ability to “capture a slice of New York.”

Today, the fact that the number of the newspaper's online readers greatly eclipses the number of print readers triggers different sentiments in different people. But in the end, Mr. Barron brought the discussion back to the book, reminding the audience that if there are indeed still books in 20 years, then the Times will be able to publish a similar anthology, no matter how they get the news to us in the meantime.

-- Posted by Kristin Shiller

Kristin Shiller is a member of the Tenement Museum’s Orchard Street Contemporaries. After moving to New York City a few years ago to work at an education nonprofit, Kristin got involved with the Museum as a volunteer educator, giving tours of the Confino apartment. Last fall, Kristin's interest in immigrant life was reinvigorated when she had the opportunity to do extensive research of her own family tree while helping her mother plan a family reunion. Shortly afterward, she decided to get involved with the Orchard Street Contemporaries.

The Orchard Street Contemporaries is a group of young professionals committed to advancing the mission of the Tenement Museum by connecting the immigrant history of the LES to the vibrancy of the neighborhood today through social events, networking and museum programming. The group provides a forum for exploration of our nation’s immigrant heritage and what that means for us now.

For more info, fan the OSC on Facebook or join the mailing list by emailing osc(at)

Monday, October 26, 2009

More Famous Mucisians in 97 Orchard Street

Some folks took an interest in #17 on our list of "20 Things You Don't Know About the Tenement Museum." Yup, Metallica did have a photo shoot here. 

That would be Lars Ulrich in the second floor ruin.

On the second floor landing, by the stairs.
There's no record of which magazine published these photos (my file has disappeared), but it was probably in May or June 2004, which means the shoot likely took place several months earlier. Perhaps a reader recognizes the photos and can tell us which photographer it was, or an old Tenement staffer will come forward with some memories of this particular adventure?
Other stars have spent time here, too.

This is Ryan Adams in Q magazine, September 2003 (photographs by Chris Buck). I have no idea what he's doing, but he's standing in front of one of eight painted medallions that line the first floor hallway of 97 Orchard Street. They were likely added around 1905, when the entry way was refurbished with the addition of tile flooring, pressed metal ceilings, and painted burlap wall covering. The refurbishment also corresponded to the year when indoor toilets and an air shaft were installed in the tenement (they were mandated by law in 1901 with the Tenement House Act). 

Visitors - and indeed early researchers working on this building - were surprised to find such intricate painting in working-class housing. Around the time these were painted, our block of Orchard Street was probably the most densely populated place in the world. And yet, poignantly, our artist painted bucolic rural scenes on each of these circles. The one behind Ryan Adams' head has been left under a layer of grime, coal dust, and New York City dirt, but we've restored another in the hallway and you can see a small cottage in a field, looking rather like a little farm from the old country.

For the record, this is the Confino family apartment, in which visitors are allowed to sit on chairs and touch objects. Even stars are not allowed to touch collection objects in regular apartments. Don't do this on a regular tour! You shouldn't operate a Victrola yourself without proper training, either - they can be easily broken. It was probably easier to find a Victrola repair man in 1916 than it is today (just ask Derya, our collections manager, who is in charge of fixing ours when it breaks down. Thank goodness that Waves LLC is right here in Manhattan).

Why are photgraphers so interested in 97 Orchard Street? I guess they like the historical fabric as much as we do. So many interesting colors and textures to play off... there are a hundred million stories you can imagine taking place in this building. The stories we tell on our tours are just a handful of possibilities...

- Posted by Kate
a family halloween celebration at the tenement museum

Saturday, October 31 from 10 am - Noon

Bring your family to wander the halls of 97 Orchard Street. You may bump into someone you didn't expect to find home...
  • Costumed storytellers in every apartment
  • Vintage-style family photographs
  • Doughnuts and cider
  • Candied apples
  • 97 Orchard Street between Broome & Delancey. J/MF to Delancey/Essex
  • $15 for adults or children (hey, that's cheaper than a regular museum tour! And I get a doughnut? Sweet!)
  • Purchase online - Adult Ticket or Child Ticket
Other Details:
  • Ages 4+, please
  • Please purchase tickets in advance
  • For questions, please call Pamela at 212-431-0233 x225 or email her.
Don't be scared... come join us!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Weekly Immigration News

 New resting place for mass grave immigrants in New York
(Irish Times, October 19, 2009)
IN THE mid-19th century, newly arrived Irish immigrants wandered Staten Island, penniless and disoriented, scrounging for food, waiting for children, spouses, siblings or parents interned in the quarantine hospital to die or be discharged. They were remembered here this weekend, at a moving ceremony that united those who left Ireland and those who stayed, forever linked by what Edward Cardinal Egan called “the immense suffering” of the emigrants.

