Thursday, May 27, 2010

Tenants' Rights, circa 1906

Back in March, The Village Voice published its list of New York City's ten worst landlords. These landlords threaten and harass tenants and often simply ignore their tenants’ requests for maintenance, pest control, and repairs -- in other words, they fail to comply with basic legal requirements to provide a safe, healthy living environment.

At the Tenement Museum, we encourage our visitors to debate the rights and responsibilities of tenants and landlords on our Getting By tour every day. We discuss the Tenement House Act of 1901, which mandated and created a body of Tenement House Inspectors to enforce a set of laws designed to define base minimum requirements for decent living conditions.

For school groups, we get even deeper into the debates surrounding the Tenement House Act. On our Tenement Inspectors program, which we offer to school groups in 4th-7th grades, we have the kids reenact the debates between landlords and tenants that followed the introduction of this law. We train children to play the role of Tenement House Inspectors who have come to inspect 97 Orchard Street in the year 1906. During their inspection, they meet costumed interpreters portraying the landlady, Dora Goldfein, and the tenant, Wolf Goldstein.

Kids imagine what it would have been like living in a place with an insufficient water supply, no light in the hallways, and insects crawling between layers of old wallpaper. They also hear how difficult it was to be a landlord: when a new law came in, he or she suddenly needed to come up with the money to make thousands of dollars worth of repairs. Landlords had to balance their own financial needs with their responsibility to care for individual tenants.

Once the kids finish debating what should be done to bring 97 Orchard Street up to compliance (by 1906 standards), we then teach them about contemporary housing laws and sometimes talk about their own experiences, especially if they are New York City school kids. Check out the list that the Department of Housing helped us develop. Does your own apartment or house stand up to 2010 code?


The owner must install window guards in apartments where there are children ten years of age or younger.

No “illegal” window gates, requiring a key to open from the inside, may be
installed on windows leading to a fire escape.

The owner of a dwelling shall post and maintain street numbers on the dwelling, which are plainly visible from the sidewalk in front of the dwelling.

The owner of a multiple dwelling shall install and maintain one or more lights at or near the outside of the front entrance way of the building.

In every multiple dwelling or tenant-occupied two family dwelling, the
owner shall provide electric lighting fixtures for every public hall, stair, fire stair and fire tower on every floor.

The owner of a multiple dwelling or his or her managing agent in control
shall post and maintain in such multiple dwelling a legible sign, conspicuously displayed, containing the janitor's name, address (including apartment number) and telephone number.

The person who performs janitorial services for a multiple dwelling of nine or more units shall reside in or within a distance of one block or 200 feet from the dwelling, whichever is greater.

The owner of a multiple dwelling more than two stories in height shall post and maintain a sign, of sufficient size to be readily seen, which states the number of the floor, near the stairs and elevator.

PLEASE NOTE! This list was developed by the Museum based on certain aspects of the current housing code with the help of NYC’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development. It should in no way be considered an official document or interpreted to reflect the full scope of housing code enforcement today. If you have a question about code enforcement or have a problem in your building, please the City’s Citizen Service Center at: 311 or (212) NEW-YORK. For TTY, call (212) 504-4115.

- Posted by Sarah Litvin

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Questions for Curatorial: High and Low

Curatorial Director Dave answers your questions. To submit a question, leave it in the comments or on our Facebook page.

Were there ever height regulations placed on buildings in New York City, especially tenements on the Lower East Side?

Height regulations were first placed on buildings in New York City by the 1916 Zoning Resolution. As the first comprehensive effort at regulating the height, area, and use of structures built in an urban environment, the resolution proved influential to other U.S. cities that enacted zoning legislation after 1916.

While the 1916 Zoning Regulation was in a sense formulated as a reaction to the ways in which a new building form, the “skyscraper,” blocked sunlight to the surrounding streets (resulting in the setback, pyramid-style designs typical of New York City high-rises,) it applied to the entire city. Neighborhoods such as the Lower East Side were divided into height districts where limitations were formulated in relation to the width of the street. The Lower East Side was deemed a 1½ times district, meaning that no building was to be erected to a height in excess of 1½ times the width of the street. However, for each foot that the building or a portion of it was set back from the street line, three feet could be added to the height limit of the structure.

Although many of the tenements on the Lower East Side were erected prior to 1916, the height of those constructed after were subject to the limitations imposed by the 1916 Zoning Resolution.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Questions for Curatorial: Come and Go

Curatorial Director Dave answers your questions. To submit a question, write in the comments or on our Facebook wall.

In what percentages did immigrants return to their home lands? Are there differences if looked at by time period and ethnicities?

Many immigrants came to America with the ultimate intention of returning to their home countries after earning enough money to buy land or houses. Between 1900 and 1920, 36 percent of immigrants arriving in the United States returned home.

In turn-of-the-century New York, the degree to which Russian Jews became permanent settlers was remarkable. Escaping virulent anti-Semitism and political oppression, many emigrated with no intention of returning. Nevertheless, many more went back than is ordinarily assumed. Between 1880 and 1900, 15 to 20 percent returned to their homes. After 1900, however, return migration dropped off as political upheaval and religious oppression intensified.

