The Lower East Side Tenement Museum is located at 97 Orchard Street in the Lower East Side of Manhattan in New York City. The museum is a remarkably well-preserved example of a nineteenth-century tenement building. Tenements were small apartment buildings common to New York City in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They were often crowded closely together with many small, cramped apartments in each building. Drinking wells and outhouses were often in very close proximity. These living conditions fostered the spread of disease and made life difficult.
At five stories with a cellar and a brick exterior, the simple building is a typical expression of a tenement in the Italianate style. What makes this museum remarkable are the stories told about the immigrants and working-class people who called the building home.
Completed in 1864, the building was home to 10,000 people over the next 72 years. Museum staff and volunteers have done thorough research and learned the personal histories of many residents. They share those stories in guided tours. It is a powerful, moving experience to walk through the space and to hear the very words of those who lived there. The guides share stories of intense suffering and sacrifice, and also accomplishment and deep family bonds.
In the mid-twentieth century the city passed new laws to force landlords to make extensive updates to these dwellings. Some landlords felt these improvements would be too expensive to make and so stopped renting the apartments. This is what happened at 108 Orchard Street. In 1935 the owner closed up the upper apartments, but continued renting out the street level space as shops. In 1988, when organizers were looking for a good example of the tenement experience, they discovered a perfectly preserved space, where many of the interior details, such as wallpapers and paint, remained intact.
Though a modest building in size and design, today the Tenement Museum is an outstanding example of the American immigrant experience.
If You Go
Tickets are required to tour the museum and can be purchased at the Visitor Center at 108 Orchard Street (at Delancey Street) or you can buy them online before you go. Advance ticket purchases are recommended.
All tours begin at the Museum Shop.