Zoom into the Past

Why not have your next video call from one of our historic tenement apartments?

As a way to bring elements of the Tenement experience to you, we have made available images from our historic apartments for you to use as a background on your video calls! Impress your friends and family on your next call by placing yourself in the middle of the Italian Baldizzi family kitchen in the 1920s or the Irish Moore family living room in the 1860s! Join us to #zoomintothepast

How to #zoomintothepast

  • Download one of the below images along with fast facts for conversation starters
  • Add your tenement background to your next Zoom call (or whichever you preferred videoconferencing platform)
  • Tag the Tenement Museum when you share your screenshots and include the hashtag #zoomintothepast

For ideas on how to adapt #zoomintothepast for remote learning lessons click here.

Baldizzi Family Kitchen

Who lived here?  Rosario and Aldopho Baldizzi with their kids Johnny and Josephine 

When did they live here? 1928 to 1935

What’s in the room? This photo of the kitchen shows objects of advancing technology – running water, gas stove, and electricity, which came in about 1924, a decade after most homes in New York City had them. Josephine recalls her mother listening to Italian music and soap operas on the radio – which brought comfort and feelings of home, but also sadness.

There’s a Chinese Checkers game on the table, which Adolpho would play with his children during difficult periods of the Great Depression.

Moore Family Kitchen

Who lived here? Bridget and Joseph Moore with their three young children Mary Catherine, Jane, and baby Agnes 

When did they live here? 1868-1869 

What’s in the room? The kitchen is where Bridget spent most of her time as the main caretaker of her home. Many of the objects you see relate to domestic work and housekeeping responsibilities (various mixing bowls, hanging herbs, dishware, a basket used for shopping at the local market).

Cooking was done on the coal stove. The coal used to cook on the stove was especially dirty and would result in a layer of soot coating the walls and the floors.

Partial view of Rogarshevsky family parlor with bright red walls, an elegant burgundy couch, and a white wooden sidedoor

Rogarshevsky Family Parlor

Who lived here? Fannie and Abraham Rogarshevsky, with children Ida, Bessie, Morris, Sam, Henry, and Phillip 

When did they live here? 1907-1941 

What’s in the room? In this photo you have a view of the parlor couch, with piles of boxes and benches on the side. The four sons of the family – ranging in age from 5-15 year old – shared this couch to sleep on. They’d sleep with heads on the couch and arrange the boxes and benches to support their bodies!

You can also see weights hanging from the wall. One of the younger sons Sam wanted to be a boxer, so these were his training weights.  

Well-lit interior of a bar with a long wooden countertop, circular tables for patrons, and a variety of glass cups and wall decorations

Schneider’s German Beer Saloon

Who lived here? John and Caroline Schneider 

When did they live/ work here? The Saloon was in operation from 1865-1886 (the longestrunning business at 97 Orchard).

What’s in the room? Above the bar, you can see instruments musicians would play to provide live entertainment. Crowds would meet up to enjoy each other’s company, play games, catch up on news, gossip and debate politics.

The growler seen on the bar, is a tin pail that could be filled with larger beer to go. 

Levine Family Parlor

Who lived here? Harris and Jenny Levine, with their children Pauline, Hyman, Max, Eva, Fay 

When did they live here? 1892 – 1904  

What’s in the room? Harris ran a garment factory from his home for nearly 15 years. Fabric would arrive by contract, already cut, ready for Harris and his workers to put it together.

Harris would likely work the sewing machine – the most important job and the one that made sure a contract got completed. He’d sit by the window, where there was the most light, so he could continue working as long as possible.  

Wong Children’s Bedroom

Who lived here? Mrs. Wong, Mr. Wong, and their children: Yat Ping, Yat Fong (Alison)Toni and Yat Chung (Kevin) 

When did they live here? 1968-2001 

What’s in the room? In 1968 the Wong family became one of the first Chinese families to move into the building.  The two Wong daughters would grow up here in this bedroom and have memories of playing and doing schoolwork. Both Mr. & Mrs. Wong worked – Mrs. Wong worked in a garment factory and at home would sew clothing for her children.

The siblings spoke Chinese to their parents but would speak to one another in English. They remember watching popular TV shows the time like Charlie’s Angels and Love Boat. 

Confino Family Kitchen

Who lived here? Parents, Abraham and Rachel and their children Joseph, Victoria, Saul, Jacob, and Salvador, and nephews Albert and David.

When did they live here? 1913-1917 

What’s in the room? The Confino kitchen was outfitted with a coal stove, sink with running water, as well as a soapstone sink to offer a place to hold water for chores like laundry. Laundry would often take over much of the kitchen. The image shows a clothesline hung across the kitchen with one of the younger boy’s sailor shirts next to a crochet table cloth hung to dry. Many kitchen tools and dried foods are housed on the shelf above the stove including a kerosene lamp and an assortment of dried beans and canned goods.

In these apartments, most things needed to do more than one thing. The table beneath the window offered necessary counter space while cooking and could fold out to become a dining table for the family to gather around. The kitchen also functioned as Victoria’s bedroom, she slept on a manta (a traditional Kastorialisleep mat made of goat hair)on the floor in the middle of the room.

Zoom-out view of the Saez-Velez family's colorfully-patterned living room with a plastic-covered couch and armchair, and a small TV

Saez-Velez Family Living Room

Who lived here? Ramonita and her sons, Andy and José moved from Puerto Rico to New York City in 1955. They lived in the apartment along with Ramonita’s second husband, Francisco.

When did they live here? 1964-2011

What’s in the room? In classic 1960sfashion Ramonitacovered her couches in plastic. A princess phones at atop the television, which was often tuned into channels41 or 47—the Spanish language channels transmitted from New Jersey. Above the couch hung two portraits: one of the boys in graduation robes and another of Andy in his Airforce uniform. Ramonita liked to have plants growing by the large windows. The living room offered the family a place to host people for a Cafecito(small coffee) or a dance party.

Tips for using virtual backgrounds:

  • Use solid-color backdrop, preferably with a matte, non-reflective background.
  • Keep your background close to you
  • Wear clothes that are not the same color as your background or the virtual background.

Not sure how to add a virtual background image? If you are using Zoom, their help center has a great tutorial. If you are using another video conferencing platform, the help center is usually a good resource.

Ideas for use with students:

Immigration, presentation skills, public speaking

  • Upper Intermediate/High School: Invite each student to select an image to use as a background and present the information about that family to classmates. For additional facts and background information, each student can read the corresponding family story from our collection before presenting to the class.


  • Intermediate: Begin a virtual lesson with a tenement apartment as your background. Invite students to notice the objects in the apartment space, then introduce details about the family. Then, ask students to select one object and free write: what can we learn about the family from this object? Immigration lesson, presentation skills


  • Upper Elementary: Begin a virtual lesson with a tenement apartment as your background. Invite students to notice similarities and differences to homes today. Then, share details about the family and invite students to make inferences about the family from what they see in the apartment.