Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Tenement Museum presenting at CUNY's ESL Night

From Pedro Garcia, Education Associate for Training & Outreach:

In an effort to increase visibility for the Museum's Shared Journeys program, last week I attended “ESL Night,” hosted by CUNY. Around 100 ESOL/ESL teachers from the CUNY system attended this conference. Shared Journeys uses the stories of immigrants past and present to teach English to adult ESOL learners.

I led one of several workshops about using history when teaching English language learners. I gave a presentation on the Museum, Shared Journeys and the overall work we do to engage contemporary immigrants.

It's inspiring to share our work with others, especially this program, which is close to the hearts of many of us who work here. Many of our Shared Journeys participants are surprised and moved to find out how closely their stories connect to those of past immigrants. It's always a moving experience for our educators, as well.

Email me to learn more about Shared Journeys.

- posted by Pedro

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Groundbreaking at Visitors & Education Center

We're so pleased to have formally started construction on the Tenement Museum's new visitors and education center, the Sadie Samuelson Levy Immigrant Heritage Center.

This Center marks a huge step forward for the Museum, allowing us to provide new classrooms for our school groups, an enlarged gathering space for public visitors, a demonstration kitchen, and a larger museum shop. Furthermore, we'll be out of a rental space and into our own building for the first time. That means our visitors and education center should remain at 103 Orchard Street for a long time to come. We couldn't be more excited to start the next chapter.

At the groundbreaking ceremony last Thursday, we were joined by members of the Leon Levy family, who were representing his Foundation; the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs; Museum trustees; and Borough President Scott Stringer. The speakers made remarks about how meaningful our immigration culture and heritage are to New York City. We look forward to having everyone back at our opening ceremonies this fall!

Breaking ground (or wall).

The Borough President makes remarks.

Museum co-founder, trustees, and staff.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Photos from the Triangle

Today marks the 99th anniversary of the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, which killed 146 people in 1911. It remains one of New York's deadliest workplace disasters.

Triangle fire. Digital ID: 804792. New York Public Library

[Fire escape of Asch building ... Digital ID: 804790. New York Public Library

[Interior of the Asch building... Digital ID: 804791. New York Public Library

Images courtesy NYPL.

Many publications offered up images of the fire, such as these from McClure's Magazine. This visual media brought the horror into homes across the country. Middle-class readers of McClure's were faced with the reality that many of their shirtwaists, dresses, stockings, suspenders, trousers, and shoes were produced under unethical conditions in factories like these. While the workers and the unions had been protesting for years, the Triangle encouraged the middle and upper-middle classes to join the fight in earnest.

Today there are many ways you can honor those who died in the fire and all those who fought for factory reforms - join the memorial service in front of the building, off Washington Square Park, at noon, or come to the Tenement Musuem's talk tonight with Kevin Baker, historical novelist; Steven Greenhouse, New York Times labor reporter; and our own Annie Polland, vice president of education. (Those of you looking forward to hearing David Von Drehle, author of Triangle - he has unfortunately had to cancel due to an illness in the family.)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Public Housing Projects

The La Guardia and Wagner Archives at CUNY have a wonderful database of information about the city, especially during the 1930s and 1940s. If you haven't checked it out before, it's highly recommended.

They recently put some photos from their collection on Flickr, and they're fascinating. I was particularly interested in the NY Public House set, which includes images relating to the public housing projects constructed in NYC in the mid-20th century. Many of those projects displaced tenants from their homes, which the government considered sub-standard.

The archive includes a number of pre-development site photos, which are pretty interesting if you never saw the former buildings in person. There are also images of the new construction which provide a good counterpoint to the empty-lot photos and, I think, complicate our notions of what public housing and "slum clearance" projects meant to the city and to the people who lived here then.

