About the Lower East Side


LES STORIES Making history visible. In celebration of LES History Month!
#LESmonth #LEShistorymonth #PeoplesLES
Basic Chalking
May is Lower East Side History Month!
General Facts
The LES has always been a home to immigrants and refugees
The LES is on Lenape land
The first Africans in the LES were enslaved people brought by the Dutch
The LES has a history of strong women leading
The LES has been a haven for artists
The LES has been a home for radicals
The LES is the district with 2nd highest income inequality in NYC
The LES was home to the labor movement
Trivia to chalk anywhere Note: these facts make most sense of you chalk them in the format “DATE: Fact”
5000BC – 1600s Astor Place was Kintecoying (Crossroads of Three Nations), a meeting place for 3 Lenape groups – Canarsie, Sapohannikan, and Manhattan
5000BC on This is Lenape land
17th c. The Mareckawick tribe lived here — marshland was good for canoes.
17th c. The LES is 76 acres of farmland – owned by Jacobus Van Corlaer
1644 “Land of the Blacks” – Dutch issue ‘half freedom’ and land grants to 30 Africans
1644 “Land of the Blacks” spanned 130 acres – same as 100 city blocks
1644 Dutch “Half Freedom” for Africans meant their children were still enslaved
1651 Peter Stuyvesant purchases farmland: E 6th to E 23rd, 4th Ave to Ave C
1663 Four bouweries (Dutch farms) cover the LES to the East River
1683 The LES has the oldest Jewish cemetery in America, includes Rev. War soldiers
1723 NYC population 7,248.
1743 Oliver DeLancey marries Phila Franks, who is Jewish. City scandalized.
1744 James Delancey owns 300 acres of the LES — and was a slaveholder
1780 LES Collect Pond – only body of water – is polluted by tanneries and potteries
1787 White NY Manumission Society – including Alexander Hamilton – found first African Free School.
1787 African Free School educates 40 Black students, mix of free and enslaved, in one room schoolhouse
1795 African American burial ground opens on Chrystie Street after downtown site closes
1798 Dyptheria outbreak blamed on polluted Collect Pond water
early 1800’s Stuyvesant meadows become Avenue D
early 1800’s Shipyards multiply along East River banks
early 1800s Tenements begin to be built
early 1800s Five Points is an integrated neighborhood. housing free Black New Yorkers, Irish and German immigrants
1803 Hills (current area of First and Second Aves) leveled, used to fill Collect Pond
1810 Canal Street actually had a canal. It helped drain the Collect Pond.
1810 Chatham Square is a large open air market for goods and horsetrading.
1815 Due to a building fire, the African Free School moves to a building on Mulberry Street, right in the heart of Five Points
1816 Corlears Hook is notorious for streetwalkers aka “hookers”
1820 Enrollment at the African Free School reaches 500 students
1820’s African Americans worship in ‘Slave Galleries’ at St. Augustine’s on Henry Street
1820’s and later Houses on the Bowery were stops on the Underground Railroad
1820-50 Investors purchase Delancey farm & square off lots to sell
1829 Abolition of slavery in New York State.
1829 Peter Stuyvesant offers the City land for Tompkins Square Park
1830’s Alexander Hamilton’s widow and son live on St. Mark’s after he was killed by Aaron Burr in a duel
1830’s Bull’s Head Tavern near today’s Chatham Square, headquarters for New York’s cattle market
1830’s Entire marshy area from Ave A to river filled in, ship building takes off
1830’s William Henry Lane, “King of all Dancers”, electrifies audiences with a fusion of African American dance and Irish jig, worked out in local ‘challenge dances’
1832 Cholera epidemic claims lives of 3,500 poor Irish.
1833 First tenements built in Corlear’s Hook near East River
1834 Tompkins Square Park is named for Daniel Tompkins, Gov. 1807-16, who abolished slavery in NY.
1834 Mobs attack African American homes, businesses & churches in Five Points.
1835 Fire destroys 700 buildings, moving vans needed to haul looted goods from Five Points.
1836 John Jacob Astor, who made his fortune trading furs with the Lenape, creates Astor Place.
1840’s German immigrants settle on LES, it becomes “Kleindeutschland” / ‘Little Germany’
1840’s Avenue A lined with beer halls, oyster saloons for German residents
1840’s Avenue B was German ‘Broadway’ – the main commercial street
1840’s St. George’s Ukranian Catholic Church opens to minister to ‘Little Ukraine”
1840’s African American Jack Ballagher is famous fiddler of the LES.
