Lower East Side Tenement Museum

Last updated
The Tenement Museum
(Tenement buildings at 97 & 103 Orchard St.)
97 Orchard Street Front.jpg
Location map Lower Manhattan.png
Red pog.svg
Lower East Side Tenement Museum
USA New York location map.svg
Red pog.svg
Lower East Side Tenement Museum
Usa edcp location map.svg
Red pog.svg
Lower East Side Tenement Museum
Location97 Orchard Street, Manhattan, New York 10002
Coordinates 40°43′6.6″N73°59′24.5″W / 40.718500°N 73.990139°W / 40.718500; -73.990139 Coordinates: 40°43′6.6″N73°59′24.5″W / 40.718500°N 73.990139°W / 40.718500; -73.990139
Architectural style Italianate
Website www.tenement.org
NRHP reference No. 92000556 [1]
Significant dates
Added to NRHPMay 19, 1992
Designated NHLApril 19, 1994
Designated NHSNovember 12, 1998

The Lower East Side Tenement Museum, located at 97 and 103 Orchard Street in the Lower East Side neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City, is a National Historic Site. The Museum's two historical tenement buildings were home to an estimated 15,000 people, from over 20 nations, between 1863 and 2011. The museum, which includes a visitors' center, promotes tolerance and historical perspective on the immigrant experience.



The building at 97 Orchard Street was contracted by Prussian-born immigrant Lukas Glockner in 1863 and was modified several times to conform with the city's developing housing laws. When first constructed, it contained 22 apartments and a basement level saloon. Over time, four stoop-level and two basement apartments were converted into commercial retail space, leaving 16 apartments in the building. Modifications over the years included the installation of indoor plumbing (cold running water, two toilets per floor), an air shaft, and gas followed by electricity. In 1935, rather than continuing to modify the building, the landlord evicted the residents, boarded the upper windows, and sealed the upper floors, leaving only the stoop-level and basement storefronts open for business. No further changes were made until the Lower East Side Tenement Museum became involved with the building in 1988. As such, the building stands as a kind of time capsule, reflecting 19th and early 20th century living conditions and the changing notions of what constitutes acceptable housing. In spite of the restoration, some parts of the upper floors are unstable and remain closed.

The Tenement Museum The Tenement Museum (51624759160).jpg
The Tenement Museum

The Tenement Museum was founded in 1988 by Ruth J. Abram and Anita Jacobson. The Museum's first key property, the tenement at 97 Orchard Street, was designated a National Historic Landmark on April 19, 1994. The National Historic Site was authorized on November 12, 1998. It is an affiliated area of the National Park Service but is owned and administered by the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. The site received a Save America's Treasures matching grant for $250,000 in 2000 for preservation work. In 2001 the museum was awarded the Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence silver medal. [2] In 2005, the museum was among 406 New York City arts and social service institutions to receive part of a $20 million grant from the Carnegie Corporation, which was made possible through a donation by New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. [3] [4] The National Defense Authorization Act for the 2015 fiscal year expanded the National Historic Site designation to also include the tenement at 103 Orchard Street. [5]

The Tenement Museum attracted some negative press in 2007 related to its employees seeking union membership [6] as well as for its planned acquisition of the building at 99 Orchard Street through eminent domain in 2002. [7]

The current President of the museum is Dr. Annie Polland, who took over the role from Dr. Morris Vogel in 2021. [8]

Exhibits, collections, and programs

The museum's exhibits and programs include restored period room apartments and shops open daily for public tours, depicting the lives of immigrants who lived at 97 Orchard Street between 1869 and 1935 and 103 Orchard Street from the 1950s to the 1980s. The museum also provides a documentary film and offers tours with costumed interpreters for portraying the building's former residents, tastings of their communities' typical foods, and neighborhood walks. The museum's tours place the immigrants' lives in the broader context of American history. The museum also has an extensive collection of historical archives and provides a variety of educational programs. [9]

An exhibition titled "Under One Roof" opened in December 2017. Located at 103 Orchard Street, above the Visitor's Center, the exhibition explores the lives of a Holocaust refugee family, a Puerto Rican migrant family, and a Chinese immigrant family. [10]

