This season of the Tenement Museum’s podcast explores stories of people who shaped American identity by doing everything from creating street games to traveling to outer space.
97 Orchard Street is a historic tenement that was home to an estimated 7,000 people from over 20 nations between 1863 and 1935. The five-story tenement was built with 22 apartments, each about 325-square-feet and each consisting of three rooms. Although living in tiny quarters, the families who called 97 Orchard Street home came to America — and New York City’s Lower East Side — in search of a better life and opportunities.
Today, the Tenement Museum has restored seven apartments and a lager beer saloon inside 97 Orchard Street. Demographically, the families who lived at 97 Orchard reflected the trends of immigrant populations in America, from the Northern and Western Europeans of the post-Civil War era of the late 1800s to the Southern and Eastern Europeans of the early 1900s. The Tenement Museum brings these stories to life through its guided tours and programs. Visitors can tour the recreated apartments and saloon to learn the powerful stories of the immigrants who built new lives, weathered hard times, and cleared the path for generations of Americans to come. Their story is our story.
Schneider’s Lager Beer Saloon
German immigrants John and Caroline Schneider lived and worked together at 97 Orchard Street, operating Schneider’s Lager Beer Saloon from 1864-1886, while living in an adjoining apartment. The Schneiders served German lager (previously unknown in the United States) and food in an era when the neighborhood was known as Little Germany. German saloons and beer gardens served as a social gathering place for families, and were sites of lively political debate.
Bridget and Joseph Moore
Nearly 1.5 million people immigrated from Ireland to the United States between 1850 and 1870, and by 1910 there were more people in New York City of Irish heritage than Dublin’s whole population.
Bridget and Joseph Moore arrived in America in the mid-1860s, and lived at 97 Orchard in 1869 with their first three daughters. At the time, many New Yorkers did not welcome Irish newcomers. As only one of two Irish families residing at the tenement, the Moores felt like outsiders in a neighborhood that was primarily home to German residents.
The discrimination against Irish immigrants was such a prevailing sentiment at the time that newspaper want ads for work often stressed ‘No Irish Need Apply’. And while it was challenging to find work, Joseph’s charm helped him land a job as a barkeep while Bridget stayed home with the children. The Moores had eight children, only four of whom lived to adulthood. The family lived on a budget of $20 a month, with nearly half of it going toward rent. Despite the social and economic challenges, the Moores learned to make it work and create a life for their family in America despite the hardships.
Today, Moore family descendants live all over the country, but some remain in the New York area, including a granddaughter who was a public school teacher, and two great-grandsons, a police officer and a firefighter.
In the 1870s, the Lower East Side was known as Little Germany. If it had been its own city, the neighborhood would have been the fifth largest German city in the world. Nathalie and Julius Gumpertz, East Prussian immigrants, lived at 97 Orchard during the Panic of 1873, a major economic depression.
One morning in 1874 Julius left for work never to return, leaving Nathalie alone with four young children. At the time, no public assistance as we know it today existed yet.
Nathalie, realizing she needed to ensure her family’s survival, needed a job. A woman well ahead of her time, she became a full-time dressmaker working out of the apartment at 97 Orchard Street. This allowed her to both earn a living and care for the children. Nathalie successfully supported her family for the next decade.
When Julius Gumpertz was legally declared dead in 1883, Nathalie was able to claim a $600 inheritance. In 1886, Nathalie decided to close her shop and move the family to a new tenement in Yorkville (presently known as the Upper East Side). Nathalie passed away in 1894 leaving a $1,000 inheritance, a significant sum at the time.
Lustgarten’s Kosher Butcher Shop
By the turn of the 20th century, Little Germany had given way to new waves of Eastern European Jews. Austrian-Jewish immigrants Israel and Goldie Lustgarten operated a kosher butcher store at 97 Orchard Street. In 1899, the Lustgarten’s shop was one of 131 kosher butchers on the Lower East Side. The business also endured the kosher meat riots of 1902, when one customer broke a shop window to protest rising prices.
Harris and Jennie Levine
One-third of Eastern European Jews left their homeland between 1880 and 1924, with the majority finding new homes in New York City. Harris and Jennie Levine arrived in New York from Poland in 1890. They moved into 97 Orchard Street along with their first child sometime around 1892. The Levines added four children to their family over the 13 years they resided on Orchard Street.
Needing to support themselves and their five children, the Levines, like many other immigrants literally set-up shop in their tiny 325-square-foot apartment. Harris converted the apartment’s front room into a small garment factory and hired three workers. Together they worked long, hard days of up to 10-hour shifts to earn a living wage, with the shop closing only on Saturdays to observe the Jewish Sabbath. While her husband sewed and ran the shop, Jennie might have cooked for her family and the workers.
The Levines lived and worked with as many as ten people at a time in the apartment. Although space was limited, Harris and Jennie found room in the apartment to raise their children, manage the workers and compete with the other garment shops in the neighborhood. By 1905, the Levines saved enough money to move the family to Brooklyn. They settled in the borough, eventually making their home in Bensonhurst, where Harris passed away in 1929.
