For my final day in NYC I decided to finally go to the Tenement Museum, which has been on my list of things to do for a very long time. I’ve never made it before because everything is a timed tour, which always made me feel anxious about fitting it in around whatever else I might have planned during a trip. Since I had no other plans for Thursday and the weather was decent I decided it was finally time.
The Tenement Museum owns two old buildings on Orchard Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, which has been home to many different groups of immigrants including Germans, Eastern European Jews, and more recently Chinese and Salvadorans and Colombians. They bought the building in the late 80s after it had been sitting vacant for decades. They restored most of the apartments to recreate what they would have been like for specific families that lived there during various times. They did a lot of research to find out about the lives of the people who lived there and you learn about their lives on the apartment tours.
I wanted the weather to be nice because I wanted to do both a walking tour and one of the apartment tours. There are a number of tours to choose from, so I will definitely have to go back again the future to do some of the other ones. It is a fairly expensive proposition though. Each tour is $30, though you do get a 40% discount on one of your tours if you combine a walking tour and an apartment tour.
I did the Outside the Home walking tour and the Sweatshop Workers apartment tour. The Outside the Home tour was great. We walked around the neighborhood and learned about how it had changed and looked at some very specific buildings that were built during specific times to learn about how people lived, shopped, and worked. It was really interesting and our tour guide was wonderful.
I unfortunately did not think the tour guide for the apartment tour was nearly as good. I suspect the quality of the tours depends both on your guide and the group of people you are with. I enjoyed the walking tour way more the apartment tour and I suspect the different guide and different participants had something to do with it. My apartment tour looked the apartments of a couple of different families who ran small sweatshops sewing garments in their houses. It was really fascinating to learn about the families and think about how so many people lived in such a small space made even smaller by running a business out of it.
I would definitely recommend the Tenement Museum if you have the time and money. I definitely look forward to doing some of the other tours in the future.
Here’s some photos of a few of the buildings we talked about on the walking tour. You’re not allowed to take photos inside the apartments, so I don’t have any pictures of those. The one that has ABC on the front of it was the old Loew’s Canal Street Theatre. Apparently the old theatre, which seats over 2,500 people is still back there in disrepair and the Loew’s corporation still owns the building. Our tour guide showed us a picture of the inside. It would be an awesome space if someone fixed it up.
I had a little bit of time to kill after my tour before I had to head to Penn Station to pick up my train. I had to go back downtown to the hotel to pick up my bag, so I just wandered around a little bit and wound up at Pier 17, which is the whole huge new development of restaurants and shops that are still being built. Gentrification central for sure. They do have some nice benches and chairs built on the water though, so I sat and enjoyed the beautiful sun on my face and watched the ships go by for awhile. I’m pretty sure I’m powered by the sun and the water, so this was a very rejuvenating end to my trip.