1840’s Boss Tweed launches career by leading a crew of firemen.
1845 Women’s Prison Association founded on 2nd Ave – oldest advocacy group for women in the US
1846 Military uses Tompkins Square Park as a Parade Ground and camp
1846 Irish settle close to East River & area becomes known as ‘Dry Dock’
1846-48 Irish immigrants flood LES fleeing the Great Hunger
1848 East Village area has many two story wood frame homes with small gardens
1848 St. Brigid’s Church on Ave B built by Irish shipbuilders – their faces are carved into the church pillars
1850’s Swaggering “Bowery B’hoys” wear black silk hats, boots, smoke cigars
1850’s In LES dance halls, Blacks and whites dance together. Uptown scandalized.
1850’s “The Dead Rabbits” are a fearsome LES gang
1850’s Saloons and grocery stores sell alcohol by the glass.
1850’s Infamous waterfront dives included Lava Beds, Cat Alley, and the Tub of Blood
1853 Lord & Taylor’s opens on Grand Street, a major shopping district.
1857 Homeless and unemployed gather in Tompkins Square Park to march on Wall Street
1857 Gang feud between Bowery Boys and Dead Rabbits requires calling in militia to end it
1858 Atlantic Garden opens – major beer garden and concert hall
1859 Peter Cooper, maker of railroad tracks, founds Cooper Union school – free art and tech education
1860-1930 Over 70 years, 97 Orchard was home to more than 7000 immigrants.
1860’s The local celebs are firemen
1860 Abraham Lincoln speaks in Great Hall at Cooper Union
1860 $15,000 worth of oysters consumed daily in NYC.
1863 700 African Americans sheltered by police on Mulberry Street during Draft Riots
1863 Draft Riot attacks on African Americans spurs Black exodus from LES
1868 Brooklyn ferries run every five minutes, carry 48 million each year
1870’s LES Cigar factories import skilled workers from Cuba, Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo
1872 Victoria Woodhull, US suffragist, jailed in Ludlow Street; ran for President when women couldn’t vote
1873 LES: Average 3 room apartment houses 10-15 people
1874 10,000 workers protest economic hardships in Tompkins Square Park, are beaten by police
1875 Germans, concentrated on the LES, make up 1/3 of NYC population
1875 LES is over 64% German
1878 Boss Tweed, once most powerful man in NYC, dies in Ludlow Street Jail.
1880’s LES accounts for 1/4 population of entire city.
1880’s Jacob Riis photographs the LES for “How the Other Half Live”
1883-1909 Bridges built: 1883 Brooklyn Bridge, 1903 Williamsburg Bridge, 1909 Manhattan Bridge
1882 NY’s first Labor Day Parade, 25k in Union Square, march for 8-hour day, ban on child labor
1884 Second Avenue Ottendorfer Library opens; Half books in English, half German.
1884 All African-American segregated schools ended in NYC
1886 Steve Brodie, saloonkeeper, claims he jumped off Brooklyn Bridge and lived. International fame ensues.
1886 Newsboys’ Lodging House opens on Ave B & 8th St, shelters newsboys and bootblacks for 5 cents / night.
1890-1910 More than two dozen settlement houses open on LES
1890’s The Bowery is a prime amusement district, “place of the People”
1890’s No indoor plumbing in tenements. Outhouses in the rear alley.
1890’s LES has world’s highest tuberculosis rate.
1890’s Unlike uptown, Chinatown restaurants welcomed African American diners
1890 Photographer / activist Jacob Riis publishes “How the Other Half Lives”
1893 To reduce infant mortality, pasteurized milk stations open across LES, 7 cents/quart or free to poor
1893 Emma Goldman jailed after telling poor to steal bread if they can’t buy it
1895 Teddy Roosevelt is NYC Police Commissioner, works to clean up LES
1897 Abraham Cahan, labor advocate, founds Jewish Daily Forward
1897 LES has one bar for every 208 residents
1899 Local No. 1 – Hebrew Actors Union, nation’s first theatrical union opens in LES
late 19thc Tenements: no running water, no indoor plumbing, no air, no light, susceptible to fires
late 19th Cent If LES was a city, it would have been the largest Jewish city in the world
1900’s Tavern owners complain union organizers talk too much, drink too little
1900’s Yonah Schimmel, rabbi from Romania, sells mashed potatoes in dough from pushcart
1900’s The Labor Lyceum, on East 4th, is center for worker’s classes and rallies
1900’s Emma Goldman speaks in Straus Square calls for workers rights and free love.