Here are some of my favorites from the set:

Here's an arial shot showing the new Lillian Wald and Jacob Riis projects on the East River, along with Sty-Town to the north, from 1949:

An aerial shot of Manhattan that spotlights the newly constructed wall of public housing on the East River -- Lillian Wald and Jacob Riis -- and the middle-class private city at the right, Stuyvesant Town, circa 1949.

Here's a woman in her tenement apartment building in Chelsea, summer 1941. This apartment looks so much like our restored Baldizzi apartment. We probably have the same model washtub (cheapest available):

Tenement kitchen in the Chelsea section of Manhattan, August 26, 1941.

Here's another tenement kitchen, this one on the Lower East Side, in 1945:

Kitchen of a Lower East Side (East Village) tenement that was torn down to clear a 16 acre site for Wald Houses, November 28, 1945.

Here's a look at Orchard and Rivington in 1936. Thankfully this street was never razed:

Rivington is the cross street, but the street with all the pushcarts is unidentified (it is probably Orchard Street), October 28, 1936.

But, these tenements on 4th and D were - they were on the site of the present-day Wald Houses:

East 4th Street and Avenue D on the Lower East Side (East Village), future site of Wald Houses, July 1945.

These also met the wrecking ball (Baruch Houses, 1950):

A tenement being demolished on the Lower East Side for 'phase 2' of Baruch Houses, November 1950.

Stores like this one, on the site of the future Lincoln Center, lost their spaces and the neighborhood clientele who shopped there:

Bee Hive store at 86 Amsterdam Avenue, "5c-10c-19c and up Dep't Store," March 14, 1941. The San Juan Hill neighborhood had a large concentration of African-Americans.

On the other hand, couples like this one found promise in new, clean homes with modern technology, which were in short supply after the war. So much of the city's housing stock was old and deteriorating that new buildings were much appreciated (1947):

NYCHA board member Frank Crosswaith presents Mr. and Mrs. Eddie L. Riley with the key to their new apartment at Lincoln Houses, East Harlem, 1947.

Housing projects like the Red Hook Houses also provided classrooms for immigrants to learn English, like this one below (1940):

A classroom for immigrants learning to speak English probably at Red Hook Houses community center in Brooklyn, September 24, 1940. Is that Hyman Kaplan at the back of the room?

Have a look through the La Guardia and Wagner Archives' Flickr set and let us know which photos strike you the most.

 - posted by kate

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Immigrants and War

Tonight we're hosting a talk with David Laskin, who has written a remarkable book about twelve men who fought for the United States in World War I. While 2.5 million American soldiers fought in the war, nearly one out of five - some half a million - were immigrants.

What questions this small fact brings up for us... what was it like for these men to find themselves back in Europe, fighting for their new nation? Were they trusted citizen-soldiers? And, of course, what must it be like for any immigrant to fight for a new nation? How can we connect their stories to today, when about 31,000 non-citizen immigrants are currently enlisted in the US Armed Forces? In 2002, President Bush signed an executive order that allowed any immigrant soldier to apply for immediate citizenship instead of waiting the customary three years (already about two years shorter than other immigrants). As of January, military applicants can expect to wait a year.

Of course, there is no end to discussion about these policies (just read the comments section on any of the linked articles!). As always, at the Tenement Museum we hope that, by providing a historical perspective, we will provoke thought and discussion about these timely issues.

I hope you'll join us to hear Laskin's story - well, really, the story of Andrew Christofferson, Meyer Epstein, Antonio Pierro and the other nine soldiers in his book - and bring your opinions and questions.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

"Apartment Houses of the Metropolis"

A model tenement house. 224-22... Digital ID: 465717. New York Public Library
A model tenement house. 224-226 Avenue B; Plan of first floor; Plan of upper floors. (1908). Built by Charles I. Weinstein, 1904 / Architect - Geo. F. Pelham. Collection: NYPL.

A model tenement house. 310 Ea... Digital ID: 465716. New York Public Library
A model tenement house. 310 East Houston Street; Plan of first floor; Plan of upper floors. Built by Charles I. Weinstein, 1905 / Architect - Geo. F. Pelham. Collection: NYPL.

