Hometown Traitors: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, and Spies on the Lower East Side

One of the last remaining players in the most notorious spy cases in United States history died in July, but the news was only announced this week as the deceased was living under an assumed name. On Tuesday, the New York Times discovered that David Greenglass had died in a nursing home. He was 92.

Greenglass became infamous in the 1950’s after he provided testimony that sentenced his sister, Ethel Greenglass Rosenberg, and her husband, Julius, to death on charges of passing nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union.

Ethel and Julius Rosenberg after being found guilty by the jury in 1951. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The story of the Rosenberg’s trial is extremely complicated and is a miasmic portrait of family betrayals and loyalties as well as national and political ones; and it all began on the Lower East Side…

It was not uncommon for some of the Eastern European immigrants on the Lower East Side or their children to be Communists in the early days of Communism and the birth of the Soviet Union. Though many Lower East Siders later became critical of the realities of Communism, at first the political tenets seemed like the equality for which these exiles had been hoping. The Greenglasses and the Rosenbergs were extreme examples of this idealism.

Shots of a Communist demonstration in 1937 from the photo archives of the New York Public Library.

Ethel Greenglass and her brother David were the children of Eastern European immigrants; their mother was from Austria and their father was from Russia. They grew up on the Lower East Side – Ethel met Julius Rosenberg, the child of Russian immigrants, in high school. Initially Ethel’s parents did not approve of Julius, and the young couple met in secret in the rooms of Ethel’s brother Bernard, where there was much discussion of the Communist party.

David also met his wife, Ruth Leah Printz around their Lower East Side neighborhood. They were neighbors and allegedly childhood sweethearts, who also shared a love of the Communist party (it’s hard to imagine now, but for some, Marxist revolution was quite romantic).

David attended Haaran High School and later Brooklyn Polytechnic but he flunked out. He was not seen as an especially bright engineer but he was somehow assigned to work with the top secret Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, New Mexico. There he was able to successfully gather information on the atomic bomb, which he eventually brought back to his sister’s apartment in Knickerbocker Village, a housing complex on the Lower East Side. Either Ethel or David’s wife, Ruth, transcribed the documents, but this matter remains up for debate.

A early photo of Knickerbocker Village, a housing development on the Lower East Side, home at one point to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Photo courtesy of the New York Public Library.

Ruth alleged that it was Ethel who had typed the notes, and David defended this position on the witness stand. It is seen as one of the most damning pieces of testimony in the case in which Ethel and Julius were sentenced to death via electric chair. Speculation today entertains the possibility that David exaggerated the roles of his sister and brother-in-law to draw attention away from his own deeds.

David received 15 years in prison for his role in the spying, and was released after 9 ½ years. Ruth faced no prosecution due to the Greenglass’ cooperation with authorities. While evidence today suggests that Julius was guilty of treason, New York Times reporter and Tenement Talk alumnus Sam Roberts prompted an admission from David that he lied on the stand. Though he claimed it was his sister who typed the fateful notes, he had no real memory of this being the case. Roberts received the answer, “’I don’t remember that at all,’ Mr. Greenglass said. ‘I frankly think my wife did the typing, but I don’t remember.’”

[Even after all the years of reflection, David said he had no regrets] “‘My wife is more important to me than my sister. Or my mother or my father, O.K.? And she was the mother of my children.’”

That’s as dramatic a tale as any of love and betrayal on the Lower East Side.

A 'modern' cell at Sing Sing maximum security prison where Ethel and Julius were held and eventually executed. Photo courtesy of the New York Public Library.

–Posted by Julia Berick

A Tale of Two Tenements

145 Buccleuch Street also known as the Tenement House, a museum run by the National Trust for Scotland, in a row of tenements in Glasgow.

Of course we are not the only Tenement on the block… and last month we brought you news of a Tenement on another continent, Glasgow’s Tenement House at 145 Buccleuch street.

Many aspects of immigration were similar between New York and Glasgow. Both cities witnessed a period of booming industrialization, which filled the city’s tenements with working class populations. Taking  a look at the life of Miss Agnes Toward, a resident of Glasgow’s Tenement House museum, gives us a sense of the day-to-day similarities of life between the Lower East Side and Glasgow.

