Like other early tenements, 97 Orchard Street was a sparsely appointed building. It lacked gas for light and heat, indoor toilets and running water.
But, in 1867, New York City began passing legislation to improve conditions in tenements. The ensuing wave of housing laws prompted the landlord of 97 Orchard Street to install gas lines, running water and interior flush toilets. By the early 1900s, he had also transformed the building's entryway, dressing it up with tile floors, burlap wall coverings, pressed metal ceilings and oil paintings.
Housing laws also called for increased air and light in the apartments. Landlords blanched at this provision, but eventually complied by cutting windows in the walls that connected rooms in the apartments.