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What’s a New Yorker to do?

December 29, 2010

After a day of being semi-snowbound (semi because NY doesn’t really shut down from a little, or a lot, of snow) I decided to trek in the slush to the Lower East Side to pay a visit to the Tenement Museum. I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m kinda obsessed with history, and especially that of NYC, so this was seriously the perfect snow day activity for me.

The building at 97 Orchard had been condemned in the 1930s due to the wooden staircase that was a fire hazard, and it remained abandoned for over 50 years.

The tenement team left certain areas of the building as found, and carefully restored others so visitors can see what life was really like for these immigrants back then.

Some of the details that I noticed were the many layers of wallpaper that could be seen peeling off the walls. It was odd to me that poor immigrants would have a luxury item like wallpaper in their rental homes, but I learned that it was less expensive to cover the walls with paper than to paint! Ah, if only that were the case today!

Apparently, not only was the wallpaper itself inexpensive, but it was applied to the walls using a mixture of flour and water. Imagine how many little pests paid visits to the building with that kind of edible paste – yuck!

I also saw that all of the fireplaces had been boarded up, and learned that while the original tenants had been able to use the fireplaces, they had to be sealed shortly after the building was constructed in the 1880s. It seems the shafts were too narrow to be functional, and filled the entire apartment with smoke.

The builder might have intended them to be decorative since having the family gather around a fire was a popular notion in those days (and still is today – isn’t a fireplace the first addition we think of when a client says they want a cozy family room?)

It was a truly fascinating tour and I highly recommend a trip here, whether a NYer or a visitor, especially since none of us are true NYers, we all immigrated from somewhere!

xox, jg

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One Comment leave one →
  1. houseofsiennamack permalink*
    December 29, 2010 5:10 pm

    Jessica is so right – this is a must visit. I visited back in 2001 and was awestruck by the tenacity that the people had in those days – unstoppable.

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