A picture of Miss Agnes Toward in the 1960s courtesy of the National Trust for Scotland.

In many ways Miss Toward’s life resembles that of the residents in our tenement at 97 Orchard Street. Agnes Toward was raised as an only child after her sister died in infancy from Tabes Mesenterica,  a kind of tuberculosis contracted through infected cow’s milk. Our records suggest that cow’s milk, which was often mixed with contaminants like chalk and ammonia, was also a common cause of death among infants in our own Tenement.

The Toward family was financially comfortable until Agnes’ father died when she was three, revealing the difficulties widowed women faced in maintaining a livable income. Agnes’ mother became a dress maker but records show that she also received help from her church (called a kirk) and from the Glasgow Benevolent Society. Much like our own tenement resident, Natalie Gumpertz,  who started a dressmaking business after being abandoned by her husband, Agnes relied on community support as well as her own entrepreneurial skills to survive.

Even with these financial difficulties, Agnes was able to finish school. Upon reaching the end of her studies, she mostly likely chose training as a typist because it would have been relatively affordable. Agnes eventually settled at the shipping firm Prentice, Service & Henderson where she would work until she was in her 70s. She was paid 17 shillings, or 70 pence, a week, which in today’s currency is about a dollar. While her income was modest, Miss Toward also enjoyed paid vacation and was able to take annual holidays, which was as rare in Glasgow as it would have been on the Lower East Side.

At the time it was uncommon for a woman to work her entire life as a typist. Most of Miss Toward’s co-workers would have quit working such a job after they were married. Miss Toward however, never married and was therefore more free to continue to work, but it also required her to be more self-sufficient.

The kitchen at 145 Buccleuch Street in Glasgow. Photo courtesy of the Scottish National Trust.

Agnes belonged to a food co-op which would have been a bit more expensive means of buying vegetables, but there were benefits to this kind of purchasing. Agnes would have been able to get a dividend or a ‘divvy’ based on how much she had spent that month. In addition, the co-op offered special services such as milk delivery, funeral arrangements and catering.  Miss Towards involvement in the co-op can be seen as similar to the community investment of many of our tenement dwellers. For both populations on a strict budget, the security of having support to pay for the unexpected expenses, such as funerals or weddings, was well worth the effort. Our tenement dwellers might have gotten similar support through political party alignment or religious membership.

Born into the 19th century but raised in the 20th, Miss Toward in many ways represents the challenges that so acutely faced our residents. Miss Toward, like the residents of our tenement, managed to find a place for herself in a city which evolved daily to produce more goods, employ more people, and house more residents. Though Agnes did not emigrate like many of our residents, she died a long way from rural Bonhill, Dunbartonshire where her father was born in 1843.

–Posted by Julia Berick

Visitor(s) of the Month: Caraline Brown & Evelyn Frost

Meet Caraline Brown and Evelyn Frost, a dynamic duo hailing from the United Kingdom!

The dynamic singing ticket purchasing duo of Caraline Brown and Evelyn Frost

They voyaged across the pond to see the musician Morrissey perform, but when his US tour was cancelled, Caraline and Evelyn found musical solace in a somewhat unlikely place… The Tenement Museum! Morrissey’s loss is the Tenement Museum’s gain.

The pair, who had first visited the museum in 1998, strolled up to the Tour Tickets counter and actually sang to the Visitor Center staff an improvised operatic duet requesting printed tickets for the Irish Outsiders tour. Our Visitor Center staff melodiously informed them that their tickets were printing, and that they would meet their educator promptly at the time of their tickets, in the center of the room.

After their Irish Outsiders tour concluded, Caraline and Evelyn came back to the Visitor Center and shared their feedback and more of their story.

The Tenement Museum was a natural destination for the duo, who share a deeply rooted interest in housing for those who live below the poverty line. Evelyn works in housing in London, where she advocates for resident agency and helps set policy. Caraline participated in a remarkable “Street Retreat,” where she lived under the conditions of homelessness for four nights.

