May 23, 2008
Walking Off the Lower East Side: Further Explorations of the lower Lower East Side
I'm wrapping up the walk in the Lower East Side today, and if you've been following along, I veered toward the lower parts of the neighborhood and never walked back to the northern streets. I had every intention of walking the streets north of Delancey, but these streets around East Broadway caught my imagination. The Forward building, with its Jewish socialist publishing history, the Henry Street Settlements, the remaining Jewish bakeries, Seward Park, the Eldridge Street Synagogue on the Chinatown street, and more - these places are off the beaten path and not yet fully caught up in the wave of hipsterdom that marks so many Lower East Side streets to the north. Not yet.
Two other places of note here, because they're still vital institutions of the contemporary Jewish community: Mikvah of the East Side (311-313 East Broadway), a 1904 Beaux Arts building, once the Young Men's Benevolent Association and later the Arnold Toynbee House and the Grand Street Settlement. The building was converted in 1941 into a mikvah, a ritual bathhouse for Orthodox Jewish women, and renovated in 1996. Also of interest is the Bialystoker Synagogue, 7-13 Bialystoker Place, dating from 1826, originally a rural Protestant church. The elaborate decorations inside, including the signs of the zodiac and murals the Western Wall and the Tower of David, date from the 1930s, and were painted at the time of the Depression to lift up the spirits of the congregation.
In following the news of the current zoning plans for the Lower East Side and learning of the National Trust for Historic Preservation's designation of the area on their endangered list, I've also been paying attention to the way magazines, newspapers, and advertisers write about the neighborhood. A sample:
"Probably best known for the slew of trendy bars and lounges that sprung up in the early 2000’s (most of which remain alive and well), the Lower East Side also has a funky mix of trendy boutiques, mom-and-pop shops, cozy cafes, and chic restaurants." - About. com
"This is a large and comfortable one bedroom apartment in the heart of Manhattan's hot, trendy and youthful Lower East Side. " - from a real estate listing on Craigslist.
"Today, Hotel on Rivington is surrounded by new clubs and trendy shops that are altering the once gritty neighborhood and attracting an entire new generation to the Lower East Side, where nightly room rates range from $350 to $5,000 for the triplex penthouse with terrace and hot tub." - Real Estate Weekly
The word "trendy," often used to describe the contemporary Lower East Side, connotes something of longer duration than a "fad," so the trend toward increased gentrification may hold. The process of repurposing of what was once called "the Ghetto" into a fashionable address is well worth watching. When wealthier residents move into their hi-rise condos, what will they make of the rich historical legacy of immigration on the streets below? Who will tell the longer stories of memory and remembrance?
Part of a series about the Lower East Side. See related posts.
See map at the post Walking Off the Lower East Side: The Slow Fade to Shade.
More images at Flickr WOTBA.