1900’s Straus Square – named for Nathan Straus, crusader for safe milk for children, cut infant death rate in half.
1900’s Straus Square the center of Jewish life
1900’s Settlement workers teach ‘American’ ways of cooking & shopping
1900’s The Grand Duke’s Opera House: a theater run by street boys – newsies and bootblacks
1900’s LES is “the cradle of the American labor movement” – Samuel Gompers
1900’s Settlement houses: workers ‘settle’ into the LES, living here to care for poor
1900s “Slumming” tours of the LES very popular with tourists.
1900 “Khazzer Market” on Hester street is crowded with immigrants hoping for day labor jobs
1900 More than 1,200 people lived on Orchard between Stanton & Rivington
1900 LES most populated 2 sq. miles on Earth.
1900 LES – 250,000 ppl per square mile. NYC 2015 – avg. 70,000 ppl per square mile.
1900 US: Life expectancy for white Americans – 48 years; for African Americans – 33 years.
1900 US: Mother of 4 has 50/50 chance that 1 child dies by age 5.
1900 US: Half all young people lose a parent by age 21.
1900 Half of all U.S. children live in poverty
1900 Street food: oysters, hot yams, corn on the cob, baked pears
1900 The LES east of Bowery is turf of ‘The Eastmans’ – gang led by Monk Eastman
1900 International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union founded on East 4th Street
1901 New! 2 toilets required for every 4 tenement families
1902 Jewish housewives boycott butcher shops to protest price of beef
1903 Five Points Gang and Eastmans wage a gun battle – over 100 men fight through streets for eight hours.
1904 The General Slocum, a picnic boat, catches fire. 1,021 women and children die. Gemans can no longer bear to live here. ‘Kleindeutschland’ vanishes.
1905 LES eats soup. Proverb: “Poor people cook with a lot of water.”
1905 Rose Pastor Stokes, activist, marries millionaire, dubbed “Cinderella of the Sweatshops”
1905 Pushcart census surprise: food is fresher than in stores
1907 Pauline Newman, age 16, leads 10,000 LES families in rent strike
1907 LES tenement children hang a landlord in effigy
1909 First public meeting space of the NAACP at Cooper Union
1909 U.S. Senator “Big Tim” Sullivan donates 5,000 pairs of shoes to destitute men on Bowery
1909 At Cooper Union, young female shirtwaist workers vote to go on strike – the first major women’s strike in US
1909 Clara Lemlich, strike leader of factory girls, beaten, arm broken by thugs hired by bosses
1909 Uprising of the 20,000 – first mass strike by women in US
early 20thc Social reform movement activists were now primarily women.
1910’s Eleanor Roosevelt teaches dance at University Settlement
1910 Izzy Guss starts a stand in the “pickle district”
1911 146 garment workers, most young women, die in Triangle Shirtwaist Factore fire
1913 Children’s Farm Garden opens on Corlears Hook, 3/4 acre w signs in English & Yiddish
1914 LES elects first Socialist – Meyer London – to Congress, celebrate with a 4am parade
1914 Joel Russ opens store after selling salted herring from pushcart.
1914 “Black Tuesday” riots break out due to closing of Jarmulowsky Bank.
1914 An “army” of the unemployed occupy local churches demanding food and a place to sleep.
1920’s Louis Auster claims to have invented the ‘egg cream’, sells thousands a day
1920 Majority of LES is Jewish – Russian, Polish and other
1920 Italian immigrants dominate area from Houston to 14th between 1st & 2nd Ave
1923 Libraries host weekly meetings of debating clubs, Yiddish mothers’ book club, boy scouts, and English classes.
1924 Electric lights added to tenements.
1925 Aron Streit, baker from Austria, opens matzo factory
1930s-50’s Public housing: 1936 First Houses, 1940 Vladeck Houses, 1949 Jacob Riis, 1949 Lilian Wald, 1957 La Guardia, 1959 Baruch