When asked why they took Irish Outsiders, Evelyn mentioned that the pair had been “taught by Irish nuns,” at convent school, where they became life-long best friends since age 12.

The duo was surprised by the fine details and carvings, and particularly shocked to see top hats on the tour. “My Irish family living in England had it worse,” Caraline muses after the tour. “In the 50s, they were still living like it was 30s.”

Musical souls who “learned to sing hymns in the church” as school girls, the two were particularly moved by the sound of keening heard on the Irish Outsiders tour.

If you are planning a visit to the Tenement Museum, consider our Irish Outsiders tour, especially if you are deeply moved by the power of music. And don’t be afraid to sing while your tickets are being printed!

- Post by Ben Wigler

Fresh-Faced! Restoring the Storefront at 97 Orchard Street

This layer of white primer made the storefront really stand out for a day or two.

Tenement lore has it that when the Tenement Museum’s founders, Ruth Abram and Anita Jacobsen, first entered 97 Orchard Street in 1988 the interior had been untouched since 1935. The exterior, however is a different story. The buildings stoop and storefront façade had looked markedly different a half-century earlier. While some elements of the turn-of-the-twentieth century façade remained, it had been painted a deep green and steel roll-down gates had been added to the storefront windows.

97 Orchard Street’s stoop and wooden façade was restored in 2001 to appear as it did circa 1905 when then landlords Barnet Goldfein and Benjamin Posner gave the stoop and storefronts a facelift. Using a circa 1915 photo of the Rogarshevsky family taken in front of 97 Orchard Street, architects Li/Saltzman traced and compared elements in the image with extant examples in the vicinity to responsibly restore the stoop and façade.

The storefront of 97 Orchard Street before renovation.

Using design software, the Museum’s preservation architects, Li/Saltzman Architects, enhanced the stoop in this 1915 photo of the Rogarshevsky family. The results, which offered an idea of what the stoop looked like after being overhauled in 1905, were traced and compared against extant elements from other stoops in the vicinity. Due to the mass production of building elements from the period when the Tenement was built; it was possible to find comparable historic examples on other buildings neighborhood.

Preservation architecture always requires a lot of research but sometimes requires a little creativity. The cast-iron balustrades proved to be particularly challenging for the architects to reproduce, as there was only a small portion visible in the Rogarshevsky photo.  A similar balustrade was located on MacDougal Street matching the “form and intent” of the original pattern. Similarly, the design of the stair treads was difficult to discern in the c. 1915 photograph, but using similar stairs at St. Mark’s Church in the East Village, the architects came up with a suitable alternative.

Paint analysis of the remaining wood elements on the façade conducted by Cynthia Hinson of Historic Preservation & Illumination revealed a crude faux wood graining as the storefront’s earliest finish. Contractors with Felix Chavez Inc., recreated the faux wood grain to the architects specifications.

The photograph of the Rogarshevsky family in front of the stoop of 97 Orchard Street. This photograph helped preservation architects recreate the details of the original façade.

After nearly 15 years, the storefront restoration was in need of a facelift. The elements had not been kind to the restored finish, resulting in areas of significantly deteriorated wood and fading of the historic faux wood-grain paint. And you thought you suffered through the polar vortex. Between September and October 2014, the Tenement Museum’s long-time restoration carpenter, Kevin Groves, repaired sections of the storefront façade and repainted using the same faux-wood grain technique used in 2001.

If you are in the neighborhood stop by and admire our fresh-faced façade!

– Posted by Dave Favaloro, Director of Curatorial Affairs and Hebrew Technical Institute  Research Fellow 

 

An Experience in Rwanda…

As we sat around the table in the art room surrounded by their paintings and drawings, I asked the students, “What is a museum?” “A place for old things,” they said.  “You can learn about people from the past.” They were surprised to hear that some museums collect stories and that these stories are not just about important people who lived long ago, but also about people just like them.