In Chinatown, Sound of the Future Is Mandarin
(New York Times, October 21, 2009)
He grew up playing in the narrow, crowded streets of Manhattan’s Chinatown. He has lived and worked there for all his 61 years. But as Wee Wong walks the neighborhood these days, he cannot understand half the Chinese conversations he hears.Cantonese, a dialect from southern China that has dominated the Chinatowns of North America for decades, is being rapidly swept aside by Mandarin, the national language of China and the lingua franca of most of the latest Chinese immigrants.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

20 Things You Didn’t Know About 97 Orchard Street

1. 7,000 people from 20 countries lived at 97 Orchard Street from 1863-1935.

2. The Museum has identified over 1,300 by name.

3. 97 Orchard Street is a pre-Old Law tenement.

4. The German immigrant who built it lived there from 1863-1868.

5. The first tenants were mainly from Bavaria, Prussia, Saxony, and Hanover.

6. Later tenants came from Italy, Russia, and the Ottoman Empire.

7. 97 Orchard Street was a step up from other housing available in 1863.

8. During the 1870s, a Bavarian immigrant named John Schneider ran a saloon in the basement.

9. Later, he moved the saloon across the street to 98 Orchard.

10. Stores like Claman Stove Repair and Feltly’s hat shop also rented space.

11. A palmist named Dora Meltzer told fortunes out of her apartment in the late 19th century.

12. In 1900, about 110 people called the building home.

13. Each apartment is 325-360 square feet.

14. In 1935, the upstairs apartments were shuttered.

15. Retail tenants used the apartments for storage and wrote some of their inventory calculations on the walls.

16. In 1988 these tenants still used the c. 1905 hallway toilets.

17. In a 1993 rear yard dig, we found a beer mug dated to the mid-19th century.

18. The hallway’s mahogany banister dates to 1863.

19. Some apartments in the museum have 22 layers of wallpaper.

20. We found over 4,750 other objects on the property of 97 Orchard Street.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

20 Things You Didn’t Know About the Tenement Museum

  1. The Tenement Museum was chartered in 1988.

  2. Museum founder Ruth Abram was a civil rights activist.

  3. The Museum started with only $75,000 in seed money.

  4. The first exhibit was called “Meddling with Peddling.”

  5. Early offices were in the Eldridge Street Synagogue.

  6. The first restored apartments featured the Baldizzi and Gumpertz families.

  7. Tea towels in the Baldizzi apartment once belonged to the family.

  8. The Museum opened the Confino Family Program in 1997.

  9. The tour’s original name was “Music and Mantas.”

  10. Today six different actresses regularly play Victoria Confino.

  11. In 1996, the Tenement Museum purchased 97 Orchard Street.

  12. The Helpern family had owned it since 1911.

  13. Last year over 150,000 people visited us.

  14. Our artifact collection includes over 9,000 objects.

  15. 80 cents of every dollar the Museum earns goes into its education programs.

  16. The Museum has inspired fiction writers like Kevin Baker & Joseph O’Connor.

  17. Metallica once held photo shoots inside 97 Orchard Street.

  18. The pawn shop scene from Men in Black was filmed in our old visitor center, 90 Orchard.

  19. Future plans include a tour about the storefronts of 97 Orchard.

  20. Since 1988, the Tenement Museum has hosted over 1 million visitors.
Here's something interesting for those of you who are interested in labor history. We talk a lot about the garment industry and unions on the Piecing it Together tour.

This is pulled from the NY Times City Room blog, where historian Joshua Freeman (author of Working-Class New York: Life and Labor Since World War II) is answering questions.

Q: In your opinion, what were the primary causes and repercussions of the early 20th-century conflicts between the various leftist unions in the New York City’s garment center?

For example, in his landmark book “World of Our Fathers,” Irving Howe wrote: “If anything, the Jewish Communists were more ferocious than their gentile comrades, for when Joseph Boruchowitz, the Communist leader of the cloak union started debating a Forvetsnik (a Forward supporter), what erupted was not just a difference of opinion but a seething hatred between men who only yesterday had known one another intimately.” (Page 333) — Posted by Miles T. Wood

A. The battles among leftists in the New York garment unions were part of a worldwide fight between communists and socialists, which broke out in the wake of the Russian Revolution. New York leftists had disagreements about union strategy and national politics, but the heart of their conflict lay in loyalties to contending international movements. As Irving Howe suggested, the social and political proximity of the factionalists added to the bitterness between them. In few places in America besides the world of radical New York labor were socialists called “the right wing.” During the mid-1920s, leftist factionalism crippled several unions, including the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. The inability of communists and socialists to work together, except during brief periods, diminished their influence on the larger labor movement, (though it nonetheless was considerable, especially in New York).

Anyone have a different perspective?