Two model tenement houses. 504... Digital ID: 465718. New York Public Library
Two model tenement houses. 504-508 East 12th Street; Plan of first floor; Plan of upper floors. (1908) Built by Charles I. Weinstein, 1905 / Architect - Geo. F. Pelham. Collection: NYPL.

These designs were meant to provide more air and light for residents, ideally making them more sanitary places to live than traditional tenement houses.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A letter, revealed

Back in November, we found a letter in the basement fireplace of 97 Orchard Street. It had clearly fallen behind a wall and had sat there, untouched, perhaps as far back as 1933, when it was mailed.

We couldn't open the letter until it had been re-humidified. Paper gets very brittle with age, and we were worried we'd rip the letter or, worse, that it would crumble into dust before our eyes.

Everyone was abuzz about what could be inside. Friends on Twitter wondered if it was a love letter, hidden where it wouldn't be found. We knew only that a man named Mr. Scher (to whom the letter was addressed) was a mentor to Max Marcus, who ran an auction house in 97 Orchard Street in the 1930s.

On our blog post, we received a couple of helpful comments. James from Inside the Apple looked up PO Box 743, the return address, and traced it to the Biddle Purchasing Company. A few months later, a man with family ties to the company wrote in with more information: "Biddle was a purchasing and buying service for the hardware trades, including Automotive, opening for business in 1879."

So, we had a purchasing company (a middleman) writing a letter to a jobber (another kind of middleman). Was it a business note? Would we find a form letter or perhaps something more personal inside?

Well, a few weeks ago we were finally able to open the envelope. And we found... an invoice and packing slip. Hmm.

All we know about New Aseptic Laboratories is what a quick Google search turned up - that they were a Columbia, South Carolina company that had several cases filed against them in the 1940s for " the mis-branding of absorbent cotton" -- shipping "sterile cotton" that was not, in fact, sterile. We don't know why Biddle Purchasing was sending an invoice from another company.

Okay, so after all that build up, paperwork probably seems pretty mundane. But here at the Tenement Museum, we're all about the mundane, those bits of ephemera that make up our daily lives and those of the thousands of working-class people who lived in 97 Orchard Street. It's the reason we save bottle caps, petrified bagels, love notes, sheet music, handmade scooters, and even crack vials (yup, someday we'll want to tell the story of the 1980s, too).

So yes, we think this packing slip and invoice can tell us something about work and business here at 97 Orchard Street, perhaps fill in some gap later on down the line. And you never know - something amazing could be discovered thanks to this long-lost correspondence.

- posted by kate

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

More Berenice Abbott on the Lower East Side

A stretch of Grand Street (no.s 511-513), outdated in 1937 when this photo was taken, that, miraculously, still stands.

Grand Street, nos. 511-513, Ma... Digital ID: 482691. New York Public Library

View Larger Map

Thursday, March 11, 2010

More from the Berenice Abbott Collection

Roast corn man, Orchard and He... Digital ID: 482845. New York Public Library

A roast corn man, at the corner of Orchard and Hester (courtesy NYPL). May 3, 1938.

As of December 1, 1938, most forms of street vending were outlawed in New York City. Along the lines of Abbott's other photos, this was part of the "changing" city. Two vendors are clearly seen street peddling, despite the ban.

Read more (pdf) from Suzanne Wasserman, head of the Gotham Center for New York City History.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

55-57 Allen Street

Allen Street, no. 55-57, Manha... Digital ID: 482676. New York Public Library

55-57 Allen Street, between Grand and Hester. These buildings are gone now. The El was torn down not long after the photo was taken.

The photo is by Berenice Abbott, February 11, 1937. It's part of the "Changing New York" collection at the New York Public Library.