I have had this conversation with many students in New York City, but this time the conversation took place in Rwanda at the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village (ASYV).  Home to 500 high school students, ASYV provides some of Rwanda’s most vulnerable teens with a home, education, and the opportunity to realize their potential. Founded in 2008 by the philanthropist Anne Heyman, the village is a testament to resilience.  The children are all survivors of Rwanda’s national trauma, but I never would have guessed this looking into their smiling faces.  My week at ASYV challenged many of my own assumptions about global citizenship, at risk youth, education, and what it means to heal. It also affirmed my belief in the power of personal stories to connect us across time and place, from the specific to the universal.

Students from the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village

 

The students were amazed that a museum could be in a former home as the Tenement Museum is, and that it could tell the stories of immigrants that once lived inside. It also got the group thinking about the stories that each of them have to tell. At the Tenement Museum, objects ground our stories and so I had the students think about an object that was special to them and begin to write about it. Initially they were dubious about the power of ordinary objects to communicate, but as time passed, markers quietly filled the paper and ideas were shared.

For many students, the objects that were most special to them were worn. Jewelry linked their lives to family members who had passed on. Necklaces had the power to communicate the love of grandmother and of a father who never met his child. Plastic watches became living memorials that inspired students “to work hard in order to reach his/her purpose.” The objects were rich in meaning. They contained memories, motivation, and emotions that traversed generations.

As we heard about each other’s objects and looked at the drawings they inspired, the value of the students’ stories was clear. They were powerful. Although they were specific, it became apparent that their stories were also universal and that they too were worthy of a museum.

Special thanks to the Jewish Joint Distribution Community for organizing the Entwine program that brought me to Agahozo and to the ROI Community for its financial support of my travel.

- Miriam Bader

Questions for the Reporter: We ask Sam Roberts about 101 Objects

A pink “Spaldeen” ball, a bagel, a yellow checker cab… which objects do you think of when you try to distill New York in to 101 Objects? Inspired by a project done by the BBC and The British Museum that told the History of the World in 100 objects, Sam Roberts saw the opportunity to tell the history of our eclectic city in 101 objects.

Sam Roberts's latest book takes a look at the history of New York through 101 pivotal objects.

We are so excited to welcome Sam Roberts to the Tenement Museum as he discusses his new book, A History of New York in 101 Objects in conversation with writer Kevin Baker. Roberts has been the New York Times Urban Affairs Correspondent since 2005 and is the author of several other books including  Grand Central: How a Train Station Transformed America. The New York Historical Society has gathered some of the 101 Objects and they are now view in a special exhibit until November 30th.

We were so excited to welcome Mr. Roberts to the Tenement Museum to discuss his book that we could not resist asking him for a bit more information about the project and his own history with New York.

……..

You have an obvious love for the city, what is your favorite New York neighborhood to stroll? Is it your own? When did you first fall in love with this particular piece of New York?

My favorite to stroll in is the Lower East Side because it is so vibrant, so diverse, in such constant flux and so rich in history and I’ve loved it ever since my parents first took me there shopping from Brooklyn as a kid. My favorite activity is getting on the subway and getting off at a stop I’ve never been to before and just walking around, or even one I haven’t been to in a while. You’re always bound to discover something new about New York.

A History of New York in 101 Objects is a definitive and fun factual guide to the city. If you were to suggest a novel that conveys important information about the New York what would it be?

A trick question! I love the novels of Kevin Baker, Pete Hamill, Caleb Carr, Jack Finney’s “Time and Again,” Dos Passos, Ed Doctorow, Jimmy Breslin (uh, oh, whom did I leave out?). Through prodigious research, they and other novelists capture the richness of the city, its history and its characters and what makes it so distinct from every other city I’m familiar with.

I know you had to winnow some of the myriad possible objects, which were most reluctant to let go?

Times readers suggested hundreds, many of them ingenious: Delaney cards that teachers used to keep as seating charts and record your grades, a Bella Abzug hat, and, of course, every variety of pizza.

Several of the objects you chose also represent a turning point of some aspect of New York. Was there are moment in your history with the City when your feelings for New York shifted or changed- be it new mayoral administration or a previously undiscovered block or even a really good meal?

