A Disastrous History of Housing the Poor: A Walk of New York's Lower East Side

Manhattan Unlocked Tours

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What You'll Get

We meet at the fountain “Triumph of the Human Spirit” in Foley Square. Here we’ll learn the history of the lake that once stood underfoot, and the African Burial Ground that surrounded its shores for a great part of history. The development of the area into the Five Points neighborhood (made famous again in current times with the movie Gangs of New York), and later as an Italian slum known as Mulberry Bend, is explained and explored in detail with numerous images and photos.

New York City’s greater history and even its geography come into full focus as we travel forward in time, and uphill, and look at the once ever-growing historic immigrant neighborhood.  We cross the Bowery, a road with a history unto itself as the ancient Native American high ground path through the island, and then embark into the heart of the Lower East Side: the old Delancey and Rutger farms.  A startling fact about the history of the most overcrowded spot on earth, in a city known for its regimented grid, is that this particular history was built on street patterns determined by the boundaries of farmland. And that fascinating history is also made abundantly clear in the roads today.

Images by Jacob Riis, author of the seminal book How the Other Half Lives, inform and bring high relief to a compelling narrative—clothe lines going every which way, pushcarts lining the streets—that is the center of the universe of New York City immigration history.  The evolution of housing laws and what they meant for how buildings were constructed and how they affected the calculus of daily life is explored in detail. You’ll learn to identify and recognize buildings and the different periods in which they were built. Examples of pre-law tenements (and their disease inculcating backhouses, built before 1879), “dumbbell” or old-law tenements (built between 1879-1901), and the final phase of the new-law tenements (after 1901) are revealed and explained. We explore how fire and disease compelled changes in sanitation (even laws regarding pigs), fire escapes, ventilation for dark inner rooms, and the slow progress from out houses to bathrooms and bathhouses to bath tubs.

The tour ends at Rivington and Orchard Street, in front of a tenement, in the heart of the old Jewish neighborhood, nearby the Tenement Museum.

Additional Information

  • Confirmation will be received at time of booking
  • Subject to favorable weather conditions. If canceled due to poor weather, you will be given the option of an alternative date or full refund
  • Minimum numbers apply. There is a possibility of cancellation after confirmation if there are not enough passengers to meet requirements. In the event of this occurring, you will be offered an alternative or full refund
  • wear comfortable walking shoes
  • snacks and water are recommended to revitalize
  • Local guide
  • Professional guide

  • Gratuities (optional)

2 hours 30 minutes

Return Details
Rivington and Orchard Streets

Voucher Info
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