May 19, 2008

Walking Off the Lower East Side: The Forward Building on E. Broadway

The Forward newspaper, a Yiddish language news publication that advocated democratic socialism, played an important role in immigrant life on the Lower East Side. At the peak of its circulation in 1912, the paper built a striking ornate ten-story Beaux Arts building at 175 East Broadway, one that loomed over its neighbors and one that could compete ideologically with a 12-story bank building two blocks away on Orchard St.

As I was walking south in Seward Park the other day, I spotted the handsome building and walked toward it to take some pictures. A man saw me taking an an interest in the building, so he stopped to chat. He pointed out the name Forward that graces the sides of the structure and explained that the letters on top, in Hebrew, spelled out Forward also. He said that after the paper moved out of the building, it became the home for a Chinese evangelist church and now it's a loft-style condo building.

From street level it's possible to see four relief portrait busts just above the second story on the building's front. These depict four socialists who influenced the Forward's editorial spirit. Two of them are Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. How ironic for the pair to grace the entrance of a pricey condo! And, by the way, haven't I explained that it's not possible to write about New York without bringing up social class?

The newspaper operation moved out of the building in the mid-1970s, but the paper itself is still humming along. In its history, the daily Forward featured prominent literary figures including Isaac Bashevis Singer and Elie Wiesel. It's not lost on the writers of the contemporary Forward that their old building, once home to socialist and progressive causes, now provides a home for the affluent. See a relevant piece on the subject here. Also, an opinion piece from the Forward on July 10, 2007 titled "Time to Bring the Forward Back Home" by historian Tony Michels, advocates a return to the paper's roots in the Lower East Side. Link here.

Images: the Forward Building, 175 E. Broadway, by Walking Off the Big Apple.

Updated 5/22/08: Want to live in the Forward? See this listing in the online NYT real estate section.

updated 6/02/08: Actress Tatum O'Neal was living in the Forward building at the time of her drug bust in New York. See news item here.

This post is part of a series on the Lower East Side.

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