Looking for some prime real estate on the Lower East Side of Manhattan? Well, I hope you have a steady job and several roommates, because it’s expensive. We often think of Manhattan realty as something only accessible to Lady Gaga or Paris Hilton’s dog. However, if you turn back the clock a hundred years or so, you would be amazed at what living in NYC really meant.
As you might know, Wagner College’s freshmen are divided up into learning communities, or LCs for short. As current freshman, I am a member of LC 1. (Shout out to LC 1!) Our LC focuses on immigrant waves to New York City, particularly Jewish immigrants of the early 1900s. On a recent learning excursion, we took a trip to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. This national historic site is one of New York’s most remarkable homes of history.
Now, unlike a traditional museum, the Tenement Museum isn’t full of signs and dioramas enclosed in glass, but an actual home. The museum has refurbished the inside and outside of the former tenement housing of 97 Orchard Street, giving us an idea of what it would have been like for a poor immigrant family in the 1900s.
Walking up the narrow staircase of 97 Orchard Street feels a bit dangerous. Chipping paint and wallpaper surrounds you, in addition to the splintering wood on the staircase. You step into small, cramped apartments and are astonished to learn that families of six, seven and even eight were crammed into a space not much larger then the dorm room I currently live in. As you listen to the tour guide, you grow hot and anxious, due to the little light and close quarters. You get the chance to learn about the people that once lived there, their lives, struggles and quest for the American dream.
Lucky for me, the trip wasn’t all somber history; we were also lead by our professors to Katz’s Delicatessen — a tradition on the Lower East Side which you might know best from a movie called When Harry Met Sally. Remember when Sally delivers what I consider an important monologue on femininity in the 1990s? Where people want what she’s having? No? Okay, go Google “I’ll have what she’s having” and come back when you’re finished. I’ll wait. Okay, done? Great! In addition to providing romantic comedy locations, Katz’s is a great place to grab a classic New York bite to eat. The food is reminiscent of what Jewish immigrants of the 1900s would dine on. I recommend the corned beef on rye with half sour pickles on the side. If it’s before noon, try a bagel with lox and cream cheese. Come hungry and bring cash.
The Lower East Side is just a small slice of NYC history to be explored. It is well worth the trip, and afterward you can think of how you can leave your mark on the city. Hopefully you can find a place to live first.
(Looking for a roommate? Hate corned beef? Just like to type? Don’t forget to leave a comment!)