Monday, October 18, 2010

Looking Back at the Forward Building

During the early part of the twentieth century, many of the Yiddish-speaking immigrants who flooded the Lower East Side looked to famed newspaper The Jewish Daily Forward, or Forverts, for news and a gateway to American culture. First published on April 22, 1897, the socialist newspaper greatly influenced the political leanings of early Jewish immigrants and, by 1912, as readership exploded, The Forward became a leading national newspaper. Under the outspoken leadership of Abraham Cahan, a member of the Social Democratic Party of America, the paper continued to gain readers with its politics and increasing focus on issues close to the hearts and minds of workers, such as the crusade for labor unions.

It was during this era, amidst a frenzied competition with Russian-Jewish bank owner Sender Jarmulowsky to build the tallest structure on the Lower East Side, that the newspaper erected its headquarters at 175 East Broadway. Though falling short of the Jarmulowsky Bank's twelve story limestone and terracotta giant, architect George Boehm's Forward Building was nevertheless an impressive feat and cemented the paper's importance to the predominantly Jewish neighborhood. For a time, East Broadway even became known as "Yiddish newspaper row."

Readership waned in the decades after the 1920s, despite steps to modernize the paper. With the Red Scare, the paper pulled back on socialist politics in favor of a less radical liberal bent. Immigration from Yiddish-speaking countries was also on the decline, meaning fewer Jewish Lower East Siders and fewer readers. During the 1960s The Forward launched an English-language version to reach new audiences, and by the mid-70s, there was little reason for the paper to remain on East Broadway. The Forward left its original home, moving to midtown. The building's new tenants opened a church and community center for the growing Chinese population of the Lower East Side.

Taken in the seventies, in the wake of the newspaper's departure, the following photograph provides a closer look at the building's ornate facade, which retained its original marble and stained glass flourishes. You can also see the carved portraits of socialist heroes Friedrich Engels, Karl Marx, and Ferdinand Lasalle on either side of the "Forward Building" sign above the entryway.

Collection of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum (c) 2010
And in this picture from 1980, you can see that The Forward maintained its imposing ten-story presence over the comparatively humble Lower East Side, even as new waves of immigrants arrived. Chinese characters were added to its side wall:

Collection of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum (c) 2010.
Today, the interior of the Forward Building houses condominiums rather than radical politics, and its exterior has been restored to more closely resemble its beautiful original appearance, as you can see in this photograph, taken last Thursday:

The Forward, now a weekly magazine, was located at East 33rd Street until recent years when that building too was sold to developers looking to build luxury condos. Currently housed at 125 Maiden Lane in New York's Financial District, The Forward is still an influential news source, particularly for Jewish Americans, though its circulation is only about a quarter of what it was during the paper's glory days.

To see the historic Forward Building for yourself, make sure to take Immigrant Soles: A Neighborhood Walking Tour. Educators can tell you more about the paper's importance for the Lower East Side's early Jewish residents. The tour is offered daily. Get your tickets today!

- Posted by Joe Klarl

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