A terrific book for anyone who loves photography and New York history/architecture is New York Changing, which revisits these classic Abbott photos at the turn of the 21st century. Like Abbott, Douglas Levere finds many things changed, but many vestiges of the old days remaining. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Depression-Era Talk Tonight

Wasn’t the depression terrible... Digital ID: 1103812. New York Public Library

Tonight we have a talk with Kirstin Downey on Frances Perkins, the secretary of labor under FDR, who spearheaded much of the social welfare legislation of the 1930s.

Join us at 108 Orchard Street, 6:30-7:30 PM.

Image courtesy NYPL.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Around the Web

International Women's Day, first celebrated in the United States by factory laborers and suffragists in 1909, is a global day of awareness for women's rights.

Museums and events celebrating March 8 and Women's History Month locally.

At the Irish Shrine & Railroad Workers Museum in Baltimore, "the Museum's founder claims that the museum, now comprising two homes tucked into a block of two-and-a-half story brick rowhouses built in 1848, offers the earliest glimpse into urban immigrant life in the United States." Road trip anyone?
[The Urbanite]
[The Irish Shrine]

The retail transition on Delancey Street near the Williamsburg Bridge, where shops became a movie theater and then became more shops.
[Bowery Boogie]

Our neighor at 95 Orchard Street, Il Laboratorio del Gelato, will move to Ludlow Street in June.
[New York Times Diner's Journal]

Friday, March 5, 2010

Young Professionals: Drink In the LES!

Join us on Thursday for an awesome evening benefiting the Tenement Museum. Enjoy the artwork (featuring images from the Museum's collection!) and drink up: part of your bar tab will go back to the Museum. It's a win-win for everybody!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Mick Moloney, a Gorgeous Former Synagogue, and Brooklyn Brewery Beer

All of these things came together Tuesday night at a Tenement Talk entitled "If It Wasn't for the Irish and the Jews." Mick Moloney, an ethno-musicologist, specializes in 19th and early 20th century American music. He's particularly interested in the way that cultures intermingle in song. He's done a lot of work to investigate the American music scene in its early days.

His latest CD focuses on an unlikely cross-cultural collaboration between Irish and Jewish Americans at the end of the 19th century. Musicians, songwriters, and performers easily swapped identities based on the direction the music industry was going... George M. Cohan, for instance, the writer of such classics as "Give My Regards to Broadway" and "You're a Grand Old Flag" was the son of Irish immigrants whose family name was Keohane. His parents were in show business on the Vaudeville stage, so perhaps there was specific intent when they changed their name to Cohan, which at a glance seems like Cohen, a common Jewish name. Working with many Jewish songwriters and performers, Cohan likely took advantage of this misconception to gain a foot hold in his industry. As always in show biz, performers would change their names if it helped to insure their success.

Here's a bit of the title song, written and composed by William Jerome (ne Flannery) and Jean Schwartz:

What would this great Yankee nation
Really, really ever do?
If it wasn't for a Levy,
A Mon-a-han or Don-a-hue,
Where would we get our policemen?
Why Uncle Sam would have the blues
Without the Pats and Isadores.
You'd have no big department stores,
If it wasn't for the Irish and the Jews.

McDonald built the subway and his name we'll not forget.
A word of praise is due to Nathan Strauss.
For pasteurizing baby's milk,
the world owes him a debt.
He's a friend to every kiddie in the house.
Without Big Tim Sullivan what would the Bowry do?
Just ask the man that needs a pair of shoes.
There wouldn't be an East Side in the City of New York,
If it wasn't for the Irish and the Jews.

Below are some photos from our event, held at the beautiful Angel Orensanz Foundation Center on Norfolk Street. Many people asked on Tuesday about the building's history. It was formerly the Ansche Chesed Synagogue (constructed 1849). Click here for a link to a pdf history pamphlet.

Full-sized photos can be found directly on our Flickr page.

Thanks to all who joined us for the event!

- Posted by Kate

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Sampling and Revisions: The L.E.S. deframed

The Tenement Museum is excited to let you know that some images from our collection are featured in a new exhibit at Gallery Bar, just up Orchard Street. The exhibit opens this evening, so join us for a drink and to check out the art.

