As Time Goes By: 1935 on the Lower East Side

The evolution of New York Streets is thrown into stark relief in this image from 1935 taken by Berenice Abbott as part of the Federal Art Project. Courtesy of the NYPL.

The evolution of New York Streets is thrown into stark relief in this image from 1935 taken by Berenice Abbott as part of the Federal Art Project. Courtesy of the NYPL.

In many ways, the year 1935 was the end of an era for a tenement building at 97 Orchard Street on New York City’s Lower East Side.  After almost a century of acting as a threshold to the New World, the building was condemned when the landlord was unwilling or unable to incur the costs of mandatory structural updates.  This is not to say that the building was completely empty; as recently as the 1980’s there were various storefronts that continued to operate on the ground floor. This story was repeated all over the Lower East Side, keeping the neighborhood in business: literally. The communities who once lived in the neighborhood continued to run businesses and shop the area maintaining a vibrant immigrant hub. As a community of immigrants, Lower East Side has been especially impacted by global events, and though 1935 saw the shuttering of 97 Orchard Street, it also saw enormous changes across the country and around the world. Continue reading

The Rent Is Due: A History of Rent at 97 Orchard Street

Visitors to the Tenement Museum often ask about rent. How much did the Moores pay in 1869? How about the Levines in 1897 or the Baldizzis in 1935? Rent is something many of us can identify with, so knowing a family’s rent can bring their story to life for our visitors.

Alas, it’s far easier to ask than answer this question. As Jared Day notes in Urban Castles (1999), his history of tenement landlords in New York City, written leases did not become standard until the 1920s, so we have few written records for what any tenement residents paid in rent before that decade. What’s more, records from the 1920s are hard to come by, and we don’t have them for the later tenants of 97, such as the Baldizzis.

Although we don’t have leases, we do have Lawrence Veiller, a 19th century housing reformer. For his groundbreaking exhibit about tenement housing, he recorded the rent paid by every family living on the block bounded by Canal, Bayard, Chrystie, and Forsyth Streets in 1900.[1] According to his records, a three-room apartment on the first floor of a tenement rented for $12-$13/month (about $4/room), while the same apartment on the 4th floor rented for $9.50-$10/month (about $3/room). As you can see the closer to street level, the higher the rent tended to be.[2] Because 97 Orchard is so similar to the tenements in Veiller’s study area, we assume that our building’s tenants paid similar rents. If the Rogarshevskys lived in a three-room apartment on the third floor, as resident Josephine Baldizzi later remembered, they likely paid about $11/month when they moved into 97 Orchard in 1901 – though rent likely spiked after the landlords spent $8,000 to comply with the 1901 Tenement House Act. According to a later study, families in pre-Old Law tenements like 97 Orchard were paying $10-$15/month in 1907 – about a dollar more than before the 1901 Tenement House Act.[3] Continue reading

Looking back at THE COMMITMENTS: 25 Years Later with author/co-screenwriter Roddy Doyle

Last year the prominent Irish author Roddy Doyle wrote a beautiful essay for Intelligent Life Magazine about his favorite museum to visit: the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. This year, we have decided to turn the tables on Mr. Doyle and interview him about one of his best known works, The Commitments.

Originally written as a novel in 1987 and then adapted for the screen by director  Alan Parker (with a screenplay co-written by Doyle) in 1991, The Commitments tells the story of the rise and fall of a young, working class soul band in Dublin. Featuring covers of classic American soul songs such as “Try A Little Tenderness” and “In the Midnight Hour”, The Commitments is a massively entertaining, often very funny film featuring music that is to die for. Continue reading

Jack Kirby: Superhero Creator of the Lower East Side


The Fantastic Four on “Yancy Street” quite similar to DELANCY Street near where the comic’s creator Jack Kirby grew up

Did you know that Captain America is from the Lower East Side? It’s true. So are Thor, the Hulk, Ant-Man, the Avengers, and the X-Men. All of these characters were co-created by Lower East Side native, Jack Kirby, one of the most important and prolific storytellers of the 20th century.

Kirby was born Jacob Kurtzberg to Galician Jewish immigrants on Essex Street. Most of Jake’s childhood was spent on Suffolk Street, where he lived an external life with his buddies filled with handball and street fights, and an internal life filled with the Old World stories of his elders, newspaper comic strips, movies, science fiction pulp magazines, and drawing. You can see how all of these elements converged in his later comic book work.

