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Lower East Side Tenement Museum
Originally built in 1863, the 96 and 103 Orchard street Tenement buildings housed more than 7,000 people. In 1903 this block made up of Orchard Street, Delancy, Broome, and Allen was one of the most densely populated places in the world and more than 2,000 people called it home. It didn’t have bathrooms, running water, or heat until 1905 and the small area often housed more than 15 people per room. Throughout its history it saw the arrival of immigrants from all over the world, rise of unions and labor rights as well as the great depression, and was even home Holocaust survivors.
A big part of current building was abandoned in the early 1900s. It was left untouched until 1988 essentially preserved as the perfect time capsule to later display how the other half lived. The lower level of the building however, continued to hum with activity and the ground floor of 103 Orchard Street was home to dozens of different businesses and shops. In search of the perfect place to tell the story of the east side Tenements historians Ruth Abram and Anita Jacobson discovered the spot and turned it into a living history museum which opened in 1992. In 2011 the new visitor center was opened to play host to even more of the buildings history.
Tours and Things to Do
After you are done perusing the visitor center and watching the complementary historic documentary created specifically for the Museum, guests can go on a wide range of tours and talks. One of these is the Food of the Lower East Side, which show cases the different ethnic cuisine enjoyed by many of the original residents of 103 Orchard Street.
Other tours take you upstairs and into the lives of many of the city’s residents. These tours explore the lives of the often discriminated against Irish population through the eyes of the Moore Family, Irish immigrants who struggled with health concerns as well as an anti-Irish stigma. Visitors can learn what life was like during the great depression by visiting the home of the Baldizzi family. This Jewish family actually still lives in New York City. One of the best tours for kids is the tour of the 1916 home of Victoria Confino. This tour is performed by a costumed interpreter and lets kids touch and try out many of the aspects of tenement life. For a broader overview of the area’s history, there are daily neighborhood tours from April to December.
Due to the sometimes dark and depressing nature of some of the discussions many of the tours available are not really suitable for kids under twelve. Some of the tours have an age limit so it's best to check ahead before booking a tour for the whole family. There are several kids’ activities, which allow them to touch and act out life in the Tenements. All of the tours however are exceedingly popular and if there is one in particular that you are dying to see it's probably best to book prior to your trip to New York City. Photography is not allowed while you are on tour and the winding stairs and narrow hallways may not be suitable for all guests. While you are here check out the modern art in the windows. These pieces celebrate the modern story of some of today’s New York City immigrants which still make up a massive part of the city's population.
103 Orchard Street, New York, NY
Open Daily: 10:00 am to 6:00 pm