- Posted by Kate

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Cool Cultural Museums Downtown

The Italian-American Museum, our neighbor on Mulberry Street, just celebrated its first year this past Columbus Day. They are situated in a former bank on the corner of Grand and explore the Italian-American community that once thrived in this part of lower Manhattan.

Read more about it on the Urban Oyster blog.

Also, our other neighbor, the Museum of the Chinese in America, recently opened a beautiful new space on Centre Street south of Kenmare. A visit to their permanent exhibit, which explores the Chinese immigrant and Chinese-American experience in the United States, is a great compliment to a Tenement Museum tour. They have lots of fun interactive things to watch, listen to, and fiddle around with.

It's pretty awesome that you can explore so many different cultural museums (don't forget the Museum at Eldridge Street for the Jewish-American experience) right here south of Houston Street. Think we're giving Fifth Avenue a run for its money yet?

- Posted by Kate

Monday, October 19, 2009

Schmatta: Rags to Riches to Rags

Tonight HBO will be broadcasting a new documentary called "Schmatta: Rags To Riches To Rags." While the film tells the story of the rise of New York's Garment District, it will also be focusing on its decline. The garment industry, which had once been a microcosm of economic and social forces, is now on the verge of disappearing. For instance, in 1965 the U.S. manufactured 95% of America's clothing. Today that number is down to 5%.

In case you would like to read more or watch the preview, see:

- Posted by Rachel

Friday, October 16, 2009

History of 103 Orchard Street

Standing across the street from the corner tenement at 103 Orchard today, there is little evidence suggestive of the immense changes it has undergone since it was erected in the late 19th century. In 1888, the wood-frame dwellings at 103, 105, and 107 Orchard were replaced by three separate, individual dumbbell tenements, each 25 feet wide by 88.6 feet deep, each with 18 individual apartments.

Commissioned by Michael Fay and William Stacom, and constructed by architects Rentz and Lange for the sum of $25,000, these three tenements were built according to requirements of the 1879 Tenement House Act, known also as the “old law.”

The light and air requirements of the Act were physically manifested in the form of the dumbbell tenement, with its characteristic airshaft. Though the new design was intended to ameliorate the dark, dank interior rooms of pre-old law tenements (like 97 Orchard), they too soon became burdened with their own problems. Just eight years after being built, 105 Orchard Street was mentioned in a September 1895 New York Times article as a building the Board of Health would forcibly vacate if “not put in better sanitary condition within five days.”

In 1903, Delancey Street was widened as an approach to the newly built Williamsburg Bridge. In this widening, the tenements at 109, 111, and 113 Orchard Streets were demolished and cleared. The corner building at 83 Delancey Street was cleared as well. For about three years, the Delancey Street end of the block probably looked as if something was missing—the end of the street just shorn off. In 1906, the tenements at 103, 105, and 107 Orchard Street were purchased by Joseph Marcus, founder and president of the Bank of the United States. He completed major alterations that turned 107 Orchard into a corner building. Total cost: about $10,000.

The 1906 alteration was only the first of a series of changes that occurred at 103, 105, and 107 Orchard during the first decades of the 20th century. Undoubtedly the most far-reaching of these occurred in 1913. According to this Tenement House Department “Application to Alter a Tenement House,” 103, 105, and 107 Orchard were combined to create one building.

The description of alterations reads, “Rear part of all the buildings and southerly building to be removed; lots to be reapportioned and buildings altered so as to make one corner building. All stairs to be removed and new fireproof stairs erected. Partitions to be altered and bathrooms installed.”

Before completion, these major alterations were met with some concern by the Tenement House Department. In this series of memoranda from July 1913, Acting Commissioner Abbot notes his opinion that “the three original buildings have been so changed in form, occupancy and location that the portion of the structure remaining when alterations are completed constituted so different a type of structure that existed originally that I feel the Department would have to treat the alteration of such a gigantic nature requiring the filing of the application form for a new law tenement…”

The old dumbbell tenements were altered to create one, single new law tenement. While each of the original buildings had 18 apartments, for a total of 54, the new building at 103 Orchard Street had a total of only 16 individual apartments, or four apartments on each of the second, third, fourth, and fifth floors. No residential units existed on the first or ground floor after 1913, as this level was dedicated commercial space. Sometime between 1913 and 1917, one apartment on the second floor was turned into a dentist’s office. In 1938, another apartment on the second floor was discontinued and used for storage. From 1938 to the present, 103 Orchard Street has had a total of 14 individual residential apartments.

103 Orchard Street photo courtesy Municipal Archives.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Slideshow - 103 Orchard Street

Earlier this year the Tenement Museum started selective demolition at 103 Orchard Street. The basement, ground, and second floors of this building will soon be our new visitor center. We're truly excited about being able to offer our visitors, staff, and school groups more space in which to learn, engage, play and work.