I witnessed the underside of New York through some of its worst years in the 70s when I was city editor of the Daily News. I was always buoyed by the perspective that we had had the grit to make it through tough times before and, in the late 80s and 90s, and after 9/11, was heartened by New Yorkers’ resurgence and resilience.

 

Thanks Mr. Roberts!

Come learn more about A History of New York in 101 Objects on Wednesday at 6:30pm at our Free Tenement Talk where the book will be on sale with a special 15% off discount.  See you there!

–Posted by Julia Berick,  Marketing and Communications Coordinator

 

A Tenement Thrives in Glasgow

3,218 miles (or shall we say 5229.25 kilometers) away,  at 145 Buccleuch Street in Glasgow, Scotland, a tenement stands that is very similar to the one at 97 Orchard Street. The Tenement House is preserved and maintained by a government charity called the Scottish National Trust, which also helps to manage former castles and country estates. The Tenement House’s apartments, or ‘flats’ as the Scottish would call them, give visitors a chance to explore the challenges and successes of the building’s former owner, Ms. Agnes Toward, who moved into the building in 1911. Like our own residents of 97 Orchard Street, Ms. Toward was a working-class woman who carefully made her way to financial independence.

Cigarette cards probably provided the only affordable tour of Glasgow for our families on the Lower East Side. This view of Glasgow shows the pronounced Victorian influence on the Architecture, also evident in most tenement blocks. Photo courtesy of the New York Public Library.

Scots have been living in dwellings that can be defined as tenements (a legal term that simply means three or more families living in the same building) since the medieval times. The tenement at 145 Buccleuch St. was built in 1892 by a developer who anticipated an increase in population brought by industrialization –  specifically technological developments in cotton production. Its three-storey, red sandstone structure is a common architectural style in Glasgow.

George Square in central Glasgow. Like many cities that benefited hugely from the Industrial Revolution, great production also brought wealth disparity to the city. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

When Scottish tenements were built, they offered a greater diversity than the tenements on the Lower East Side. While all the apartments in 97 Orchard Street have three rooms, Scottish tenement apartments could be one to four rooms large, which allowed for a more economically diverse population. The most popular size, however, was that of the single room. The apartments in the Tenement House are retro-fitted with gas lighting to maintain authenticity – electric lights weren’t installed until 1960!

Another view of Victorian Glasgow. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The efforts to preserve these two tenement buildings – ours in the Lower East Side and The Tenement House at 145 Buccleuch Street – makes clear the similarities between the cities and the people who lived in them. Both in Glasgow and in New York, the period during which these buildings first became important was a turning point in that city’s history.  After the industrial revolution, Glasgow, which was once renowned for ship-building, became known for its industrial capacities. As in many industrial cities, a significant discrepancy in wealth developed between the populations who owned the factories and those who worked in them.

In Glasgow’s history, the majority of the population moving into the city was not from overseas, but rather from the countryside. With technological developments in processing cotton and cotton-based products, low-skill jobs were suddenly an enormous pull for workers. Individuals found jobs overwhelmingly in the garment industry – at one time, the cotton industry employed a third of the city’s residents. Whereas these tenement-dwelling populations came to Glasgow through ‘pull factors,’ most tenement- dwellers in New York arrived as the result of push factors, such as famine, religious persecution, and military conscription.

A row of red sandstone fronted tenements just like the Tenement House at 145 Buccleuch Street. Photo courtesy of the National Trust for Scotland.

Ms. Toward’s story will sound familiar to visitors of our own tenement; Ms. Toward’s mother was a dress-maker who worked out their apartment, but Ms. Toward learned stenography and became a typist. In her achievement of a white-collar position, Ms. Toward’s story resembles that of the immigrants who lived in our tenement on the Lower East Side.

Ms. Toward’s mother and many of the residents of our tenement did what they could to find a place for themselves in their new city. What these hard working people could not achieve in their own lifetimes, they hoped would be achieved by their children – a hope that people continue to share all across the world.

