Ludlow Street Today: An Interview with Matt, Former LES Resident
July 25, 2013

In the early 20th century, Ludlow Street was the most densely populated street in the world. While this fact is astonishing and important to keep in mind when one recalls the history of the Lower East Side, we must also remember that the neighborhood is very much still alive.

Delancey Street about 1900

Ludlow Street Today

In 2010, about a hundred years after the Levine family opened their sweatshop, my friend Matt moved to Ludlow Street. He has since moved to Paris, but he was nice enough to answer some questions for me about life on the Lower East Side:

Matt at the South Street Seaport

When/where did you live on the LES?
“Ludlow Street, near Delancey. I lived there for two years, from fall 2010 to fall 2012.”

What did you like best about your apartment/neighborhood? Least?
“The smells from the Filipino restaurant directly below the apartment were both the best and worst part of living there (cooking and trash, respectively).”

What did you know about the LES before you moved there?
“Shamefully little. I knew some of the main points and that it had historically been one of the main landing points of immigrants in our country, but I didn’t understand how important it was to the evolution of New York and America until I lived there.”

Did living in a modern apartment on the LES make you think about the history of the neighborhood?
“A little. I don’t know when my building was built but, despite the fact that the apartment was renovated, you could still get a sense of the bones of the original building. The entryway and stairwell appeared not to have been touched for at least fifty years, and the facade of the building probably hadn’t changed since it had been built. I wondered who lived there, what their lives and their landlords were like and what they would think of the neighborhood now.”

Back in the 19th century the population density was much higher in the neighborhood…and in individual tenement apartments. Would you have wanted to take in like 7 more roommates?
“Umm….no? If I had to I think I would have started referring to my apartment as “the loft” and managed to convince people it was cool and bohemian instead of, you know, just really overcrowded.”

“Knee Pants at forty five cents a dozen” Jacob Riis. Taken in a Ludlow Street sweatshop. Photo courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York

Matt's Ludlow Street Apartment in 2012 (Looking very clean!)

The LES has meant a lot of different things over time – slum, shopping mecca, and more. What does the LES mean to New Yorkers now?
“It’s probably still a lot of different things to different people. Party destination/occasional vomit receptacle, home of some of the finest purveyors of Jewish foodstuffs in the world (Russ and Daughters, Katz’s, Pickle Guys, Kossar’s), signifier of all that is hip/edgy and/or overgentrified in Manhattan, a lively, thriving neighborhood that continues to evolve while keeping a sense of character and history, or just home.”

You now live in Paris now, but would you ever move back to the LES?

Merci, Matt!!

 – Posted by Lib Tietjen