In contrast to Russian Jews, the return rate among Italians reached 50 percent in some years -— of every 10 Italians who left for the U.S. between 1880 and World War I, five returned home. Sometimes called “birds of passage,” many of the first Italian immigrants were young men who came to America with the intention of earning enough money to return to Italy, buy land, and raise a family.

According to Nancy Foner, author of From Ellis Island to JFK: New York’s Two Great Waves of Immigration, “Italians called the United States ‘the workshop’; many arrived in March, April, and May and returned in October, November, and December, when layoffs were most numerous… For many Italian men, navigating freely between their villages and America became a way of life.”

Nevertheless, many returnees or ritornati chose to re-migrate to the United States.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A former streetscape revealed in destruction on Grand Street

Our Minding the Store project manager, Chris Neville, has been researching the businesses that operated out of 97 Orchard Street from 1863 to 1988. As such, he's become mildly obsessed with the streetscapes of the Lower East Side. He thinks a lot about facades and buildings and how businesses incorporated themselves into tenements. He looks all the time for evidence of how stores in the earlier part of the 20th century, and even into the 19th century, might have set up their spaces. We don't have a lot of documentary evidence about the businesses in 97 or the building's facade, so we look around the neighborhood for similar tenements, checking for the layers of physical fabric that so often exist in older neighborhoods.

His eyes attuned to notice architectural details, Chris right away noticed some markings on the brick walls of the tenements next door to the two that were demolished recently, after the deadly fire on Grand Street. He did some research and discovered what existed on those lots before the tenements were constructed in the 1890s.

Head over to Bowery Boogie to read his post.

Vote for the National Trust!

Many of you may know that the Tenement Museum is affiliated with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This organization provides funds and advocacy for historic sites across America, from mid-century drive-in movie theaters to Civil War cemeteries to historic houses. They also help preservationists, historians, and communities protect the places that matter to them.

Right now, the Trust is vying to win $20,000 from American Express. If they win, the funds will support the This Place Matters campaign. View their Flickr slideshow to see the multitude of places nationwide who are part of this project. You'll see just how many people care about their communities, and about the buildings, businesses, parks, homes, forts, theaters, courthouses, museums, grain silos, and other places that make up the towns and cities they call home. Who knew that the Sacramento downtown railyards were important to somebody? Or the Molly Brown House Museum in Colorado? It's pretty inspiring to see all the people around the country who are fighting to protect and share the places that are important to them.

So, if you have a moment this week, vote for the National Trust! They are close to winning and every vote counts.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

From the Collection - Drink Up

In honor of last night's Tenement Talk on Prohibition, here's a whiskey bottle, found in 97 Orchard Street in 2008.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

It's International Museum Day!

Hosted by the International Council of Museums since 1977, Museum Day "provides the opportunity for museum professionals to meet the public and alert them to the challenges that museums face if they are to be - as in the ICOM definition of museums - 'an institution in the service of society and of its development.'"

Each year has a theme. This year's these is Museums for Social Harmony. How can museums work towards this goal? Can the museum be a safe space for bringing people together? As you can imagine, with a mission including the phrase "... to promote tolerance...", the Tenement Museums thinks so. If you're interested, you can read more about the topic, including some essays, on ICOM's website.

No matter where you are in the world - from Algeria to Zambia - there's probably an event happening in your neck of the woods. Here in NYC, visit the Frick Museum for free, all day.

Thank you all for being museum supporters, cheerleaders, visitors and champions!

The streets of New York

What were New York's streets made of, pre-asphalt? Well, on some Lower East Side streets, at least, they were made of Belgian block. Read more in our Bowery Boogie post.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Articles from around the web and on the newstand

The Forward looks at 97 Orchard Street: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York City Tenement. This new book, a culinary history of immigrant foodways in America, is centered around some of the families who lived in our tenement. You'll recognize names like Baldizzi and Moore, but the author also talks about the Glockners, who were the original landlords and usually only get a passing mention on our tours ("this six-story tenement was built by German-born tailor Lukas Glockner in 1863..."). Read about what working-class people who lived in New York might have eaten based on their religion, ethnicity, and era in which they lived.
[Read the article]

The City Room blog has a slideshow of images by Rebecca Lepkoff, a photographer who roamed the Lower East Side in the 1940s and 50s. She photographed a dynamic and diverse neighborhood and was especially good at capturing the people who lived here. Ms. Lepkoff is now 94 years old, and she'll be at Tenement Talks tonight to talk about her experiences and her art.
[See the slideshow]

The Village Voice profiles two tenements on Delancey Street which have been the site of old tenant / new tenant / landlord fights in recent years. The author checks in with the building owner, the newcomers, and the longterm residents, looking at neighborhood change and what it means for everyone. It's a little window into the Lower East Side today.
[Read the article]

New York magazine traces the legend of Annie Moore, the first immigrant to be processed through Ellis Island in 1892, when the facility first opened its doors.
[Read the article]

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Tenement Talks podcast on WNYC

If you missed Dave Isay's second appearance at Tenement Talks last month, listen to a podcast of the event on Isay is the founder of the national StoryCorps project, which records oral histories of every day people. He was here to talk about his newest collection of stories, Mom.