A view of the Tenement House in Glasgow preserved to appear as it did when Miss Agnes Toward lived there from 1911 to 1965 when failing health prompted her to move. Photo courtesy of the National Trust for Scotland.

   – Posted by Julia Berick, Marketing and Communications Coordinator

A New Leaf: Getting in Touch with a Fall Tradition

I’ve always preferred the fall holidays. Because I was raised “casually” Jewish, fall holidays meant that in addition to soccer parties, Halloween, my birthday, and Thanksgiving, my back-to-school blues were always somewhat sweetened by the punctuation of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot.  I always thought I would be overjoyed to have outgrown the school semester, but without the landmarks of new marble composition books and brand new Bics I find I get a little lost.  This year I decided to start my own fall tradition by baking a round Rosh Hashanah challah from Joan Nathan’s seminal recipe – who else!?

I happily watched Joan in her well-appointed kitchen mix the familiar ingredients and use her handy Kitchen Aid mixer. In my tiny East Village apartment I made do with arm power and some encouragement from friends and family phoned along the way.

Joan Nathan’s Chosen Challah

1 3/4 cups of water
1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon salt
8 cups all-purpose flour
Poppy or sesame seeds for sprinkling

1. Put water, yeast, and sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer and blend, using a paddle.

…Or using a stout wooden spoon and some woman-power. My “full-time assistant”, my boyfriend, suggested that I “think of Seamus.” He is referring to Heaney’s poem “Churning day” which documents the process of hand-churning butter in Heaney’s Northern Irish Childhood. I tell my “full-time assistant” this is more of an opportunity to think of Fannie and the shtetl….

2. Add oil, then add 2 of the eggs, one at a time, using the paddle to mix. Then switch to the dough hook and gradually add the flour and salt, then knead with the dough hook. Roll dough onto floured board and knead by hand.

…At 7 cups of flour I could barely imagine coaxing the dough to take anymore. I made a quick phone call the the expert – Mom.

She gives me great maternal advice for any situation “use your best judgement” but reassures me that I live in New York after all, and I can always find a bakery early  in the morning if this doesn’t pan out….

 

 

3. Grease a bowl with nonstick spray, put the dough in the bowl and cover with greased plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm place for 1 hour.

… I watch the bowl anxiously for what feels like each minute of this hour-long wait until my “full-time assistant” getting into the spirit of the exercise suggests I stop worrying and eat something….

 

 

 

4. After an hour, when the dough has almost doubled in volume, punch it down, cover, and let it rise again in a warm place for another half-hour.

 

 

 

 

5. To make a six-braided challah, take half the dough and form it into 6 balls.

With your hands, roll each ball into a strand tapered at the ends, about 12 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide.

Pinch the strands together at one end, then gently spread them apart. Next, move the outside right strand over 2 strands.

Then, take the second strand from the left and move it to the far right. Regroup to 3 on each side. Take the outside left strand and move it over 2 to the middle, then move the second strand from the right over to the far left.

Regroup and start over with the outside right strand. Continue until all the strands are braided, tucking the ends underneath the loaf. The key is always to have 3 strands on each side, so you can keep your braid balanced. Make a second loaf the same way. When you are finished you can either keep a long braided challah or twist it into a round challah for Rosh Hashanah.

… I get lost during the braiding twice, once irrevocably and unwind my entire braid to begin again muttering to myself the whole time…

6. Place the braided loaves on parchment paper on cookie sheets.

7. Beat the remaining egg and brush it on the loaves, then sprinkle with seeds—or put the seeds in a small bowl, brush the loaves with egg again, then, dipping your fingers first in the egg, then the seeds, gently touch the humps of the braids with the seeds. Repeat until your challah is well decorated. Let rise another half hour.

8. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and bake for 30 minutes or until golden. When the bread sounds hollow when tapped with a cake spatula, the challahs are done. Cool the loaves on a rack.

Yield: 2 challahs

…and a lot of pride. 

L’shannah tovah Happy New Year and happy fall!