In the spring of 2021, the Tenement Museum added “Reclaiming Black Spaces” to their list of available walking and virtual tours, educating visitors on Black experiences in the Lower East Side. This was inspired by a discovery in the museum’s collection regarding two men named Joseph Moore. These men were both residents of NYC, were about the same age, and worked in the same profession. Their biggest difference was one was a white Irishman and lived in the museum’s location at 97 Orchard Street, and the other was a Black man who lived in a nearby tenement house. [11] The museum has recreated the kitchen of the Irish Joseph Moore, and they plan to open an apartment recreating the home of Joseph Moore and his family in 2022. This will be the first permanent apartment exhibit by the museum representing the Black experience. [12]

The Tenement House Act

There were many Tenement House Acts during the 1800s and 1900s. However, there were three particular Acts that changed the living conditions in housing today. Those three Tenement House Acts were: The Tenement House Act of 1867, The Tenement House Act of 1879, and The Tenement House Act of 1901 which is part of the New York State Tenement House Act.

The first tenement house act was called The Tenement House Act of 1867, also known as "the Old Law". It was the country's first comprehensive housing reform law. The law required buildings to have fire escapes and at least one toilet for every 20 tenants and to be connected to the city sewers if possible. However, many people (tenement owners) did not follow the law, so it had little effect. Then came the second Tenement House Act which was called The Tenement House Act of 1879, also known as "the Old Law" and was followed by the 1867 law. Many buildings were outlawing the construction of buildings like 97 Orchard Street that had interior rooms without windows. The 1879 law required all rooms to be open onto the street, the rear yard, or an air shaft, for the tenant to escape the building in an emergency. This led owners to the development of the "dumbbell" tenement plan. Then came the third Tenement House Act which was called The Tenement House Act of 1901, [13] also known as "The New Law." The government noticed that many of the tenement buildings were extremely dangerous and unlivable. The 1901 law required buildings to include running water, gas, light, and ventilation. The Dumb-bell tenement plan was outlawed. Since the previous Tenement House Act had not helped change the housing conditions, the law allowed the Tenement House Department to inspect these buildings and enforce the new regulations. [14]

Lower East Side Tenement Museum has been featured as a landmark in several films, including Crossing Delancey (1988) [15] and The Definition of Insanity (film) (2004), where the museum was used as setting for the interior hospital sequences. [16] It also made a brief appearance in the Netflix original series Dash & Lilly (2020), where it is the exterior backdrop while Lily skips down the street at the beginning of Episode 2, Season 1.

See also

Related Research Articles

Apartment Self-contained housing unit occupying part of a building

An apartment, or flat, is a self-contained housing unit that occupies part of a building, generally on a single story. There are many names for these overall buildings, see below. The housing tenure of apartments also varies considerably, from large-scale public housing, to owner occupancy within what is legally a condominium, to tenants renting from a private landlord.

East Village, Manhattan Neighborhood of Manhattan in New York City

The East Village is a neighborhood on the East Side of Lower Manhattan in New York City. It is roughly defined as the area east of the Bowery and Third Avenue, between 14th Street on the north and Houston Street on the south. The East Village contains three subsections: Alphabet City, in reference to the single-letter-named avenues that are located to the east of First Avenue; Little Ukraine, near Second Avenue and 6th and 7th Streets; and the Bowery, located around the street of the same name.

Lower East Side Neighborhood of Manhattan in New York City

The Lower East Side, sometimes abbreviated as LES and sometimes referred to as Loisaida, is a historic neighborhood in the southeastern part of the New York City borough of Manhattan, roughly between the Bowery and the East River from Canal to Houston streets. Traditionally an immigrant, working-class neighborhood, it began rapid gentrification in the mid-2000s, prompting the National Trust for Historic Preservation to place the neighborhood on their list of America's Most Endangered Places in 2008.

Tenement Type of residential building with a shared entrance and separate apartments inside

A tenement is a type of building shared by multiple dwellings, typically with flats or apartments on each floor and with shared entrance stairway access, on the British Isles notably common in Scotland. In the medieval Old Town, in Edinburgh, tenements were developed with each apartment treated as a separate house, built on top of each other. Over hundreds of years, custom grew to become law concerning maintenance and repairs, as first formally discussed in Stair's 1681 writings on Scots property law. In Scotland, these are now governed by the Tenements Act, which replaced the old Law of the Tenement and created a new system of common ownership and procedures concerning repairs and maintenance of tenements. Tenements with one or two room flats provided popular rented accommodation for workers, but in some inner-city areas, overcrowding and maintenance problems led to slums, which have been cleared and redeveloped. In more affluent areas, tenement flats form spacious privately owned houses, some with up to six bedrooms, which continue to be desirable properties.

