Orchard Street

Orchard St. runs for eight blocks on the Lower East Side, from Chinatown’s Division St. to East Houston St. (It’s pronounced HOUSE-ton, not like the city in Texas, and part of Chinatown is inside the LES.) It’s a one-way street going from south to north, and often considered the heart of the LES.

Orchard St. takes its name from an orchard on James De Lancey, Jr.’s farm, back in the days when Manhattan was rural farmland with low population density. Though he fled to England in 1775, due to his unpopular political views, he continued making money from tenants renting his property.

In 1780, his brother and lawyers sold his New York properties. His farm was declared forfeit when the British evacuated the city in 1783. Later, he was paid £29,842 in compensation for losing his property, the next-highest such award paid to a New Yorker but less than half of what he’d sued for.

By the mid-19th century, the LES was an immigrant enclave full of low-rise, stuffed tenements. At first it was called Kleindeutschland, Little Germany. Before long, though, it was a much more heavily Jewish neighborhood.

Because of its well-known history, many people, myself included once upon a time, believe that was the ONLY place immigrants lived. Despite the well-documented existence of many other immigrant enclaves in NYC, and in countless cities in other states, the LES remains a de facto setting in a lot of historical fiction about immigrants.

Copyright Crazyrachie

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Orchard St. was the main shopping thoroughfare. Peddlers of all types lined the streets with their pushcarts and kiosks, and many small business owners had stores. It was the proletarian version of Fifth Avenue, Unter den Linden, Champs-Élysées, and Nevskiy Prospekt.

Orchard St. was also known for its crowded tenements, many of which contained businesses on the lower levels. Upstairs, scores of people were packed onto each floor, and many families lived in single rooms. This was no genteel poverty, but true, abject poverty.

Two of these buildings are now the Tenement Museum, abandoned by the landlord in 1935 and unchanged till 1988. The one at 97 Orchard showcases the lives of its residents from 1869–1935, and the tenement at 103 Orchard tells the story of tenants from the 1950s to the 1980s. They also have many historical archives and educational programs.

Despite restorations, parts of the upper floors are unstable and closed to the public.

Copyright Jay Manday

Of course, thanks to gentrifying hipsters pricing longtime residents out of their neighborhood, the old stores and kiosks have been replaced by upscale boutiques, fancy restaurants, and brand-name shops, and real estate prices are through the roof. Even the discount stores aren’t the kinds of stores that existed decades ago.

While in no way do I believe it’s great to be poor and live in a squalid tenement, there needs to be a happy medium. Cities need people of all classes to be a richly diverse ballet of life, as the great urbanist Jane Jacobs famously said.

These hipsters were also sitting pretty in their cushy bourgeois suburbs while poor and proletarian residents held down the fort in so many cities for several decades, when most people didn’t dare to go anywhere near there. Now that the crime rates are way down and it’s cool to live there again, hipsters and millionaires have taken over.

How about making the cost of living better for lower-income people, raising their wages, and renovating existing housing instead of pricing them out of their own neighborhood, knocking down historic housing to build ugly high-rise luxury condos and upscale stores, and turning multi-family rowhouses and townhouses into single-family homes?

If you’re going to move to a new city, you need to show respect for longtime residents instead of remaking their home according to your standards!

Copyright Jazz Guy

Copyright Jim.henderson

Copyright Sheynhertz-Unbayg

Though none of my characters live on Orchard St., they sometimes mention it as a street full of run-down old tenements they’re glad they don’t live on. It’s also referenced in Little Ragdoll as the location of a florist’s where Adicia and Justine get a 75% off get-well bouquet for their sister-in-law Lenore.

Perhaps it’s the same florist’s referenced as Mrs. Troy’s latest job du jour in Green Sunrise, the long-hiatused sequel. Predictably, she’s fired when she’s caught putting bruised flowers in a full-price bouquet, and gets into a fight with the boss in front of customers, rips apart bouquets, and throws them into everyone’s faces.

Katz’s Delicatessen

Copyright Beyond My Ken

In 1888, Katz’s Delicatessen began its life on Ludlow St. in the Lower East Side as Iceland Brothers. In 1903, Willy Katz joined the business, and it was renamed Iceland & Katz. In 1910, Willy’s cousin Ben came aboard and bought out the Icelands. Katz’s Delicatessen was officially born.

In April 1917, landlord Harry Tarowsky bought into the partnership. The deli was forced to relocate across the street due to subway construction, though its Ludlow entrance remained the same. Barrels of pickles and meat were stored at a vacant lot on Houston St. (The Manhattan street is pronounced HOUSE-ton, not like the city in Texas.)

From 1946–49, that Houston St. vacant lot added the current façade, and the operation shifted from Ludlow St.

Copyright TaurusEmerald

The Lower East Side is famous as a huge immigrant hub in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, esp. in regards to its Jewish population. So many immigrants lived in the LES, it’s a popular misconception that that was the ONLY place immigrants lived.

Some people expressed great surprise to learn only one branch of my family tree lived in NYC after immigrating, and that they barely spent any time there. Based on their own family histories and the popular narrative, they believed all immigrants settled in the city.

However, many immigrants did live in the LES, and Katz’s became an important community meeting-place. During the heyday of Yiddish theatre, the deli was frequented by actors, comedians, and singers. On Fridays, everyone convened on Katz’s for franks and beans.