1933 Police battle 500 in riot when writers evicted from Paradise Alley, Ave A at 11 St
1933 Knickerbocker Village development displaces 400 low income families
1934 Sara D. Roosevelt park opens, named for FDR’s mom
1934 East River Docks were at Avenue D; infill from demolished tenements extended the banks
1934 Boats were docked at Avenue D and 9th Street
1935 First Houses built on East 3rd, first public housing project in US
1936 First Houses – America’s first public housing; opened by Eleanor Roosevelt
1935 LES starts to de-populate, except for low income housing
1936 Dorothy Day, activist, founds The Catholic Worker newspaper on E. 1st Street.
1939 Robert Moses leads opening of East River Park, 3rd largest park in Manhattan
1950 Jazz musician Charlie “Bird” Parker lives at 151 Avenue B
1954 Veselka opens – means “rainbow” in Ukrainian
1955 Demolition of the Third Avenue “El”
1956 Joseph Papp begins producing Shakespeare in East River Park
1959 Residents form Cooper Square Committee to oppose Robert Moses’ “slum clearance” plan
1960’s Tompkins Square Park – 38 arrested for playing conga drums; released by Judge citing “equal protection for the unwashed, unshod, unkempt, and uninhibited”
1960’s Real Estate brokers popularize “East Village” name
1960’s Drug dealing is rampant in LES
1960’s C.O.R.E. activists do “sandwich testing” of landlords — documenting different rent quotes to white and black tenants
1960s Poet Amiri Baraka launches the Black Arts Movement, hosting artists in his home
1962 Mobilization for Youth opens storefront, hires 300 community organizers
1963 Petra Santiano, community activist, dubbed “first woman mayor” of LES by El Diario
1964 LES tenants join citywide rent strike – begun in Harlem
1965 Jonas Mekas arrested for screening ‘Flaming Creatures’
1965 Chico Garcia, Robert Nazario, Armando Perez and others found “The Real Great Society” to support youth, fight poverty
1966 Andy Warhol stages Velvet Underground on St. Mark’s
1967 Abbie Hoffman launches Yippie Movement from his place on St. Mark’s
1967 Negro Ensemble Company opens at St. Mark’s Playhouse on Second Ave, a leading theater of black artists
1968 Police raid Christodora House, reputedly national HQ of Black Panthers
1969 Ellen Stewart moves La MaMa ETC to East 4th Street; pioneer of experimental theater
1969 Young activists announce formation of NY chapter of Young Lords in Tompkins Square Park
1970 STAR House founded by Marsha P. Johnson and Sylva Rivera to provide refuge for homeless transgender youth. First of its kind in the nation
1970 STAR is the first group in the US to organize explicitly around trans rights and self-determination.
1970-80 Disinvestment: Half of private apartments east of Ave B disappear.
1970’s Residents create community gardens from rubble-strewn lots
1970’s LES participates in ‘sweat equity’ initiatives to homestead abandoned properties are 70% Latino
1970’s Landlords abandon L.E.S., sometimes torching buildings for insurance.
1970’s Loisaida Inc: grassroot movement of Puerto Rican activists and Hispanic residents to combat violence, drugs, gangs, and poverty
1970’s Adopt-A-Building helps residents turn abandoned tenements into low income co-ops
1970 McSorley’s loses court battle to stay “men’s only” saloon.
1973 Hilly Kristal opens CBGB’s – becomes home of punk, new wave music
1973 Liz Christy and the Green Guerillas “seed bomb” vacant lots.
1974 Ramones make their CBGB’s debut.
1974 Liz Christy Garden at East Houston is first Community Garden
1974 Poet Bimbo Rivas coins term “Loisaida”
1975 Miguel Algarin, Miguel Pinero, Bimbo Rivas, and others open Nuyorican Poets Cafe.
1975 NYC goes officially bankrupt
1976 Community activists and local residents create La Plaza Cultural garden
1978 City goverment becomes largest landlord in NYC, mostly of decaying buildings
1978 Marlis Momber, filmmaker, produces “Viva Loisaida”
1979 Anthology Film Archives opens in former courthouse
1979 CHARAS/El Bohio Community Center started in abandoned P.S. 64 school building
1979 Bennie Matia’s films ‘Heart of Loisaida” documenting homesteading movement
late 1970’s Ann Magnuson’s Club 57 was a home for “hipsters, girls in petticoats and stilettos”
1980’s Chico Garcia begins creating murals in LOISAIDA, many are memorials
1980’s Residents do weekly night marches around Sara D Roosevelt Park, banging pots & pans, to chase out drug dealers.
1980’s Real estate tide turns in LES – gentrification kicks in
1980’s LES slogan: “This is our land! Speculators get out!”
1980’s Over 200 art galleries operating on the LES
1980’s Community members launch the garden movement
1980’s Ru Paul and Lypsinka perform regularly at the Pyramid Club
1984 Orchidia Restaurant, beloved for pizza and pierogi, closed due to rent hike.
1985 First Wigstock in Tompkins Square Park
1986 Purple footprints painted all over NYC by George Bliss, lead to community garden organized by Adam Purple.
1986 LES People’s Federal Credit Union, a cooperative, opens after last bank departs – leaving 100 blocks with no banking.