Here's a slideshow of what the space looks like now, starting on the ground floor and moving up to the second. Most recently the space was a semi-upscale clothing retailer, with smaller shuttered shops on the Delancey Street side, and market-rate and vacant apartments on the second floor.

Since we can't do the kind of in-depth archeological research here that we did at 97 Orchard Street, it's nice to have a visual record of what's underneath the dry wall and ceiling tiles before new walls go up again.

Tomorrow I'll post a history of 103 Orchard Street, which is pretty complex (multiple buildings combined into one). Ask your questions now or then. In the meantime, enjoy these eerily beautiful images by photographer Keiko Niwa.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Colum McCann nominated for National Book Award

We’re thrilled to learn that Let the Great World Spin by our friend Colum McCann is a finalist for the National Book Award. The National Book Foundation hails this work as “[…] the author’s most ambitious novel yet: a dazzlingly rich vision of the pain, loveliness, mystery, and promise of New York City in the 1970s.”

Colum McCann, a frequent guest speaker at Tenement Talks, is a celebrated Irish author who not only lives in New York City but also writes about it in beautiful, authentic prose. Let the Great World Spin, the newest addition to his repertoire (June 2009), has already been describe as “one of the most electric, profound novels I have read in years.” (Jonathan Mahler in The New York Times.)

You may have been here for the book launch last July or perhaps you remember Colum from St Patrick’s Day 2008, when he said that he would like to “try and touch on a little bit of the magic of this city. On a day like today, when you are Irish, then you feel like, well, you’re everywhere when you’re in New York.”

- Posted by Ariel & Amanda

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Preservation News... Landmarks on the Lower East Side?

Jarmulovsky Bank Building, via Greenwich Village Daily Photo.

In July, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission met to discuss landmark designation for 17 individual historic properties, including:

- 143 Allen Street House, at Rivington Street in Manhattan, a two-story intact Federal style residence constructed c. 1831.

- The Hebrew Actors’ Union, at 31 East 7th Street between Second and Third avenues, constructed in the late 19th century

- The former Germania Fire Insurance Company building, at 357 Bowery, south of Cooper Square, a Second Empire style, 3 ½ story building completed in 1870

- 97 Bowery building, near Hester Street, a five-story Italianate commercial structure with a cast-iron fa├žade constructed c. 1869

- Ridley & Sons Department Store, 319-321 Grand Street between Orchard and Allen streets, one of a pair of five-story, cast-iron buildings constructed c. 1886.

- Jarmulowsky Bank, 54 Canal St. at Orchard Street, a 12-story limestone and brick Beaux Arts style building built 1911-1912

You may remember reading about the Jarmulowsky clan in a past blog post. The Ridleys were just as nutty; read about them on the Inside the Apple blog.

The Ridley & Sons Department Store was a major neighborhood landmark, providing jobs for young immigrant women and fashionable clothes for a fraction of the cost of the stores uptown. The large windows are a sign of the times when indoor lighting was minimal. You can also see where the building was chopped up after Allen Street was widened in the early 20th century. All interesting stuff.

Former Ridley Department Store. Note where the arch in the brown windows abruptly ends - the building was sheared off when the El was torn down and the street was widened.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission recently let us know that they've added these properties to the calendar and will review their historic merit at an upcoming meeting. As it turns out, they are discussing Jarmulowsky at a meeting today. Too bad they don't have a live blogger or a Twitter feed... we'll have to wait to find out how it's going.

This is all good news; while the Commission is waiting to review the buildings, the owners can't alter them or tear them down. The Grand Street property that was once Ridley's is currently up for sale, as was Jarmulowsky's in the spring, so it's definitely a positive step for these properties to have protection.

- Posted by Kate Stober

Tenement Talks Inspiration

While listening to Michelle and James Nevius talk about their new book Inside The Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City last Monday, it became clear to me that history is everywhere – down every street and inside each building. I was inspired to find out what stories I could unearth about the Greenwich Village brownstone I lived in during my first year of college.

My search for the past started at 147 West 4th Street. Even when I was living there, it was obvious from the antiquated fixtures and detailed crown moldings that history had moved up and down the wraparound staircase, through the doorways, and over the creaky wooden floor planks.

A simple internet search revealed that I had inhabited a unique piece of history. Around 1918, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney created the Whitney Studio Club at 147 West 4th Street. This artist sanctuary served as the precursor to the Whitney Museum where works by acclaimed artists such as Edward Hopper were first exhibited; and in a rented room atop the studio, John Reed, the journalist and socialist, compiled the series of articles that became his masterpiece - Ten Days That Shook the World.

In this busy city it's easy to forget to look at the past, but with just a bit of digging, I was able to discover my hidden gem that better connected me to the city I love.

If you missed James & Michelle's talk, listen to a podcast, now up on the Tenement Talks page of our website.

