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Bowery at Sixth Street : typical tenement living

The overcrowded and poorly lit tenements of the Lower East Side, like the ones typical on this corner, were once home to huge numbers of recent Jewish immigrants. In the late 19th century, many of the apartments in these tenements doubled as garment workshops. Clothing manufacturers could have their products sewn and assembled here and avoid the costs of maintaining a factory. In the early 1900s the industry began to move from cramped tenements to large loft buildings like the Triangle’s, but...

The overcrowded and poorly lit tenements of the Lower East Side, like the ones typical on this corner, were once home to huge numbers of recent Jewish immigrants. In the late 19th century, many of the apartments in these tenements doubled as garment workshops. Clothing manufacturers could have their products sewn and assembled here and avoid the costs of maintaining a factory. In the early 1900s the industry began to move from cramped tenements to large loft buildings like the Triangle’s, but few safety measures were introduced. Many of the young women who worked in the Triangle Factory in 1911 lived in buildings much like the ones on this street.

A typical five-story tenement house held about 20 three bedroom apartments, four to a floor. This would have housed about 7,000 immigrants from twenty countries. Built in brick, they were typically built by fledgling European immigrant architects, who styled them to imitate the Italianate brownstones popular among the upper classes. Inside, most of the houses before 1901 would have had no running water, no toilets or baths, and were characterized by low lighting. Despite the accessibility of running water thanks to the Croton Aqueduct, the aqueduct more often worsened water conditions because wells were in disuse and higher water levels led to flooding for the many immigrants living in cellars.

A series of laws in 1879 attempted to improve sanitary conditions but only applied to those houses built after the law. Pre-law houses were allowed to go on without the requirements. But after the 1990 publication of Jacob Riis’ How the Upper Half Lives as well as a high society expose called The Tenement Exhibition at the Fifth Avenue Sherry, pressure was applied for a new set of laws with teeth in 1901. These required fresh air, running water, and access to natural light, which made most post-New Law apartments larger, six stories tall and built on corner lots. In requiring bathrooms and windows, the laws also made smaller living quarters. A typical Lower East Side block now shows four five story tenement buildings built in the old, more ornate style. The new laws also required fire safety protocol, but the 1911 fire demonstrated the limits of even these new laws.

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Stories in the spotlight: Bowery at Sixth Street : typical tenement living

Text courtesy of Jewish Women's Archive and Travelgoat.

The overcrowded and poorly lit tenements...

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Tenement Lifestyle
March 9, 2011
Travelgoaters at Bowery at Sixth Street : typical tenement living
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