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Edward
February 13th, 2002, 11:59 PM
NEW YORK TIMES February 13, 2002
Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Building?
By CLYDE HABERMAN

Only a fool or a columnist the two are often interchangeable would choose sides in a dispute over New York real estate.

Each party to such a dispute usually swears high and low that it alone is on the side of the angels. Almost always, there are hidden and perilous crannies. Property fights in this city are like onions: peel back one layer of argument and what you find is another layer.

So let's tread somewhat lightly in a bruising battle between the Lower East Side Tenement Museum and some neighbors who are resisting its attempts to take over their building on Orchard Street.

If you have never been to the museum, at 97 Orchard Street, you are missing a Lower Manhattan gem, for it offers a glimpse into New York tenement life as it was in the early part of the last century. Walk up the five flights and wander through the small apartments, and you can sense how immigrant families like the Baldizzis, Rogarshevskys and Confinos lived after they got off the boat. They were part of a Lower East Side that obviously exists no more.

Now, 14 years after it came into being, the museum says it must have more space for several reasons: to install an elevator for the handicapped, under the Americans With Disabilities Act; to more than double the number of visitors, now maxed out at about 90,000 a year; and to solidify its partnership on immigration projects with Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.

"We're turning people away every weekend," said Ruth J. Abram, the museum's president. "We have to turn school groups away. We'd like to open it up to all the people who'd like to get in."

To do that, the museum wants to take over its virtual twin, the building next door at 99 Orchard Street. The problem is that the owners of No. 99 do not want to sell, at least not at a price that the museum has been willing to pay. One of the landlords, Louis Holtzman, talks about his family's connection to the 138-year-old building, going back to when his grandfather bought it around 1910.

"People tell me, `You can make a lot of money,' " Mr. Holtzman said. "But what happens if you don't want to sell?"

Stymied, the museum has shifted gears, asking the Empire State Development Corporation, a state agency, to condemn No. 99. The aim is to let the museum acquire the building under the laws of eminent domain, which authorize the taking of private property for a perceived greater public good with compensation for the landlord, of course, and with any tenants relocated. The procedure is familiar. This newspaper, for example, is asking the development corporation to do the same in its behalf so it can build a new headquarters on Eighth Avenue.

The signs suggest that the state agency is sympathetic to the museum, though a decision may not come until spring.

"Eminent domain scares people," Ms. Abram acknowledged. "It brings up images of the big guy versus the small." Nonetheless, she said, "We do need this building." To which Mr. Holtzman responds: "You buy a building. You want to build a business. Should the state come in and take your business?"

Now get set for layers of charges and countercharges.


THE museum says that Mr. Holtzman and his partner, Peter Liang, did serious damage to No. 97 with construction work on their own building. It has questioned whether Mr. Holtzman is even an owner. In turn, Mr. Holtzman and his wife, Mimi, have cast the museum as a predator and Ms. Abram as a politically connected arriviste intent on making them look bad.

This might be just another New York bag of onions if not for one thing.

Since last summer, the Holtzmans have rented 14 renovated apartments in their building. A typical price is $1,600 a month for 375 square feet. The Baldizzis and Rogarshevskys may not have earned that much in a year. This, however, is 21st-century New York, where that kind of rent is considered absurd but not unreasonable.

Those tenants help explain why eminent domain is opposed by the local community board, No. 3, and by the neighborhood's lawmakers in Albany, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and State Senator Thomas K. Duane.

The renters may not be the tired, poor and huddled masses of yesteryear. But there they are all the same. For some, the question is basic: to show how people used to live on the Lower East Side, should the museum be able to evict people who actually live on the Lower East Side?

Ms. Abram says yes, and hopes the state will do the same. But she agrees that "it does seem ironic."

lofter1
July 20th, 2005, 07:53 PM
NEW YORK TIMES February 13, 2002
Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Building?

... let's tread somewhat lightly in a bruising battle between the Lower East Side Tenement Museum and some neighbors ...

The renters may not be the tired, poor and huddled masses of yesteryear. But there they are all the same. For some, the question is basic: to show how people used to live on the Lower East Side, should the museum be able to evict people who actually live on the Lower East Side?