- Posted by Tenement Talks intern Ariel Kouvaras

Friday, October 9, 2009

News from Around Town

Clayton Patterson, longtime Lower East Side documentarian, just released a book with his photographs of neighborhood people from the 1980s and 90s. In conjunction with the book is an exhibit and film screening sponsored by Kinz + Tillou Fine Art and Alfie Presents. You can see the show at 157 Rivington Street any time between now and November 8, but Clayton will be on hand to sign books this Sunday from 3-5pm. If you can't make it, listen to him discuss the Lower East Side, as he remembers it, on the NY Times website.

This Saturday, quirky local history organization City Reliquary is hosting a bake sale to raise money for the museum. Lots of your favorite Brooklyn bake shops have gotten involved. You can support City Reliquary by stopping by Havermeyer between Grand and Metropolitan from 12-6pm.

Also this weekend, be sure to check out Open House New York. Over a hundred sites in all five boroughs will be open to the public for free. This is a great chance to visit some of the City's smaller museums and historic sites. Why not check out the Morris-Jumel Mansion, Alice Austen House, Waterfront Museum & Show Barge, or Weeksville Heritage Center?

Finally, our friend Mick Moloney, who recorded all the 19th century songs used on The Moores: An Irish Family in America tour, is headlining a one-night-only show on October 24 called "If It Wasn't for the Irish and the Jews: A Tribute to Irish and Jewish Influences on Vaudeville and Tin Pan Alley." Mick and lots of other players will interpret the music of the period and celebrate "this charming and unexplored story of good-natured ethnic flux, competition, and cooperation that left a lasting imprint on American popular music." Sounds fun, and tickets are sure to go quick. Click on the link for more info.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Quick Bit o' Bagel

Ed Levine taste tests the City's bagels... with surprising results.

We sell this book on the history of the bagel at the Museum Shop.

Kossar's on Grand Street is a neighborhood favorite, and when we have a staff breakfast, this is where we get our stash.

For a quick bagel-and-egg sandwich, we hit up Happiness on Delancey, which is run by the nicest guys ever. They have been there forever, and they know everybody - from the high school kids who come in for lunch to all of us at the Tenement Museum. They use bagels from H&H.

If you are ambitious, try making your own at home. They are less trouble than you might think, and everybody will be very impressed.

(Photo via Serious Eats)

- Posted by Kate

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Art Beyond Sight Awareness Month

October is Art Beyond Sight Awareness Month, when museums and cultural organizations across the country make a special effort to encourage visitorship among people who are blind and low vision. As you might imagine, this is a population who has been underserved historically by museums.

Already this month, two Tenement educators have reported that they had visitors with low vision on their tours, and the Lower East Side Tenement Museum is one of 200 organizations holding a special event to welcome this population into our museum.

On October 18th, the Tenement Museum will offer a touch and verbal description tour of our newest program, The Moores: An Irish Family in America. Experience the heart of the immigrant saga through the music of Irish America, then tour the restored home of the Moore family, Irish-Catholic immigrants coping with the death of a child in 1869. Compare the Moore's struggle to keep their family healthy with that of the Katz family, Russian-Jewish immigrants who left their mark on our building in the 1930s.

The 1.5 hour tour will begin at the Museum’s Visitor Center at 108 Orchard Street at 2:45 p.m. on Sunday, October 18th. Tickets cost $20 for adults and $15 for students and seniors.

To attend, purchase tickets by Wednesday, October 14th from Sarah Litvin, Education Associate for Living History and Access: Slitvin (at), 212-431-0233 ext. 232.

You can learn more on our accessibility page:

- Posted by Sarah Litvin

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

An Excert from Beg, Borrow, Steal: A Writer's Life

Tomorrow writer Michael Greenberg joins Edmund White for a Tenement Talk on their new books, both memoirs. Below is an excerpt of Greenberg's Beg, Borrow, Steal: A Writer's Life, in which he visits the Tenement Museum.

It's always interesting to view our little museum through a visitor's eyes; we know its stories and spaces so intimately that we sometimes forget what kind of a first impression 97 Orchard Street makes on people. The experience is always personal, as you'll see with Michael's story.

Join us tomorrow night, 6:30 pm, at 108 Orchard Street.


By Michael Greenberg

Excerpted from BEG, BORROW, STEAL: A Writer's Life by Michael Greenberg. Copyright (c) 2009 Michael Greenberg. Reprinted by arrangement with Other Press LLC

Having a couple of hours to kill on the Lower East Side, I wander into the Tenement Museum at 97 Orchard Street. Five choked railroad flats have been recreated with a realism that throws me anxiously into what I imagine to have been the squalor of my paternal grandfather’s first years in New York. The apartments are on display, like artworks into which you can enter, and Pedro, one of the museum’s “educators,” guides a dozen visitors up the building’s tenebrous stairs.