Copyright Shinya Suzuki

During WWII, in response to the owners’ sons serving in the Army, the company’s slogan became “Send a Salami to Your Boy in the Army.” This slogan was coined by Rose Tarowsky, whose son Izzy was a bomber pilot in the South Pacific.

When Willy Katz passed away, his son Lenny took over. Then, in 1980, both Harry Tarowsky and Ben Katz passed, leaving the deli to Izzy Tarowsky and Artie Maxstein (Ben’s son-in-law). Because this second generation had no offspring of their own to bequeath Katz’s to, they let their good friend and restaurateur Martin Dell, his chef son Alan, and his son-in-law Fred Austin buy into the partnership in 1988, on the deli’s centenary.

In late 2009, Alan’s son Jake officially joined the team and is now the acting head.

Copyright Beleg Langbogen

In connection with Katz’s 125th anniversary in 2013, a pop-up art gallery opened next door, featuring artwork by locals. The art rotates on a monthly basis.

Continuing the tradition begun during WWII, Katz’s continues to send gift packages to troops overseas.

In 2017, Katz’s finally opened a second location in Downtown Brooklyn.

Copyright Urbankayaker

Patrons are handed a numbered, printed ticket upon entering. While they get food from the various stations throughout the deli, employees keep a running tab. If one loses a ticket, a $50 fine is added to the bill. Management wants to encourage patrons to go back through the store to try to find the ticket to prevent theft.

Sadly, Katz’s is no longer kosher. Some of the ingredients start out kosher, but aren’t used, prepared, or served according to the laws of Kashrut. Their biggest violation is serving meat and dairy together. Not all the meat is certified kosher anymore either. Though Katz’s never pretended to be strictly kosher, it wasn’t that bad!

Copyright Dizzledan

Copyright City Foodsters

My characters Igor Konev and Violetta Likachëva go to Katz’s for several dates. It’s conveniently located, since Violetta lives in Greenwich Village, and Igor lives with his great-aunt in the northern Lower East Side (the area which later seceded as the so-called East Village).

East River Park

Copyright David Shankbone

The East River Park opened 27 July 1939, replacing an active shipping yard. The waterfront was also home to many factories, tenements for the poorest of the poor, railway yards, slaughterhouses, power stations, and glassworks. Who else but Robert Moses decided to tear it all down!

This park was developed in tandem with East River Drive (also known as FDR Drive). Though I’m hardly a fan of Mr. Moses’s aggressive remodelling of the city, the Lower East Side desperately needed more parkland and recreational facilities.

Though the Lower East Side has several other parks, this is the largest of them all. Unfortunately, it’s shrunk somewhat over the years due to road expansions. That’s more like the Robert Moses I know and hate.

Copyright David Shankbone

In 1941, an amphitheatre was added south of Grand St., with an adjacent limestone recreational building. There were frequent concerts in the park here during the 1950s, as well as plays including Shakespeare and classic Greek dramas. Local schools also held their graduations here.

Sadly, the theatre closed due to budget cuts in 1973, and then vandals attacked it. By 1980, it was unfit for purpose.

Copyright David Shankbone

In the 1990s, when the city began coming back from its absolute nadir, the park was extensively rehabilitated, and many new features were added. In 1998, the Lower East Side Ecology Center became the park’s steward. Their education center and offices are in the Fireboat House near the Williamsburg Bridge. Every year, they shepherd thousands of volunteers through gardening and upkeep.

Other 1990s developments include the Brian Watkins Tennis Center and the 10th St. comfort station. Handicapped accessibility was added recently, and for the first time since the 1930s, the seawall offers East River views.

The East River Park is part of the East River Esplanade, a series of linked parks and walkways forming an almost uninterrupted greenway around Manhattan’s perimeter. To the south of the park, Pier 42 has been transformed from an unused shipping terminal to a place of recreation.

Copyright David Shankbone

In 2001, the City Council voted to rename the park John V. Lindsay East River Park, after the city’s 103rd mayor who served from 1966–73, one of the most difficult periods of both U.S. and NYC history. This was rather controversial, since Lindsay came under fire many times during his mayoralty and was frequently criticised for being out of touch with the common people. Some consider him the worst NYC mayor of the 20th century.

However, there were some positives in his stormy political career. Mayor Lindsay helped to revive artists’ communities by ordering code enforcement officers to go lightly on squatters and artists’ living and working spaces, instead of evicting and imprisoning them.

He also transformed the Civilian Complaint Review Board from an internal cop-run department to a public agency with a majority-citizen board. Most importantly, his efforts to preserve racial harmony spared New York the riots found in other big cities during this era.

The renaming ceremony took place 19 December 2001, on his first Jahrzeit (death anniversary).

Copyright David Shankbone

East River Park appears in two chapters of my contemporary historical Bildungsroman Little Ragdoll, and is mentioned a few other times. In Chapter 2, “Going Fishing,” protagonist Adicia is sent down to the East River with four of her siblings to wrangle up dinner, and her one decent brother Allen is pulled into the river from a feisty fish on his line, all while a cop watches him fishing with a fake license.

In Chapter 6, “A New Decade Still in Poverty,” Adicia and three of her sisters go sledding in the park with garbage pail can lids.