One of the reforms of the Progressive Era, the New York State Tenement House Act of 1901 was one of the first such laws to ban the construction of dark, poorly ventilated tenement buildings in the state of New York. Among other sanctions, the law required that new buildings must be built with outward-facing windows in every room, an open courtyard, proper ventilation systems, indoor toilets, and fire safeguards.

The history of New York City (1855–1897) started with the inauguration in 1855 of Fernando Wood as the first mayor from Tammany Hall, an institution that dominated the city throughout this period. Reforms led to the New York City Police Riot of June 1857. There was chaos during the American Civil War, with major rioting in the New York Draft Riots. The Gilded Age brought about prosperity for the city's upper classes amid the further growth of a poor immigrant working class, as well as an increasing consolidation, both economic and municipal, of what would become the five boroughs in 1898.

Three-decker (house) Type of house

A three-decker or triple-decker, in the United States, is a three-story (triplex) apartment building. These buildings are typical of light-framed, wood construction, where each floor usually consists of a single apartment, and frequently, originally, extended families lived in two, or all three floors. Both stand-alone and semi-detached versions are common.

Orchard Street Street in Manhattan, New York

Orchard Street is a street in Manhattan which covers the eight city blocks between Division Street in Chinatown and East Houston Street on the Lower East Side. Vehicular traffic runs north on this one-way street. Orchard Street starts from Division Street in the south and ends at East Houston Street in the north..

Cooperative Village Housing cooperatives in Manhattan, New York

Cooperative Village is a community of housing cooperatives on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, New York City. The cooperatives are centered on Grand Street in an area south of the entrance ramp to the Williamsburg Bridge and west of the FDR Drive. Combined, the four cooperatives have 4,500 apartments in twelve buildings.

Bialystoker Synagogue United States historic place

The Bialystoker Synagogue at 7–11 Bialystoker Place, formerly Willett Street, between Grand and Broome Streets in the Lower East Side neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City is an Orthodox Jewish synagogue. The building was constructed in 1826 as the Willett Street Methodist Episcopal Church; the synagogue purchased the building in 1905.

Two Bridges, Manhattan Neighborhood of Manhattan in New York City

Two Bridges is a neighborhood in the New York City borough of Manhattan, nestled at the southern end of the Lower East Side and Chinatown on the East River waterfront, near the footings of the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Bridge. The neighborhood has been considered to be a part of the Lower East Side for much of its history. Two Bridges has traditionally been an immigrant neighborhood, previously populated by immigrants from Europe, and more recently from Latin America and China. The Two Bridges Historic District was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in September 2003.

New Law Tenement

New Law Tenements were built in New York City following the New York State Tenement House Act of 1901, so-called the "New Law" to distinguish it from the previous two Tenement House Acts of 1867 and 1879. New Law tenements are distinct from "Old Law" and "pre-law" tenements both in structural design and exterior ornament.

Old Law Tenement 1879 New York City law

Old Law Tenements are tenements built in New York City after the Tenement House Act of 1879 and before the New York State Tenement House Act of 1901. The 1879 law required that every habitable room have a window opening to plain air, a requirement that was met by including air shafts between adjacent buildings. Old Law Tenements are commonly called "dumbbell tenements" after the shape of the building footprint: the air shaft gives each tenement the narrow-waisted shape of a dumbbell, wide facing the street and backyard, narrowed in between to create the air corridor. They were built in great numbers to accommodate waves of immigrating Europeans. The side streets of Manhattan's Lower East Side are still lined with numerous dumbbell structures today.

Andrew Dolkart

Andrew Scott Dolkart is a professor of Historic Preservation at the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP) and the former Director of the school's Historic Preservation Program. Professor Dolkart is an authority on the preservation of historically significant architecture and an expert in the architecture and development of New York City. He was described as someone who is "without peer among New York's architectural researchers" by architectural critic Francis Morrone and he has written extensively on this topic. Before joining the faculty at Columbia he held a position at the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission and worked as a consultant. Dolkart holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Colgate University (1973) and a Master of Science degree in Historic Preservation from Columbia University (1977); he is a popular lecturer and walking tour guide.