–Posted by Julia Berick, Marketing and Communications Coordinator

 

Good Neighbors: Steve Yip of the Chinese-American Planning Council

In our Good Neighbors column, Emily Gallagher, our Community Outreach Coordinator, introduces us to the Lower East Side communities she works with every day:  

Today Emily speaks with Steve Yip, from the Chinese-American Planning Council.

Steve Yip

Tell us a bit about the work that your organization does.

I’ve been an administrator for the Chinese-American Planning Council for 16 years after 17 years in health care administration.  CPC’s the oldest human service organization serving the Chinese-speaking communities, with roots in Chinatown and the Lower East Side. This organization began from the legacy of the Civil Rights era, and when the immigrant laws for Asian immigrants were relaxed.  As a pioneer human services organization in this community, it has since developed into a large professional agency providing a broad spectrum of human services to the Chinese immigrant and the Lower East Side communities.  CPC will be celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2015.

Where are you (or your family) from?

My wife and I are Asian Americans originally from the San Francisco Bay Area.  She is a sansei, a third generation Japanese-American, and I come from parents of Chinese immigrant and Chinese-American heritages. My mother’s family has roots in Arizona from since the turn of the 20th century.   I consider Oakland, California home.

 

When did you first come to the Lower East Side?

We came to the Lower East Side in 1975, just when more Chinese –speaking immigrants were coming through into Chinatown and beyond.  At that time, the Lower East Side was obviously quite rich in history, though depressed and neglected.  Little Italy still had its flavor as a community, as was Grand Street and East Broadway maintained its Jewish character.  There was also an important legacy left by the struggle of Latinos and African Americans during the tumult of the 60′s and 70′s – some of this was manifested in the mural movement.  Unfortunately, many of these murals are gone today. And the demographics have shifted significantly today.

 

What makes this neighborhood special?

It really was, and still is, an admixture of cultures. And of cultural collisions where — ironically — people had little to do with each other.  This will change, and much of this will occur in the course of common striving for social change.

–Posted by Emily Gallagher, Community Outreach Coordinator

Good Neighbors: Katherine Chang of the University Settlement

In our Good Neighbors column, Emily Gallagher, our Community Outreach Coordinator, introduces us to the Lower East Side communities she works with every day:  

Today Emily speaks with Katherine Chang, the Program Coordinator for University Settlement’s Project Home program.

Katherine Chang is the Program Coordinator for the University Settlement's program Project Home. Photo courtesy of Katherine Chang.

Tell us a bit about the work that your organization does.
University Settlement is America’s first social settlement house, established in the Lower East Side 128 years ago. Today we provide holistic social services to the communities we serve, including childcare, senior services, youth programs, and mental health. I work for the eviction prevention program, called Project Home. We help tenants in the Lower East Side and Brooklyn who are at risk of eviction. Our case managers go with tenants to court, provide information as well as moral support, and help advocate for benefits to ensure that tenants can stay in their homes. We also provide short-term housing counseling for tenants in our communities.

Where are you (or your family) from?
My family is originally from China, and I am a first-generation American. I was born and raised in California but knew that I wanted to move to New York since the first time I visited my aunt and uncle here. I moved here for college and have lived in New York ever since.

When did you first come to the Lower East Side?
My work at University Settlement brought me to the Lower East Side just over 5 years ago.

What makes this neighborhood special?
The community here makes the Lower East Side special. Throughout my time at University Settlement, I have had the opportunity to meet many residents and community members here. I have also seen how willing neighbors are to help one another, even when they may be in a crisis of their own. Whether you’re hosting a rent party or recruiting volunteers to teach a community art class, the Lower East Side is its own best resource!

What inspired you to get involved in the lives of your neighbors?
I worked as a volunteer in the Bronx at an organization called Lift when I was in college, helping residents type up their resumes and connecting them with various resources. This experience introduced me to social services, and it inspired me to continue doing similar work after college. I was fortunate enough to be hired by University Settlement, where I am inspired by my coworkers and by our participants every day.

–Posted by Emily Gallagher, Community Outreach Coordinator