David Isay on Listening: "That act of recognition, of realizing that there is so much more we share in common than divides us, can really help build bridges and remind us, especially in these incredibly divisive times, that we should spend a little more time listening to each other, and a little less time screaming at each other."

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Food Wars @ 97 Orchard Street

A few months ago the Travel Channel show "Food Wars" filmed a scene at the Tenement Museum. For the episode pitting the pastrami of Second Avenue Deli against that of Katz's, the producers wanted a "meeting of the minds" to take place somewhere on the Lower East Side - a place where the owners of the two restaurants could meet to discuss the rules of the contest. Because of our connection to the history of the neighborhood, the Tenement Museum was a perfect choice!

Any film or tv producers out there who might be reading this know that it's pretty hard to shoot inside 97 Orchard Street. For one thing, it's dark - almost every film shoot requires extra lighting. It's also busy all day, every day, with the hundreds of school kids, tour groups, and public visitors who come to see the museum daily. For a film crew with a tight schedule, that usually means we can't accommodate the production. But for the "Food Wars" crew, we worked out a great alternative - filming on the roof!

You can see in the background the lovely streetscape of Allen Street. It was cold and rainy the day we filmed - you can see the talent wearing plastic rain smocks and carrying umbrellas - but the crew pushed through and got the scene they needed. It was fun to meet the owners & operators of both iconic delis, who swapped gossip about other restaurateurs, DOH inspections, and the Lower East Side back in the day.

You can watch some video snippets from the episode here, and catch the show on The Travel Channel to find out who won the big showdown!

- posted by Kate

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

From the Collection

Found at 97 Orchard Street in 2008.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

From the Collection

Found at 97 Orchard Street in 2010.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Update about a Collection Item

Last week we featured this item, found in the Museum in 2008:

A reader wrote in with some information about the artifact, sending us a short article from The Financier, New York edition, from May 19, 1917:

Liberty Loan Buttons Arrive in NY

“Button! Button! Who's got the Button?” This is the game that every man woman and child in the United States is expected to play for the next two weeks. On the seriousness with which all the players regard the game will depend to a large extent America's success in the World War.

The button is the Libery Loan badge which will be given to every subscriber to a Liberty bond. The game will be to see how many persons wear the button on June 15.

The first installment of thirty thousand of these buttons out of the two hundred and fifty thousand which the Treasury Department has alloted [sic] to the Second Federal Reserve District, in which New York City is located, arrived from Washington this morning. The headquarters of the Liberty Loan Committee have received strict orders from the Federal authorities to exercise the greatest care to prevent these badges being worn by any but bona fide subscribers to the loan.

The Liberty Loan button is blue with a red circle in the center. From a distance it appears not unlike a campaign button, except that instead of the face of the candidate, there is inscribed the head and shoulders of the Statue of Liberty with her flaming torch On the outer border of blue there is written in white letters, “Get Behind the Government.” The red center contains the inscription “The Liberty Loan of 1917.” The man or woman who wears the button has enrolled his name on the loan for Liberty's Roll of Honor. Get a button.

So, it appears someone in 97 Orchard Street - or a friend or family member - purchased a Liberty Loan in June, 1917.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Work for the Blog!

Do you ever read our blog and think, "Hmm, this is great, but they should be writing about XY&Z"? If so, we need you! The Museum is looking for a great writer and reporter to intern/volunteer here this summer. The right person would have a creative spirit, a curious nature, and love what we do here at the Museum. We have a lot of great ideas and look forward to hearing yours!

Communications & New Media Intern

The Lower East Side Tenement Museum is seeking a communications/writing intern for summer 2010 to assist with its blog. Responsibilities include:

- Museum blog:
    o Work with the Museum’s Public Relations Manager to brainstorm content
    o Research and write posts based on LES history, artifacts, or current events that relate to tour content
    o Interview LES business owners, historians, Museum staff, or others with a compelling story to tell
    o Write posts about upcoming Tenement Talks and recaps of past events
- Additional:
    o Write descriptions for Tenement Talks events
    o Brainstorm web marketing and ways to better reach our public
    o Assist with social media content

Responsibilities might, if intern is interested, extend to editing podcasts and video content for posting on Tenement Museum YouTube channel and blog.

Our communications intern should expect to commit about 6-10 hours per week researching and writing. Days are flexible, including the possibility of doing some work from home or library, but we would like you to be in the office at least two afternoons per week.

Internship is unpaid, but you will receive great perks: free tours at the museum, a discount at the museum shop, and of course clips for your portfolio. You’ll also be supporting one of New York’s most popular small museums and working with a great group of people. Just ask former blog intern Liana!

Please submit a cover letter, resume, and brief writing sample (something that shows your journalistic skills) via email. No phone calls please.