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RE-CREATING THE LOWER EAST SIDE

Excerpt from a talk by Suzanne Wasserman at the Vernacular Architecture Forum

June, 2006

Beginning in the 1920s, many former Lower East Side residents began returning to their old neighborhood for visits because they missed the smells, sights, and sounds of their recent pasts. Merchants figured out that they could accommodate their nostalgic longings by creating synthetic, re-creations of Lower East Side restaurants and cabarets. Contemporary entrepreneurs are currently catering to the more notorious aspects of the past, maybe inspired by the recent Gangs of New York craze. New venues use the past to attract customers – such as the Boss Tweed Saloon on Essex Street .

The Lower East Side has changed dramatically in the last decade but clearly some things have not. The Tenement Restaurant, an upscale establishment at 157 Ludlow Street, hoped to cash in on the lure of the past but in some cases the past is not really past. In June of last year, a 23 year-old young woman was arrested and charged with stealing credit card identities and thousands of dollars from restaurant customers; she was a waitress at The Tenement Restaurant.

The photograph above was taken by the Danish photographer Jacob Riis, who hoped to eradicate slums like this one at Gotham Court. An infamous slum, it had
started out as a model tenement.

I doubt that the developers of this condominium on the Lower East Side have any idea about the notorious association of its name.