By David Caplan
The Lower East Side or as some New Yorkers call it the “LES,” is a neighborhood in the southeastern part of Manhattan. Its boundaries are the Bowery to the East River and Canal to Houston Street and is one of the oldest communities in the city. It has a history of being a lower class working neighborhood and home to a very poor and ethnically diverse population. Immigrants from Ireland, Italy, Poland and Russia crammed into the many tenement buildings common to the area. If you want to see how they lived in the mid-19th to early 20th century, visit the Tenement Museum on Orchard Street.
The LES once had a large German community known as “little Germany”. A horrific fire on board the ferry boat General Slocum during a family church outing in 1914 claimed over a thousand lives. The passengers mostly came from “Little Germany” and the devastated community was never the same. Many of the residents eventually relocated to the Upper East Side.
In New York City history, the LES was once considered to be the center of Jewish culture. It is home to many historic synagogues and is where songwriter Irving Berlin, singer Eddie Cantor and actor John Garfield grew up. Still to this day there exists an Orthodox Jewish community with Yeshiva day schools, Judaica shops and variety stores. You can still find Kosher Delis and bakeries as well as famous eateries like Russ and Daughter and Katz’s Deli.
The area now, like most of Manhattan, is becoming gentrified with new hotels and luxury condominiums. And many New Yorkers head down to Clinton Street in the LES to enjoy some of the newest and hippest restaurants in the city.
Last week’s mystery photo – Ceiling of the Great Hall at Ellis Island
This week’s trivia question- Where is the Cloisters?