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Outside the Walls of 97 Orchard


We love our building at 97 Orchard Street; we take great and careful care of the 150 year old structure and we love talking about it even more than that (as you may have noticed from this blog, or if you’ve met one of our staff members).

97 Orchard - its own little world.

While 97 Orchard Street is a historical microcosm of New York City, and the country at large, it can only tell us so much about the history of the neighborhood. Thankfully, we have the neighborhood right outside the door to help us tell the rest of the story! This is where our walking tours come in. This weekend, we will be launching a new walking tour – Storefront Stories, which explores the history and present of the Lower East Side as a shopping destination. Most visitors are familiar with tours that take place inside the building, but some of you may be a little unsure as to what you might see on a walking tour; I’m here to help. Here’s a list of 4 of the countless things you can experience when you get outside of 97 and immerse yourself in the neighborhood through one of our walking tours.

A tour prepares to depart across from 97 Orchard

People! Sure, there are people inside 97 Orchard too – both real and imaginary – but the people that you can see on the street of the Lower East Side could be their own museum! You could see a trendy punk dude getting a coffee and reading Kafka, you could see a Chinese American woman laden with grocery bags, you could see a man hand in hand with his daughter, walking to school, you could see a lost tourist, (something you’ll never be again after your fabulous tour!) or you could see a million more combinations of people. All of these folks make up the patchwork of what the Lower East Side is today and give us a little glimpse into the everyday lives that people have lived here for the past 150 years. People have always read in cafes, bought groceries, nurtured their children and gotten lost in new places!

People shopping, walking, and living on the Lower East Side in 1898. While styles have changed, a lot of the neighborhood activity hasn't changed a bit.

Buildings! Just blocks from our museum at 97 Orchard, you can see all kinds of buildings and trace their existence through time. You can see an ornate pink building that was the first and largest department store in the area, you can see buildings with windows filled with plants or plates (or lazy cats), and you can see one of the oldest buildings in the neighborhood and one of the newest. Many of these buildings haven’t changed in 100 years, and you can imagine what they looked like in 1913 with the people mentioned above running in and out of them, forgetting their keys or their lunches.

A host of smells! I’ll give it to you, New York City isn’t always the most pleasant place for your olfactory sense – the smells of restaurants, garbage, cars and trucks, and more can be rather overwhelming to the nose. But sometimes you can get a nice breeze of coffee or pizza or even trees and flowers, and you can see that the Lower East Side is made up of many smells. These smells help us realize what happens when a whole group of people decide to live in close quarters and to imagine what New York must have smelled like when there was no air conditioning and horses were the fastest mode of transportation… ick! (Sure does put today’s hot stinky days into perspective, doesn’t it?)

Nuts 4 Nuts - little bags of roasted nuts for sale all over Manhattan. The best of all possible street smells.

A taste of the neighborhood! All of these things I’ve just listed are a part of the neighborhood of the Lower East Side as a whole. While we could never truly capture the entirety of the neighborhood in one tour – it is large and contains multitudes – going on a walking tour is the best way to get a sense of the neighborhood that has attracted millions of people over 150 years.

The Tenement Museum offers FOUR walking tours of the Lower East Side, including Storefront Stories, a new walking tour about the history of commerce in the neighborhood, which begins this Saturday September 28th!!

– Posted by Lib Tietjen