Friday, June 17, 2011

Walk the Historic Lower East Side, NYC

On a recent May Sunday, we joined an AMC hike leader on a three-mile architectural and history walking tour of the Lower East Side. While a number of immigrant groups (notably Poles, Ukrainians, Italians and Germans) settled over the years on the LES, this tour focused on the Eastern European immigrant experience from the 1870s to the 1930s. 

The LES is roughly bounded to the east by the East River, to the south and west by Chinatown and to the north by the East Village. To get there by subway, take the B or D trains to Grand Street, the F train to Delancey Street, of the J, M, or Z train to Essex Street. 

We stopped at old food establishments, synagogues, dilapidated tenements, legendary stores, unusual artifacts and existing buildings that once housed banks, movie theaters, speakeasies, and Yiddish publishers.

Jonah Shimmel Knish Bakery, located at 137 E. Houston Street,  has been  serving knishes to hungry New Yorkers and visitors since 1910. A knish is an Eastern-European Jewish snack food--its a dumpling covered with a dough shell that is either baked or fired. The filling was traditionally mashed potato, but other versions contain ground beef, onions, kasha, or cheese.

Russ and Daughters, at 179 E. Houston St.,  has served New Yorkers since 1914. On the menu here are  "appetizers," like smoked fish, caviar, cream cheese, bagels and bialys,

Katz's delicatessen, at 205 E. Houston St., opened its doors in 1888. Hot dogs, salami, pastrami, corned beef sandwiches are a specialty. During World War II, Katz's slogan was "Send a salami to your boy in the Army."

This synagogue, the Anshe Chesed was built at 172 Norfolk Street Street  in 1849 for Polish Jews. When it opened, it was the largest US synagogue. When the congregation moved elsewhere in 1974, the building fell into disuse.  It was purchased in 1986 by a Spanish sculptor Angel Orensanz who transformed it into an art gallery and performance space.Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick were married here.

Anshe Chesed is rich in neo-Gothic Revival features, a popular style of the late nineteenth century.

A view from Delancey Street, north on Norfolk to Houston.  The clock  in the distance is designed to prettify the building's  water tower, which someone obviously thought unsightly.

The "Blue Building" at 105 Norfolk Street,at Delancey Street,  is a recent addition to an ever increasing gentrified LES. Directly opposite this new apartment building is the former speakeasy where Bugsy Siegel and his pals hung out.

Looking east from Norfolk on Delancey is the Williamsburg Bridge, connecting the LES with the super-gentrified Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.

Crossing Delancey and continuing south we came upon the Beth Hamidrash Hagadol synagogue at 60-64  Norfolk Street.  This Gothic Revival building was built in 1850 and was the first Eastern European congregation founded in New York City.  Today, it's a New York City landmark.

The oldest continuous mikveh (ritual Jewish bath for women) is at 313 East Broadway.

Just a few doors down from the mikveh is the Henry Street Settlement building. This social service agency provides social services, health care services and arts programs to all ages. It was founded in 1893 by the reformer Lillian Wald.

One of the many synagogues and yeshivas that line East Broadway until it reaches Chinatown.

The Irving and Mary Streit, Multi-Service Center, at 235 East Broadway, offers services and social programs particularly for the elderly.  The center is named after the founders and owners of the Streit Matzoh Company.

The Educational Alliance at 197 East Broadway was founded in 1889 by a group of organizations (Aguilar Free Library, the Young Mens Hebrew Association, and the Hebrew Institute) as a settlement house for Jews from Eastern Europe. Today, it offers language courses,childhood education programs, outpatient drug treatment services, counseling and afterschool programs, and older adult residential facilities.

The Forward Building at 175 East Broadway was the home of the Socialist-inspired Jewish Daily Forward, an influential Yiddish newspaper.  The building was completed in 1912 and features bas relief portraits of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.  Today it's a pricey condominium.

Looking east on Canal Street, now the heart of Chinatown.

The Eldridge Street Synagogue, at 12 Eldridge Street, was built in 1887 for Eastern European Jews and features a Moorish-style interior, echoed on the outside by Moorish horseshoe arches. The synagogue was used until the 1940s, when the congregation dispersed.  Today, it's a National Historic Landmark and includes a museum dedicated to telling the story and continuing the heritage of this remarkable building.

The Tenement Museum at 97 Orchard Street tells the story of the7,000  immigrants who lived in the building from 1863 when it was built.  Today, it recreates the lives of the working class who lived here in the 1920s and 1930s.  Guided tours focus on various aspects of the immigrant experience.

The communal outhouse of the Tenement Museum, located at the rear of the building on Allen Street. Living above this couldn't have been fun.

Kehila Kedosha Janina Synagogue, at  Broome and Allen Streets, was build by Jews from Janina, Greece in 1927.  A small museum  tells the story of these Jews, from their lives in Greece to their arrival in America through present times..

The lack of indoor plumbing meant that New Yorkers at the turn of the last century had to visit public bathhouses such as this one at 133-135 Allen Street. For a nickle patrons got a towel, soap,and 15-20 minutes under a hot shower.

 The Essex Street Market, at Essex and Rivington Street, was founded in 1940 to relieve the congestion caused by numerous pushcart vendors. At first, it served mainly Jewish and Italian clientele and goods offered included flowers, meats, clothing and produce. Today the market serves a wider customer base, offering gourmet cheeses, premium cuts of meat, fresh fish and other products.

The Lower East Side, with its historic tenements, culinary relics such as Economy Candy and Katz's deli, the hip bar scene and upscale restaurants of Clinton and Stanton Streets, manages to straddle two centuries at once.