Ms. Abram says yes, and hopes the state will do the same. But she agrees that "it does seem ironic."

That's the understatement of the decade...

Sorry that I can't report to you on the outcome. This whole episode so disturbed me and seems so utterly wrong in all aspects that I purposefully avoid the Tenement Museum at all costs.

ManhattanKnight
July 21st, 2005, 08:06 AM
This whole episode so disturbed me and seems so utterly wrong in all aspects that I purposefully avoid the Tenement Museum at all costs.

Late last year I acceded to the whim of an out-of-town visitor who wanted to visit the Tenement Museum and signed up for one of its guided tours. The first of two guides, a rather world-weary college-age man, assembled our small group on the Orchard Street sidewalk in front of the tenement building, delivered a mini-lecture on the history of the street and its buildings and, at one point, asked the group "does anyone know who was the President of the United States during World War One?" My wise-guy answer ("Ronald Reagan?") wasn't well-received.

He then told us that we were to pretent to be a group of newly-arrived immigrants needing an introduction to tenement life and that he would like us to meet a young Jewish girl who lived in the building. He led us inside and introduced us to her. She was another college-ager, dressed in an approximation of rags and speaking an approximation of Yiddish-American. The next half hour or so was beyond painful, relieved only when a kid from California piped up "where's the TV?"

The tenement itself, minus the guides, is well-worth seeing -- a nearly perfectly intact early 20th century urban hell-hole probably very much like the one that my own Yiddish-American grandmother lived in after she arrived here as a teenager shortly before World War I.

billyblancoNYC
July 21st, 2005, 10:09 AM
It sucks for the people that have to move, but this museum seems to be done right and is important to NYC. I don't really mind losing some apartments to something like this. I know I'M not losing them, but you know what I mean.

lheast
November 23rd, 2005, 02:29 AM
We are glad people are still talking about our situation. It was not just taking aprtments,Ruth Abram and her cronies at the museum tried to steal our building through eminent domain with her politically connected family.It was a vicious attack on our 4 generations of family at 99 Orchard St. Check the website to see what really happened.
http://www.tenementnauseum.com/

brianac
June 17th, 2008, 05:11 AM
Now, Tenement Museum Reflects Irish Immigration

By EVE M. KAHN
Published: June 17, 2008

A wake was probably held on April 21, 1869, in a cramped walk-up at 97 Orchard Street. A 5-month-old girl, Agnes Moore, had died that morning of malnutrition. Her Irish immigrant parents, Joseph and Bridget, may have invited the German immigrant neighbors in the building and some co-workers from the saloons and restaurants where Mr. Moore worked to visit and mourn, as well as the Catholic priest who had baptized Agnes.

http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2008/06/17/nyregion/17tenement01_650.jpgLibrado Romero/The New York Times
The recreation of Joseph and Bridget Moore’s 1869 bedroom and kitchen.

http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2008/06/16/nyregion/17tenement02_650.jpgLibrado Romero/The New York Times
A coffin for the Moores’ 5-month-old daughter, Agnes.

Maybe Mr. Moore offered the visitors some whiskey, and maybe Mrs. Moore keened as the guests numbly picked at a buffet of bread, ham and boiled potatoes. They may have sat on mismatched chairs, facing a little whitewashed coffin with a rosary of black beads lying on top. On the mantel over the coal-burning stove in the kitchen, there could well have been bunches of dried herbal remedies like pokeweed and bottles of alcoholic patent medicines that had failed to keep Agnes alive.

Such is the speculation of the curators and staff members of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, also on Orchard Street. After consulting census records, genealogical databases, church records, city directories and various forms of archaeological evidence, they have established names and dates and occupations for the Moores, but the smaller details of their daily life and even the furnishings of their apartment reflect educated guesses.

On Tuesday, the Moores’ place will become the sixth apartment of former immigrant residents of 97 Orchard Street to be recreated. The apartments are all nearly identical in size at about 325 square feet. One represents the home of a German Jewish family soon after the father disappeared; another a Lithuanian Jewish family whose father had just died. Another is the remade home of Italian Catholics about to be evicted.

