Tenement Museum

Lower East Side Tenement Museum

Located on 97 Orchard Street, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum has become one of the many historic sites in New York City. This tenement museum provides the unique experience of witnessing history firsthand by walking through original tenement houses. The walking tours offered by the museum tell the stories of immigrant families facing hard times through the turn of the 20th century. You can’t see the tenements unless you go on the walking tour, but the historical experience is well worth it.

The Gumpertz Apartment - Click for virtual tour

The Gumpertz Apartment - Click For Virtual Tour

The Baldizzi's Apartment - Click For Virtual Tour

Individual Responses

The Lower East Side Tenement Museum is a truly unique museum and the first of its kind that I have seen. It breaks away from the norm of allowing visitors to wonder around the facility at their own will and pace and requires every visitor to go through a group tour. Though this has its negatives, it is also a great way for people to learn the factual history of the harsh life of immigrants, rather then assume strictly from observations. The tour that my group and I saw was titled “Getting By” and told the in-depth history of a German-Jewish family, the Gumpertz family, and an Italian-Catholic family, the Baldizzi family. These two families lived during the Panic of 1873 (the Gumpertz family) and during the Great Depression; however, other tours in this museum explore different families and different ethnicities (Irish immigrants for example).

Overall, the visit was definitely worth the 15-dollar admission ticket and it was a unique experience because we were able to live in the times and conditions that early American immigrants experienced, even though it was for only an hour. One word of advice for anyone planning to visit The Tenement Museum is to look at the tour as its own historical lesson and do your best not to compare it to Jacob Riis’ book because you will find that there are a lot of differences. The differences, however, are due to the distinctive time frames that the book and the tour focus on and on the fact that Riis investigated many tenements, some of which were the worst in NYC; whereas, the museum only focuses on the lives of people who lived in the present day museum, a hundred years earlier.

– Ronald Ademaj

Earlier this term, my group (Baruch, Ronald, and myself) chose the Lower East Side Tenement Museum as the site for our individual visit. As many of you may remember, my group discussed the differences between what we witnessed at the Tenement Museum and the descriptions in Jacob Riis’ How the Other Half Lives; nonetheless, it was still an enjoyable and moving experience. This was my first confrontation with immigrant struggles (even though my parents were immigrants, they had a relatively good life before I was born). Even with some decent conditions, the apartments still gave me an encounter of the struggle for space that many immigrants faced. I could only imagine the difficulty of living in an apartment with the square footage of our classroom (give or take a few square feet); everything from an immigrant’s health to his/her privacy now became an issue with such small space. On top of all this, visitors are able to gain a more personal experience when they hear the stories of each family that lived in these tenements.

I was particularly moved by the Gumpertz family and Nathalie (the mother). Nathalie was one of the few women who became head of the household, and took on the role exceedingly well. After Julius (the father) ran away and her only son died at a very young age, Nathalie was left with no skills and no source of money. Fortunately, there was a turn of events when she  inherited $600 from the death of her father-in-law and now made dresses for a living; she eventually went on to double that inheritence by the time of her death. This is truly admirable; a woman with practically no hope was able to overcome all this adversity for the sake of her two daughters. Though this may sound cliche, a person can’t help but grow a new found appreciation for their own lives after visiting these tenements and reading Riis’ book. I certainly enjoyed my visit to Lower East Side Tenement Museum and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it for anyone else.

– Erhan Posluk

In February, I visited the NYC Tenement Museum with Erhan and Ronald. We went on a one hour tour, “Getting by – Past and Present.” The building we visited, 97 Orchard Street, was owned by Prussian landlord, Glockner, from 1863-1935. Many changes have been made to the building since then. At the turn of the 20th century, burlap was added to the walls in the hallway, metal plates were added to the ceiling, running water was added, windows were enlarged. This was mainly due to the 1901 Tenement House Act, but also because the landlord lived in the building himself. When landlords lived in their own buildings, they were generally in better condition.

In 1935, all the tenants were evicted from the building because Glockner could not afford to meet new fire safety regulations. 97 Orchard was boarded up since then. The NYC Tenement Museum got involved with the building around 1988 and the building became a landmark, I believe in 1994. Compared to conditions described by Riis, I thought these tenements were in fairly good condition. I realize that it is hard to preserve history etc., but I was desensitized to the tenements by reading “How the Other Half Lives” by Riis. If you go to the museum, I recommend not to compare everything to Riis. Try to put yourself in the families shoes for a more authentic experience.

-Baruch Tabanpour