Seven thousand immigrants from twenty countries lived in the tenement between 1863, the year it was built, and 1935, when the landlord, too stretched to comply with a fire-proofing ordinance, turned everyone out. Afterwards, a discount clothing store on the ground floor stored its excess merchandise in the cold rooms upstairs. In 1998 [TM note: it was actually 1988], it had the undisturbed look of a nineteenth century time capsule and was turned into a museum.

Pedro leads us into the reconfigured digs of Nathalia Gumpertz, a German-born single mother of four who moved into the building during the Panic of 1873, when businesses failed, the Stock Exchange temporarily closed, and unemployment rocketed. Tiny windowless rooms; an outhouse shared with customers of the bar downstairs. “The neighborhood was known as Kleindeutschland back then,” Pedro informs us. “It had the fifth largest concentration of German speakers in the world.”

By 1890, East Europeans had overrun Kleindeutschland, and the Lower East Side was the most densely populated neighborhood in America. Twenty years later, my immigrant grandfather hit these streets, “a shtetl nobody,” as he called himself, fifteen years of age, patching discarded trash cans and selling them to slum landlords about town. He bounced from place to place, sleeping where he could, until he was married and moved into a cold water tenement a few blocks from Orchard Street, on Grand. “Mrs. Gumpertz’s great-great-grandson was killed in the World Trade Center,” says Pedro, showing us the picture of a dark-eyed middle aged man.

Pedro ushers us in to the carefully assembled apartment of Harris and Jenny Levine, who lived in their own sweatshop. Everything is organized in its joyless way for work: flat irons on a coal stove, piles of dress sleeves waiting to be basted. A steel bucket with a blanket set in it is where the newborn baby was kept. The single stained bed is no more than a place to collapse. Peeled layers of pasteboard, enamel and linoleum on the floor give it the look of a trampled collage.

After the tour, I feel mildly rebuked when a museum spokeswoman tells me: “This is a site of conscience, not of nostalgia. People personalize what they see, it’s only natural. But we invite our visitors to reflect on the tenement’s contemporary implications. ‘What now? What next? What does life look like to an immigrant in New York today?’” Some people in the museum world thought this approach absurd. “They said we sounded like a social service agency.”

Leaving the museum and walking around the corner, I am confronted with a luxury condominium tower with blue pixilated windows like so many sparkling computer screens. The Lower East Side is one of the four most lucrative neighborhoods in the US in which to buy real estate, with a price appreciation of 125 per cent during the past two years.*

I pass the lopsided former tenement on Grand Street where my grandparents brought up their four children. It’s spruced up now as a one-family home. I picture my Uncle Ellie in those rooms. Seven years older than my father, he bore the mark of those harsh times in a way that my father, more confident and American, did not. Instead of joining the family scrap-metal business, Ellie worked as a crane operator, sliding about in his perch near the skylights of one warehouse or another like a demon in a flying cage. Even near death he was a seething heap of a man, six foot three, his outsized face lit with shattered capillaries and veins.

In 1983, at my father’s request, I accompanied Ellie to the hospital emergency room. “I can’t get myself to do it, Michael. He’s my only brother.” When Ellie was settled in his room, I helped him put on the standard hospital gown. “Where’s Bernie?” he wanted to know, referring to my father. “Why isn’t he here?”

As I was hanging up his pants, an enormous wad of money tumbled to the floor. Ellie insisted that I count it: $493 in singles and fives. “Keep it,” he said. The bills were almost untouchable -- Ellie had been incontinent -- yet without hesitation I stuffed them, reeking and soiled, in my pockets.

I returned to my apartment on the Lower East Side, in a public housing project with a concrete playground that had replaced dozens of razed tenements. Improved living for the poor. I laid out Ellie’s money, with all its sordid, scavenger power. My need for it was a mockery of my attempts to transcend what I regarded as my family’s grasping, immigrant-minded ways. Yet in a crisscross of logic, my very desire for the money drove me to hand it over to my father. As a grown man my father sometimes came home from their scrap-metal yard with blood dribbling out of the corner of his mouth where my grandfather had slugged him. They fought over the business that had lifted them out of the slums. Was it because it had been so scarce that money brought its new version of misery?

After drying the bills on a clothes-line in my bathroom, I invited my father to come over. “Ellie gave me something for you,” I told him. He had never visited me there, and I tried to imagine what my life in that building would look like to him. Two of the three elevators were out of order, and he had to wait fifteen minutes to ride up to my apartment on the nineteenth floor. Walking down the hall, he glimpsed the interior of my Chinese neighbors’ place, their door ajar, as usual, ten or more restaurant workers lying side by side on red blankets across the floor. Maintaining my illusion of purity, I handed him Ellie’s money, folded neatly in a plastic bag.

He took it and left. Or so I thought -- until I found it on the little table by the door. It was just enough to pay a month’s rent.