The museum was established in 1988 in 97 Orchard, an 1864 brick building, and attracts 130,000 visitors a year. The building is a time capsule of primitive bathrooms and windowless passageways. In 1935, the building’s owners sealed off most of the 20 units rather than make changes to meet new housing codes.

The fourth-floor apartment for the Moores — it is not known exactly where in the building they lived — will be the museum’s earliest simulation and the first to reflect the huge influx of Irish immigrants in the 19th century.

“We take these dynamic, compelling family stories, and use them to draw people into the greater historical context of immigrants in America,” said Stephen H. Long, the vice president of collections and education at the museum. Members of the staff began researching the Moores five years ago.

The Moores’ experience, Mr. Long added, also made for teachable moments about the history of medicine and public health. “When the Moores lived here,” he said, “the mortality rate for Irish immigrant children was 25 percent.”

Only four of the Moores’ eight children, all girls, reached adulthood. Mrs. Moore died in 1882, when she was 36, shortly after giving birth to her eighth daughter. Curators speculate that the malnutrition that killed Agnes was brought on by drinking swill: milk from diseased cows, which street vendors ladled out of dirty vats and sometimes adulterated with chalk or ammonia.

In the recreated apartment, the milk pitcher is an innocuous shiny brown ceramic vessel with raised butterfly motifs. Like much of the furnishings, which the museum researchers bought mostly on eBay or at antiques stores, it suggests that the Moores yearned for pretty things; Mr. Moore would have made perhaps $20 a month as a waiter or bartender and paid $8 in rent.

The cloth rugs are brightly striped. A few pieces of blue willow china are propped up on the kitchen shelves. Near the coffin, the father’s dark wood desk — the mother could read but not write — is carved with scrollwork.

“We wanted to emphasize the human urge to decorate,” Mr. Long said.
None of the original furnishings have survived. In fact, when museum researchers contacted a few descendants of one of the Moores’ daughters, Jane, they learned that the family did not even know their ancestors had ever lived at 97 Orchard Street.

The restoration contractor for the apartment, Kevin Groves, who heads a three-member workshop in Montgomery, N.Y., said “we used square-cut nails and redwood beams, just like the originals, so even what visitors can’t see” is true to the period.

Docents leading tours of the Moores’ home will also take groups to an adjacent multimedia room — a crumbling apartment down the hall, where images of immigrants flash on a window and period songs play.

One song decries employers who would not hire the Irish. One sympathizes with Irish transplants in New York “all jumbled up together” in a “paradise for rats.” And one straightforwardly warns, “Mothers, be careful and cautious,” and avoid “milkmen who are selling us swill.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/17/nyregion/17tenement.html?_r=1&ref=nyregion&oref=slogin

Copyright 2008 (http://www.nytimes.com/ref/membercenter/help/copyright.html) The New York Times Company (http://www.nytco.com/)

UrbanSculptures
August 6th, 2010, 06:38 PM
Stymied, the museum has shifted gears, asking the Empire State Development Corporation, a state agency, to condemn No. 99. The aim is to let the museum acquire the building under the laws of eminent domain, which authorize the taking of private property for a perceived greater public good — with compensation for the landlord, of course, and with any tenants relocated. The procedure is familiar. This newspaper, for example, is asking the development corporation to do the same in its behalf so it can build a new headquarters on Eighth Avenue.

Wrong, wrong and still wrong! This is not something that HAS to be done for the greater good like widening a substandard narrow street because of severe traffic problems, it's not condemning the building because the foundation is failing and it's in danger of collapse and represents a safety hazzard, it would be done only because a tiny museum wants to EXPAND to add an elevator and so on, that's BS!

For one thing, the building next door is not in it's original condition, the museum is unique because the building had been vacated and sealed up and remained sealed up for decades as it was, a time-capsule and the apartments were as they were when the tenants vacated.

All the museum could do with the building next door is FAKE IT like a Hollywood movie set, rip out the plasterboard and everything new, and put in a Hollywood interior and try to make it look old, that doesn't cut it.
They have a web site and virtual 360 degree tour, if someone can't get in or can't travel to get there, the web site and tour show it all.