If you'll be attending our Tenement Talk with Colm Toibin, you can swing by the gallery afterward.

If you can't make it downtown tonight, the Museum's Orchard Street Contemporaries group will be hosting a happy hour on March 11 as a mini Museum benefit. It's free, and a portion of the bar goes back to the Museum. Keep your eyes on this space for more details on that event.


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Questions for Curatorial: Business in the Tenements

Curatorial Director Dave answers your questions.

What businesses operated out of 97 Orchard Street over the years? How do you know?

The Museum's researchers use many different sources to find out about the history of our tenement building. City directory records, newspapers, factory inspector reports, and oral histories are just a few of the resources available to us when researching retail or manufacturing businesses.

For instance, the 1917 city directory records the following businesses occupying the storefronts spaces of 97 Orchard Street:
  • Claman Stove Repair (Morris and Irving Claman)
  • Orchard Printing Co.
  • The dry goods store of Louis Schocken
  • The watchmaking shop of Louis Rudow
Another useful place to look are the telephone directories. While our building's residential tenants never had telephones, shopkeepers did. The New York Telephone Company’s Address-Telephone Directories listed the following numbers for the shops at 97 Orchard Street between 1929-1940:

Fisher, Harry Hosiery
Fischer & Schimmel Hosiery
Orchard Printing Co.
Scher, A. General Merchandise
Schimmel, Rubin Hosiery
Solomon, L Printer

Fischer & Schimmel Hosiery
Scher, A. General Merchandise

Reliable Jobbing Co.
S & D Underwear Corp.
Scher, A. General Merchandise

S & D Underwear Corp.
Scher Jobbing House
Scherm Wm Jobber

Duberman, H. Handbags
Scher’s Jobbing House Inc.
Scher’s Jobbing House Inc.
Seaboard Impt. Co.

Duberman, H. Handbags
Gips & Mendesohn Inc. Hosiery
Seaboard Impt. Co.

Auction Exchange
Gips & Mendesohn Inc. Hosiery

Brandies, Herman Auctioneer
Brandies & Marcus Merchandise
Gips & Mendesohn Inc. Hosiery

Gips & Mendesohn Inc. Hosiery
Scher, Wm. Auction Outlet

Does anyone want to share what a "jobber" is? I bet some of you readers know. Or worked as a jobber even?

Some of these businesses, including the auction house, will be part of the Museum's forthcoming "Minding the Store" exhibit, slated to open in early 2011.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Questions for Curatorial: Basement Businesses

Curatorial Director Dave answers your questions.

Did another business occupy the basement storefront adjacent to Schneider’s saloon during the late 1860s and 1870s?

According to the 1873 New York City Business Directory, 97 Orchard Street resident Heinrich Dreyer operated a real estate office with his partner, Christian Stark, in the building’s basement storefront.

A longtime real estate agent in Kleindeutschland, or Little Germany, Hanover-born Heinrich Dreyer frequently listed commercial properties for sale in German-language newspapers such as the New-Yorker Staats-Zeitung.

By 1873, Dreyer appears to have partnered with Wurttemberg-born Christian Stark. Available records indicate that in 1873, 28-year-old Stark lived with his mother, brother, and two sisters at 45 Forsyth Street.

Interestingly, the 1870 US Census indicates that Stark had previously owned a local liquor store. How did he get into the real estate business? Evidence suggests that, in 1870, his mother Catherine owned $20,000 worth of real estate. It is possible that she helped her son invest and enabled him to partner with Heinrich Dreyer.

More recent architectural probes in 97 Orchard Street's basement strongly suggests that the saloon took up the entire basement space. Therefore, it's likely that Dreyer and Stark operated their business out of the bar, which was a gathering space and often used for political meetings and social events.

Tomorrow, read about a few of the businesses that operated out of 97 Orchard in the early 20th century.