*Prices calculated from September 2004 to September 2006

Monday, October 5, 2009

Petrosino Square and Kenmare Street, the Lower East Side

Today's post is by special guest-bloggers Michelle and James Nevius, authors of Inside the Apple and its corresponding blog. Michelle and James will be at Tenement Talks tonight to share more great tidbits about the Lower East Side and New York.

If the rumors are to be believed, the renovation work on tiny Petrosino Square on the Lower East Side is nearing completion. (And don’t worry if you never heard of Petrosino Square. Bounded by Lafayette, Cleveland Place, and Kenmare Street, the square lies in a distinct no-man’s land between SoHo, Nolita, and the Lower East Side.)

Until 1987, this small triangle of land was called Kenmare Square; along with nearby Kenmare Street, these were the only places on Lower East Side specifically named to honor the area’s Irish population. Prior to 1911, Kenmare Street – which is a four-block western extension of Delancey Street – didn’t exist. But with traffic increasing on the Williamsburg Bridge, the city’s board of aldermen decided to cut a street west from the Bowery to alleviate overcrowding. Rather than simply naming the new street Delancey, which would have required a complete street renumbering, the aldermen voted instead to honor Tammany Hall stalwart “Big” Tim Sullivan (and his mother) by naming the street after his mother’s birthplace, Kenmare, County Kerry, Ireland.

As Alderman White noted at the time:

“In my boyhood Mrs. Sullivan exercised a motherly care over me as she did over hundreds of boys on the east side. She was one of the noblest women I ever knew, and I registered a vow a long time ago that if I could ever do anything to show my appreciation of what she did for me and other boys I would do so.”

The square was renamed in 1987 to honor police lieutenant Joseph Petrosino, a pioneer in the NYPD’s fight against organized crime. In 1909, Petrosino traveled to Sicily as part of an investigation into the Mafia and was killed by a supposed informant who turned out to be a Mafia assassination. The renaming of the square not only helps mark the area’s Italian heritage, but also its connection to the NYPD whose magnificent former headquarters stands just two blocks south of the square.

Join us for Inside the Apple Tenement Talk tonight, 6:30 PM, at 108 Orchard Street.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Tenement Talks: Melvin Urofsky on Louis D. Brandeis

On Wednesday night, Melvin Urofsky joined us at the Tenement Museum Shop for an informative talk about Louis D. Brandeis: A Life, his biography on the first Jewish Supreme Court Justice. Urofsky, a tall but kind and approachable academic, opted to speak without the microphone, opened with a joke, and commenced his engaging dialogue.

Although born in the United States, Brandeis, we learned, was the son of immigrants from the Czech Republic. He was a hard-working, self-made man who devoted his life to law, eventually becoming the first lawyer to practice pro bono work.

Although Brandeis was not from the Lower East Side, he came to know it during a crucial time - the Garment Strike of 1910 - when he played a fundamental role in drafting a Supreme Court resolution. Touching on this subject, Urofsky noted that“[Brandeis] set up the protocol” which was instrumental in facilitating peace in the garment industry.

- Posted by Ariel, Tenement Talks Intern

Tea Cart Stories Continue on 14th Street

Artist Michele Brody created the Tea Cart Stories exhibition on view in the windows of 97 Orchard Street. She wrote in to let us know that the interactive aspect of the project - listening to people's tea stories over a cup - will continue into the fall:

During the month of October I will continue to gather tea conversations in my roving Tea House - set inside a NYC coffee cart - through the alternative public art Festival Art in Odd Places.

I will be parked on the northeast corner of Irving Place and 14th Street during the following dates and times:

Friday, October 2 (4-6pm)
Saturday-Sunday, October 3-4 (2-6pm)
Friday, October 16 (4-6pm)
Saturday-Sunday, October 17-18 (2-6pm)

Pay Michele a visit and tell her your stories.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Awash in Beer History: Tapping into the Little Germanies of the 19th Century in New York and Brooklyn

Illustration: “A German Institution” Featured in, “Bowery, Saturday Night.” Harper's New Monthly Magazine, April 1871. New York, NY. p.679. Courtesy of Harper's Magazine on-line archives.

Today, a special guest-blog by Cindy VandenBosch, founder of tour company Urban Oyster and beloved former Tenementer.

The history of American brewing is usually associated with cities like Milwaukee and St. Louis, but New York City's history is also awash in beer.

Germans flooded into New York starting in the 1840s, and they brought with them their taste for the beverage as well as their own techniques to brew it. By the end of the century, some of the country's largest brewers were located here in Manhattan and across the river in Brooklyn.

Breweries employed thousands of workers across the city, brewing millions of gallons of beer enjoyed by the city's residents. Germans brought two important innovations to the making and enjoyment of beer in America.