1988 Tompkins Square Riots: police evict homeless; 44 injured by cops who tape over their badge numbers
1989 Casa Adela opens, known for its pernil & neighborhood artwork
1990’s Chinatown garment factories close
1990 LES People’s Mutual Housing Association opens 1st of 24 vacant buildings for affordable housing
1996 LES Girls Club organized by local women and activists.
1998 Giuliani admin. auctions off P.S. 64, home of Charas/El Bohio community center for 20 years.
1998 LES activists disrupt sale of CHARAS/EL BOHIO by releasing thousands of crickets in hall of public auction
1999 Hundreds mourn Armando Perez, outspoken advocate, leader of Charas/El Bohio Community Center
2002 Landmark settlement preserves scores of LES community gardens
2002 City turns over 11 buildings to squatters after 20-year conflict
2003 NY’s Chinatown becomes largest in Western Hemisphere.
2004 Tompkins Square Park – surprise habitat for red-tailed hawk
2012 Hurricane Sandy knocks out heat, electricity for 3 weeks on LES
2012 Sandy floods the LES, water up to Ave B at 12th St.
2012 LES: 26% of people / 34% of seniors living below poverty line
2012 LES approx 31% white, 33% Asian, 25% Hispanic, 7% Black or African American
2013 After Sandy, 25 orgs join “LES Ready!” to coordinate relief
2013 East Village gas explosion kills 2; landlords arrested
2014 LES: 30% earn under $20k; 20% earn more than $100k
2014 DiRoberti’s renowned pasticceria closes after 110 years
2015 Approx. 45% of LES is rent stabilized.
2015 LES: approx 166,000 people
2015 LES is a leader in NYPD noise complaints / nightlife noise
2015 Median rent for 1 bedroom is $2,725
2015 LES still has 39 community gardens
Facts w/o Date The following facts don’t need a date chalked with them…
This land, like all Manhattan, was once occupied by the Lenape
Stuyvesant Place near Second Ave was once Shempoes Village – a Lenape settlement
LES has been listed by National Trust for Historic Preservation in “America’s Most Endangered Places”
The LES has always been associated with radical politics: socialism, communism, anarchy
Bouwerji (boweries) is the Dutch name for large farms
African Americans were some of earliest settlers & farmers on Bowery
Most of LES was once part of the Delancey farm
The Delancey family property, most of the LES, was confiscated after the American Revolution. They were Tories.
Most of East Village was once high salt marshes and tidal meadows
After WW1, the LES became NYC’s first racially integrated neighborhood
Seward Park is the first permanent city-built playground in the U.S.
Since its founding, Seward Park Library has always been one of the busiest libraries in the city.
St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery is the oldest site of continuous worship in Manhattan.
The Angel Orensanz Center is the 4th oldest synagogue building in the US
Kehila Kedosha Janina is the only Greek synagogue in Western Hemisphere
First Houses built on East 3rd were the first public housing project in US. Opened by Eleanor Roosevelt.
Lower Second Avenue was the center of Yiddish theater in NY
Division Street divided the Delancey and Rutger family estates
Mott Street was once known as the Irish Broadway
Orchard Street was named for fruit trees that once lined the block
Corlears Hook was an important landmark for navigators for 300 years
The Lenape encampment near Corlears Hook was called Naghtogack
Meyer London, NY Rep., fought to ban child labor, create minimum wage and unemployment insurance – attacked as wild socialist schemes.
In Jonathan Larson’s musical “Rent”, most characters live on Avenue B
“Captain America” aka Steve Rogers is from the LES.
Abron’s Art Centers artists have included John Cage, Aaron Copland, Dizzie Gillespie, Martha Graham
LES sons: Marx Brothers, Al Jolson, Gershwin brothers, Irving Berlin
LES heroine: Lillian Wald: New York’s first public nurse
LES locals bowled in alley behind saloons – hence “bowling alley”
LES was once home to more than 200 pickle shops.
Where did they move to? LES Jews to Williamsburg, Brownsville, Harlem, the Bronx
Where did they move to? LES Germans to Yorkville
Where did they move to? African Americans to Greenwich Village 1850’s, Chelsea/Hell’s Kitchen 1880’s, Harlem 1910’s
Where did they move to? Early Irish went to Hell’s Kitchen & midtown East