Habitually Chic®'s Logo  

Partners in Preservation

by habituallychic

05 . 03 . 12
Great architecture and old buildings are one of my big passions so when I was contacted by Partners in Preservation about becoming a blogger ambassador, I immediately said yes.  American Express and The National Trust for Historic Preservation have come together for a community-based initiative to raise awareness of the importance of historic places. Each year, they highlight a different city and this year Partners in Preservation is taking place in New York City where 40 historic sites from all five boroughs will compete for $3 million in grants. You are able to get in on the action by voting for the sites that you think should receive the money. 

As part of my duties, I was asked to visit some sites and blog about them to help spread the word.  When I looked at the list, my first choice of places to highlight was The Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side.  It had been on my “to do” list for a while so this seemed like the perfect time to visit.  

The building at 97 Orchard Street was built in 1863-64 by a German born tailor Louis Glockner.  The term tenement has become synonymous with run down buildings but at that time it just meant a building with multiple tenants.  The tour that I took was absolutely fascinating and really like a live episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?”  The building housed numerous families over the years and the museum staff looked at historical documents and even spoke to living family members to piece together the lives of those who lived in the building. There are now plans under way to recreate some of the shops and even the tavern that was in the building and add them to the tour this fall.

Most immigrants came to New York through Ellis Island.  Because there was no subway or public transportation system in 1864, they settled downtown.  The Lower East Side had different waves of immigrants from German and Jewish to the Chinese and hipsters who inhabit it today. 

The building was constructed with care as can be seen by these paintings in the main hallway. 

It was pretty amazing to walk up the same wooden staircase as the original occupants. 

The building originally did not have running water, electricity or gas.  Residents, mostly the mothers, had to go out back to the well for water and to the basement for coal to heat the stoves.  As you can imagine, this made the apartments very hot in the summer. Oh, and as you’ll see later, the bathrooms were also out back. 

The building was later fitted with gas and water lines as well as toilets in the hallways which were shared. 

It was condemned in 1935 and the apartments became storage space for the shops that were kept open on the ground floor.  Since the shopkeepers kept an eye on the upstairs, the interiors weren’t damaged by squatters and it became a time capsule that would become The Tenement Museum. 

As I mentioned, the museum has gone to amazing lengths to recreate what the apartments of some of the tenements of 97 Orchard Street would have looked like over the years.  (Ignore any fans in the photos.  Clearly they are not part of the original decor but help to keep visitors cool on hot days.)

You can read many of their stories online and take a virtual tour. 

If you have any surly teenagers at home, I highly recommend a tour of The Tenement Museum.  I know it made me appreciate all of our modern conveniences but they might appreciate that they don’t have to share a one bedroom apartment with their entire family.

There could be a family of two parents and as many as four or five children in one of these apartments. 

While some space have been recreated, others have been left as they were found to give you an idea of how many layers of paint, wallpaper and linoleum were left behind. 

This Delft wallpaper might have been hung by a Dutch family. 

One tenant set up a dress making shop in their front room. 

One of the children of this apartment happened to walk by one day and told them she lived in the building.  Her stories helped them recreate her childhood home when she lived here during the 1930’s.

Amazing linoleum rug. 

After another tenant’s husband disappeared, she supported her family by sewing dresses. New York has always been about the garment industry in some way or another. 

The coal cellar. 

America is a country built on dreams and New York is also a city of dreams.  People came here hoping for a better life and they still do.  We may have modern conveniences but it’s still hard.  It’s the dreams that keep us going as they did for all the previous generations who paved our way. I think we all owe them a visit to The Tenement Museum as a thank you. 

Photos by Heather Clawson for Habitually Chic

Disclosure: I have partnered up with Partners in Preservation as a blog ambassador to help spread the word and raise awareness of select historical sites throughout the tri-state area. Though I am compensated for my time, I have not been instructed to express any particular point of view. All opinions expressed here are strictly my own.

Comments Closed

  1. white flower farmhouse May 3, 2012 | 6:21 pm

    What a beautiful photo tour. My husband’s nanny grew up in the tenements of NYC: She loved to tell how it was her job to clean the shared bathroom. One bathroom for the entire FLOOR.
    Love this post! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Jessica May 3, 2012 | 6:46 pm

    Great post! Very cool pictures.

  3. Tricia Rose May 3, 2012 | 7:55 pm

    I just love the Tenement Museum and the intimacy of these photos, thank you Heather! Some of the scenes remind me of my grandmother’s small stone cottage in Scotland, the same sense of orderly clutter and industry, and embroidery and handwork proudly in use.

  4. KSO May 3, 2012 | 7:58 pm

    I love the Tenement Museum in NY. It is such a wonderful place and definitely not your typical museum. I visited in High School and it was a huge learning experience- I’m visiting NY again later this month with someone who has never been to NY and this is on my list of places to go! Thanks for posting about it!

  5. BlubabesCreate May 3, 2012 | 8:24 pm

    Fascinating! Absolute love!