First, they brought a new style of beer – lager. Lighter than the ales and porters of this period, lager could also be stored for longer and transported farther, making it ideally suited for the American palette and the country's vast distances.

Second, they introduced a new way to drink beer – rather than swilling booze in dank saloons, Germans enjoyed their drinks in more social surroundings. Beer drinking was done at singing competitions, the theater, sporting clubs, and outdoor beer gardens or beer halls; it was rarely an end in itself. This practice soon spread to the rest of the American population, who began flocking to the gardens to drink beer among family and friends.

Atlantic Gardens
Celebrating the Capitulation of Sedan at the “Atlantic Garden.” Featured in, “Bowery, Saturday Night.” Harper's New Monthly Magazine, April 1871. New York, NY. p.679. Courtesy of Harper's Magazine on-line archives.

In 1864, just one year after Lukas Glockner opened up 97 Orchard Street to tenants, John Schneider published an official announcement in the German-language paper New-Yorker Staats-Zeitung to invite “friends and acquaintances as well as the honorable musicians” to the opening party for his new saloon, located in the basement of the tenement.

John Schneider's Official Announcement of the Opening of His Saloon:


Hotels and Wirtschaften
“The undersigned makes announcement to his fine friends and acquaintances as well as the honorable musicians, that he has taken over by purchase the saloon of Mr. Schurlein, 97 Orchard Street. Invited to the opening, Saturday, November 12th, with a superb lunch, respectfully.
John Schneider
97 Orchard Street”
While far smaller than the nearby Atlantic Gardens (see above), a massive palace-like establishment on the Bowery that opened its doors in 1858, Schneider's saloon bore little resemblance to the city's traditional barrooms. Women and children were a common sight, and the purchase of a beer included a free lunch, as was often the case in German-owned saloons.

Just a ferry ride across the East River and a three-cent train ride away, another John Schneider (no relation) was hard at work in Brooklyn's “German Town” - what is today the neighborhoods of Williamsburg and Bushwick. This John Schneider was also in the beer business, perfecting his next lager recipe, training brewers, many of whom would go on to become beer barons in their own right, and operating a beer garden and hall adjacent to his brewery.

With the extension of the railroad line from downtown Brooklyn out to Bushwick and Williamsburg in the late 1850s, many more visitors could enjoy a day in the beer gardens of German Town for less than ten cents. The Brooklyn Daily Times declared about Schneider's hall in 1861,

“Schneider’s brewery is known far and near as the largest one making the best lager and having the jolliest, best-natured proprietor of any in this city. His gardens and his halle are also the largest, finest, and most aristocratic of any in the State. During the warm weather thousands daily visit them, lounge around, play billiards, listen to the sweetest of music and – drink lager of course.”
Schneider's business was so successful in those days that by 1870 his brewery, beer gardens, and hall had expanded to nearly an entire block, taking up 20 lots in the heart of a neighborhood that had over 300 saloons and more than 10 breweries at the time.

Today, only one building remains from John Schneider's old brewing business, but there are remnants of other breweries from that time period still standing (see below), as well as historic structures associated with beer drinking and the German community of the 19th century.

Once one of the city’s largest breweries, this 19th century brewery building still stands and is being used for recordings studios. Photo courtesy of Nathan Kensinger.

After a long absence, breweries and beer gardens have started to return to New York. No longer owned by German immigrants and their descendants, many establishments still try to reflect the city's rich brewing history.

For example, Brooklyn Lager, one of the most popular beers in the city, includes an old recipe from Brooklyn's pre-Prohibition days. Beer gardens serving fine craft beers and traditional German dishes (though the lunches are no longer free) are growing in popularity again – places like
Radegast Hall & Biergarten in Williamsburg and the Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden in Astoria, Queens.

Just one year from now, the Tenement Museum will open an exhibit dedicated to telling the story of John Schneider's saloon within the context of the German immigrant community on the Lower East Side in the mid to late 19th century.

If you would like to learn more about the story of beer brewing in New York, both past and present, join us for our
Brewed in Brooklyn tour on Saturdays and Sundays between March and December.

This tour begins with a visit to the Brooklyn Brewery and a sampling of various beers on tap, and then we head over to the heart of the old Brewers Row in the eastern part of Williamsburg where we explore what it was like to live, worship, and work in the '”Little Germany” of Brooklyn in the mid to late 19th century.

Along the way, we visit a couple of mom and pop businesses and a beautiful church that was built by German immigrants; hear the stories of residents past and present; and, of course, taste some of the finest food and beer Brooklyn has to offer today. For more information and to make a reservation, please visit

Cindy VandenBosch is the co-founder of Urban Oyster, a company dedicated to creating tour experiences that explore the past and present of neighborhoods in New York City with an emphasis on local consumption and production, historic preservation, cultural diversity, and sustainability. She was formerly the Education Coordinator at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.