Jack found a respite from the tough street life in the early 1930’s when he joined the Boys Brotherhood Republic, a local organization at 290 E 3rd St that put boys in charge of their own destiny. Instead of just hanging out on the streets, the boys learned boxing and other sports, published newspapers (of which Jake was an editor and cartoonist), maintained a government, and more. The BBR is now the Boys & Girls Republic, part of the Henry Street Settlement. Continue reading

For Richer or Poorer: A Brief History of Charity & Immigration in NYC

In the sparsely-furnished front room of the Gumpertz apartment at The Lower East Side Tenement Museum, in between the windows, sits a small, black Singer sewing machine.  In the wake of the panic of 1873, with jobs hard to come by and with four children to feed, Nathalie Gumpertz would not have been able to afford such a major purchase on her own.  Instead, the sewing machine, which allowed Nathalie to support her family in the face of economic hardship, was most likely purchased with money from (or even donated by) United Hebrew Charities, whose ledgers record Nathalie as a recipient. Continue reading

HOLIDAY GIFTING MADE EASY: Tenement Museum Gift Guide Holiday 2015

1. For the Nosher

Maybe you have someone on your list who is always feeding others… or maybe you have someone on your list who is always feeding themselves. Everyone knows a nosher, and we’ve got their perfect gifts right here.


Bagel tray

Gift this bagel tray to someone who needs it. Perfect for balancing Sunday morning bagels and shmeer or Friday night Chinese take-away, this 6.5″ x 14″ melamine tray is exactly the thing for the snacker in your life.-$14.99 Continue reading

Delancey: Deal or No Deal?

The Storefront for SIDNEY'S UNDERGARMENT at 97 Orchard Street

The time is upon us once again to embark on those treacherous missions all over town to wait in never-ending lines to ensure we find those ‘perfect gifts’ for the ones we love. Or is it? Continue reading

A Backstage Pass to Deaf West’s Production of Spring Awakening

A production of Spring Awakening which incorporates American Sign Language into the the performance is reaching all Broadway audiences .

I’m a huge fan of Broadway. Even before I started living in New York City, my favorite thing to do was going to see a Broadway show. I’ve been seeing a lot of plays coming back as revivals that I saw while I was in college. For some of those productions, I don’t feel that a revival is necessary. However, when I heard Spring Awakening was returning, I was thrilled. I have been hearing about this production since it started out in Los Angeles. This production is unique because the entire show is understandable to both hearing and Deaf members of the audience. I knew I had to see this revival when it came to Broadway not only because of the work that I do as the Education Associate for Access at the Tenement Museum but also because my colleague Alexandria Wailes is part of the production. Alexandria is our educator who is Deaf. About once every other month she leads a tour at the Tenement Museum in American Sign Language only. She was also involved with Deaf West’s production of Spring Awakening in Los Angeles and is involved with its current run on Broadway as an associate choreographer. Additionally, for a handful of performances Alexandria is going on as Marlee Matlin’s understudy. I went to see Alexandria and the rest cast of Spring Awakening last Tuesday and I couldn’t have had a better time. Continue reading

At Home in the East Village: Veselka Serves up Ukrainian Fare

Veselka at it was, a newsstand and lunch counter and so much more.

The moral of this story is: you never know where the next fraternity party is going to take you. The moral of this story is also: never underestimate the power of good home cooking – even if the home isn’t yours.

There are plenty of restaurants in New York City that claim to be the original of something or the most authentic. When considering the many Lower East Side restaurants in the running, Veselka wouldn’t be everyones best guess. For starters, Veselka is run by a man named Tom Birchard. How authentic can a Ukrainian landmark be if it is run by a guy from New Jersey with Pennsylvania Dutch heritage? Well it’s kind of a funny story. When he was at college at Rutgers University, Tom went to a fraternity party. We can safely assume that Tom hoped to meet a pretty girl. Well he did, and he married her.  What Tom probably didn’t expect is that when he married her, he married Ukraine. The young woman was the daughter of Wolodymyr Darmochwal, who had moved to the United States after being displaced from Ukraine when Soviet powers took over the country after World War II. Continue reading

The Voyage Out: Revisiting Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn

The other golden arches. The Brooklyn Bridge. Photograph courtesy of the New York Public Library.

As sharpened pencils and scarves replace popsicles and beach towels, you know it’s time for a book report!

This fall I picked up a copy of Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn. Tóibín  visited the museum to discuss Brooklyn when it was released, in 2009. The total good-book-joy of reading this novel is in no way undermined by how shockingly sad it can be. Just keep some tissues on hand… the history of Irish immigration to America hasn’t always been sunny. The emotional peaks and valleys are stitched convincingly together by the depth of Tóibín’s context. I am hardly the first to note that Brooklyn is a lovingly nuanced re-imagining of Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady.  Tóibín’s pages are heavy with empathy from perhaps his own experience as an Irishman in the United States. Continue reading