Abraham and Fanny Rogarshevsky
When Abram and Zipe Heller immigrated to the United States from Lithuania in 1901, they not only left behind their home but also their names. By the time they reached New York, the Hellers had become Abraham and Fanny Rogarshevsky. The Rogarshevskys moved to 97 Orchard Street in 1908 with their six children.
Squeezing everyone into a modest three-room apartment took great creativity. At bedtime, the kitchen was transformed into a bedroom for the girls, while a couch in the front room became a makeshift bed for the boys.
The Rogarshevkys were able to transition to life in America with the help of New York’s community of Lithuanian immigrants. With the community’s help, Abraham found work as a presser in a garment shop where he worked for 15 years. The long hours and conditions at the shop eventually took a toll on his heath and Abraham died of tuberculosis in 1918. All the while, the community was there to support Fannie, helping with Abraham’s burial and shiva, the traditional Jewish period of mourning.
To keep her apartment at 97 Orchard Street and support herself, Fanny took the job of janitress, cleaning the building and its apartments. She held this job until the building was condemned and was 97 Orchard’s last resident, leaving in 1941.
Rachel and Abraham Confino
Seeking to flee the uncertainty of life in Kastoria (now part of Greece), Rachel and Abraham Confino and their children immigrated to the United States in 1913. The Confinos new home in America was a fifth-floor apartment at 97 Orchard Street. Cramped with little comfort or privacy, the Confinos made the best of it.
Life in America was challenging for the family, particularly as their customs were different from those of the Eastern European Jews who dominated the Lower East Side. The Confinos were Sephardic, descendants of Spanish Jews who had darker skin, spoke a different language (Ladino not Yiddish) and had a different diet. So, in addition to the typical challenges and discrimination faced by immigrants in America, Sephardic Jews like the Confinos were shunned by some in the existing Jewish community.
In 1917, the Confinos left 97 Orchard Street, and by 1921 had moved uptown to live in East Harlem where there was a thriving Sephardic community. Some of the Confino boys took American names: Saul became Bob while Salvatore became Charlie. David went a step further and changed his last name to Coffield, a name that all the Confino brothers, save for one, would eventually adopt.
In 1921, Victoria Confino became Victoria Cohen when she entered into an arranged marriage with David Cohen, a fellow immigrant from Kastoria.
Today, visitors to the Confino apartment at the Museum understand life as an immigrant in 1916 and the journey to becoming American through the eyes of young Victoria Confino.
Adolfo and Rosaria Baldizzi
With dreams of wealth and financial opportunity, Adolfo Baldizzi immigrated to the United States from Sicily in 1923, before the Johnson-Reed Act effectively ended Italian immigration.
His wife, Rosaria would arrive in 1925 and likely entered the country as an undocumented immigrant. Like many Sicilians, Adolfo and Rosaria made their first home on Elizabeth Street (Little Italy) and started a family with daughter, Josephine in 1926, and then son Johnny in 1927. The following year, the Baldizzis moved to 97 Orchard Street.
A trained woodworker in Italy, Adolfo struggled to find steady work in America during the Great Depression. Struggling to make ends meet, the family relied on provisions as part of President Roosevelt’s Home Relief benefits, a welfare program. Despite their economic struggles, the Baldizzis managed to raise their two children and make a comfortable home at 97 Orchard Street during the Great Depression. Adolfo used his woodworking skills to create handmade furniture for the apartment, Rosaria took pride in cooking and cleaning, and the family would play games at the kitchen table or go on walks around the neighborhood.
Born in the United States, both Josephine and Johnny were U.S. citizens. Johnny served in the armed forces in Japan from 1946-1947 and Josephine would marry and have children of her own.
Continue Exploring the Baldizzi Family Story
“I Would Cross A Million Borders”
Host, Brendan Murphy explores Adolfo and Rosaria Baldizzi’s immigration story in Episode 1 of How To Be American: A Tenement Museum Podcast. Listen to experts and guests discuss the parallels between U.S. immigration in the 1920s and today.
Find inspiration in the resilience of two families as they confront economic struggles — the Gumpertzes in the 1870s, and the Baldizzis in the Great Depression.
Marcus Auction House
Max Marcus was the son of Romanian-Jewish immigrants who lived with their eight children at 96 Orchard Street. Worried about her wild child, Max’s mother asked the owner of the auction house at 97 Orchard to take Max on as an apprentice.
Max went on to take over the business in the late 1930s. This business put Max and his partners (Frank Bloom and Herman Brandies) back to work during the most challenging days of the Great Depression. The auction house sold general merchandise, anything from cocktail shakers to clothing and cosmetics.
Sidney Undergarment Company
Though 97 Orchard Street closed to residents in 1935, its shops stayed open until the 1980s. Sidney and Frances Meda ran an undergarment shop at 97 Orchard in the 1970s, building a loyal customer base with attentive service and generous discounts.
Shoppers from all over the city sought deals in the Lower East Side, then known as the “bargain district”.
Visit 97 Orchard Street
Learn about the immigrant experiences of 97 Orchard Street.