Touring the Tenement

Touring the Tenement

The Baldizzi family

With four floors, six families and walls with layers upon layers of paint, The Lower East Side Tenement Museum tells the story of the immigrants who occupied 97 Orchard Street since its creation in 1863. The tenement building, contracted by Lukas Glockner, was home to an estimated 7,000 people, 1,300 of whom have been identified by the Tenement Museum. It serves as a great reminder of what life in the city was like during this time period.

Unlike similar museums, the Tenement Museum has preserved rooms alongside restored and replicated areas. The restored rooms show visitors what the apartments might have looked like while tenants lived there, while the preserved rooms give a unique look into how exactly the apartments were decorated and built.

The story of this builidng and six of its apartments is told through some of the families who used to live here, like the Irish-Catholic Baldizzi family who lived in the tenement builidng through the Great Depression. In these rooms, I walked on the linoleum the tenants walked on, saw the 40 layers of paint the many families used on their walls and felt the sweltering heat that these families lived through every summer. I could suddenly see these immigrants and families as real people, not just characters out of a history book or novel.

One of the goals of the Tenement Museum is to share the stories of these families with visitors. With tours on topics like shop life and surviving the Great Depression (full list of tours here), the museum wants to explore every aspect of immigrant life during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The tours, which vary in price, run every day of the week and last from one to two hours. On my tour, there were many different visitors, including contractors interested in the architecture and historical fiction writers researching the culture of the time, making this a worthwhile experience for just about anyone.

One thing we all took away, however: a newfound appreciation for modern plumbing, electricity and air conditioning.

» The Lower East Side Tenement Museum, 103 Orchard St., 877.975.3786