  6. Bobbie May 3, 2012 | 10:36 pm

    Good for you for taking the post. I can’t stress enough how important it is to maintain historical architecture. The building I moved into last year is only 20 years older than this, and not too far off in terms of condition, but I love and wouldn’t want it any other way.

  7. donna May 4, 2012 | 1:59 am


    I am a big fan of your blog and my organization – the Apollo Theater is also a PIP site. Hope you’ll come and visit us as well.

  8. Foscarini May 4, 2012 | 6:06 am

    Just want to say your article is as amazing. The clearness in your post is just nice and i can assume you are an expert on this subject. Fine with your permission let me to grab your feed to keep updated with forthcoming post. Thanks a million and please continue the gratifying work.

  9. Cindy at enclos*ure May 4, 2012 | 6:27 am

    What a wonderful tour. Thanks!

  10. Lighting table lamps May 4, 2012 | 8:06 am

    What a blast! Besides having a great grasp of perspective, what a great…grasp of perspective…such artists have to pour so much heart into something so ephemeral.


  11. elise May 4, 2012 | 9:24 am

    Thank you so much for sharing this with us. What a fascinating post!
    I loved touring the tenement with you,the photos were great! I could almost smell the age and dust, wonderful!

  12. Casa Forma Interior Designer May 4, 2012 | 9:39 am

    The dressing table and mirror with the linen drape reminds me of my grandma’s bedroom. Evokes a lot of lovely childhood memories for me..

  13. Style Maniac May 4, 2012 | 11:16 am

    This is one of the most moving museums I have ever been to, with special resonance for me because my grandmother came through Ellis Island (and later worked as a seamstress in the Garment District).

    When I visited a few years ago, as we waited to enter the museum, we noticed steam coming out of nearby buildings. Steam from sweatshops. Very sobering to think of what so many immigrants — then and now — endured to begin a new life.

  14. kelly jones May 4, 2012 | 11:34 am

    wow!i really love your collection, all of your photos are lovely! its nice to see some one who does a lot of research and have a great information,which is rare to find on blogs these days.

    thank you for your efforts and hardwork!
    apartments in nyc

  15. Christine May 4, 2012 | 12:01 pm

    Love this post, is on my to do list next time I go to NYC. Thank you for sharing.
    Take Care.

  16. Karena May 4, 2012 | 12:46 pm

    Heather we really do forget how fortunate we are! Amazing post!


    Art by Karena

  17. debbie May 4, 2012 | 12:48 pm

    It is so important to preserve buildings such as this one for future generations. Thank you for sharing.

  18. kayce hughes May 4, 2012 | 12:56 pm

    Such a treat to see! I doubt that I will get there soon so it was nice to be able to “visit” via your blog.
    thank you.

  19. Anonymous May 4, 2012 | 1:07 pm

    What a beautiful post. I am always looking for new ideas to share with my son when we are in New York. This is perfect for our next road trip

  20. Jeanne May 4, 2012 | 1:16 pm

    Wow, fantastic images! I’d love to visit The Tenement Museum some day. My paternal ancestors came to “New Amsterdam” in the 17th century from Ghent, Netherlands. I have an article stating that one of them traded 100 acres (which is now Broadway & Canal) for a farm in NJ in the late 18th century (bad move! haha). I feel like I’ve just gotten a glimse at how some of them may have lived. Thank you! //Jeanne in Michigan

  21. capriciouslyinspired May 4, 2012 | 2:47 pm

    Great post! And really nice message at the end to remind us that immigrants are still coming to America hoping for a better life and not all are able to get it.

  22. mary May 4, 2012 | 3:11 pm

    Hi Heather,
    When I moved to NY after college, I lived in a slightly renovated tenement 5-flight walk-up building (small bath was added) on East 65th St. between 1st and 2nd—my how that area has changed!! So interesting…I wonder how many of us are descended from those who did immigrate to America and who originally lived in those lower East Side tenements?
    Thanks, Mary

  23. Layers and Layers May 4, 2012 | 3:16 pm

    great post. I shall make a point to visit this september while I am there. Looking forward to other posts about the NY preservation lists.

  24. Anonymous May 5, 2012 | 3:44 am

    Thank you for this post, I am always inspired by how people lived in the past before the existence of modern conveniences. It makes me want to keep living simply and gratefully.

  25. pve design May 5, 2012 | 10:55 am

    When I came to NY, I lived at The Webster House on 34th street. My room was painted that same pool bottom green. I did love living there. I paid $72 dollars a week and that included 3 squares.
    Thanks for sharing and you are so right, NY is a city of dreams.

  26. Holiday boutique.net/blog May 6, 2012 | 2:43 am

    This was one of best blog entires I’ve read in a long time. I appreciate your attention to detail and professional manner very much. I applaud your success and it is well deserved! Your m.o. Is a huge inspiration for me to “dig in” deeper with my own blog, writing, research and overall approach. I feel lazy when I read Habitually Chic!
    Holiday boutique.net/blog

  27. Leslie May 7, 2012 | 11:41 am

    What an amazing opportunity for you! So very interesting…thank you for sharing. Definitely on the must-see list for our next visit!!