Meserich Synagogue Orthodox synagogue in Manhattan

Meserich Shul or Meseritz Shul, also known as Edes Israel Anshei Mesrich, Edath Lei'Isroel Ansche Meseritz or Adas Yisroel Anshe Mezeritz, is a 1910 Orthodox synagogue in the East Village of Manhattan, New York City. It was built by a congregation established in 1888 consisting of immigrants from Międzyrzec Podlaski, a city in Biała Podlaska County, Lublin Voivodeship, Poland which was known as a center of Jewish learning. It was designed by Herman Horenburger in the Neo-Classical style, and is located at 415 East 6th Street between Avenue A and First Avenue.

First Houses Public housing development in Manhattan, New York

First Houses is a public housing project in Alphabet City, Manhattan, New York City and was one of the first public housing projects in the United States. First Houses were designated a New York City and National Historic Landmark in 1974. They are managed by the New York City Housing Authority.

A Stoop on Orchard Street is a musical by Jay Kholos. The story, inspired by a visit to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, is a nostalgic look at the year 1910. The musical premiered Off-Broadway in 2003, where it enjoyed a long run. It has since been revived several times.

Jane Ziegelman is director of the culinary program at New York City's Tenement Museum and author of 97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families and Foie Gras: A Passion.

109 Washington Street

109 Washington Street is a five-story tenement in the Financial District of Manhattan in New York City, within the area once known as Little Syria. Due to demolitions connected to the construction of the Brooklyn–Battery Tunnel and the World Trade Center, it stands as the last tenement on a portion of lower Washington Street that has been estimated by Kate Reggev to have contained around 50 tenements. After September 11, 2001, its proximity to the World Trade Center site made it the subject of some media attention, including a nationally syndicated radio story about the experiences of its residents on the day of the attack. In recent years, community officials, activists, and preservationists have advocated for its designation as a landmark as part of a mini-historical district with the connected buildings of St. George's Syrian Catholic Church and the Downtown Community House.

East Village/Lower East Side Historic District Historic district in Manhattan, New York

The East Village/Lower East Side Historic District in Lower Manhattan, New York City was created by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission on October 9, 2012. It encompasses 330 buildings, mostly in the East Village neighborhood, primarily along Second Avenue between East 2nd and 6th Streets, and along the side streets. Some of the buildings are located in a second area between First Avenue and Avenue A along East 6th and 7th Streets. The district is based on the one which had been proposed by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, with only minor changes, and is the result of a two-year effort to protect the area.



  1. "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places . National Park Service. March 13, 2009.
  2. "Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence". Bruner Foundation. Retrieved 3 September 2013.
  3. Roberts, Sam (2005-07-06). "City Groups Get Bloomberg Gift of $20 Million". The New York Times .
  4. "The Corporation Offers Support To Social Service And Arts Organizations Throughout New York City" (Press release). Carnegie Corporation. 2005-07-05. Archived from the original on 2007-07-22.
  5. "H.R.3979 - Carl Levin and Howard P. "Buck" McKeon National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015" . Retrieved 13 February 2015.
  6. Shapiro, Julie; Giachino, Alyssa (May 2007). "Tenement guides learn from history form union". The Villager . 76 (50).
  7. Haberman, Clyde (2002-02-13). "Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Building?". The New York Times.
  8. "Tenement Museum Announces New President" . Retrieved 11 November 2021.
  9. "Lower East Side Tenement Museum - Profile". New York Entertainment.
  10. "Exhibits at the Tenement Museum". tenement.org.
  11. https://www.tenement.org/reclaiming-black-spaces/.{{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  12. https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2021/11/24/nyc-tenement-museum-black-spaces.{{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  13. "Tenement House Act of 1901". gvshp.org. Retrieved 2016-11-17.
  14. "Tenement Museum | History | THIRTEEN". www.thirteen.org. Retrieved 2016-11-17.
  15. “Movies of The Lower East Side: Crossing Delancey”
  16. “IMDb: The Definition of Insanity": Locations”