New York’s Lower East Side, also known as the LES, is one of New York’s oldest neighborhoods, and one with a rich immigrant history. Home to Irish, Italians, Poles, Ukrainians, Germans and other ethnic groups, at one time or another, it is most famously known for being the center of Jewish culture in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Bordered by China Town, NoLita, and the East Village, the LES has in recent years undergone rapid gentrification, and is now on The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of America's Most Endangered Places. The H.A. Dunne collection of vintage Lower East Side images, including photos of Little Italy and Chinatown, captures the heart and soul of one of the world’s greatest immigrant cities.
February 11, 1929 looks like it was a pleasant day on the Lower East Side. The Twenties were still Roaring, with the stock market crash still 8 months away, and these New Yorkers were going about their business, hustling along the snowless streets, on foot, in cars, or on streetcars, or riding above it all on the open air trains of the Third Avenue Elevated. Elsewhere in the world, Benito Mussolini and the Pope's representative were signing the Lateran Pact, giving the Vatican autonomy from Italy, and former Brooklynite and Bowery Boy Al Capone was planning the St.
The residents of Chinatown were nothing if not patriotic in 1905. Here we see Doyers Street, looking north toward Pell Street, festooned with 48-star American Flags. The photographer and the three boys are standing around the midpoint of the street at a location known as the bloody angle. This location, largely due to Chinese gang wars, which lasted from the early 1900s through the end of the 1930s, is reputed to be site of more violent deaths than any other intersection in the U.S.
A group of children play on a cart on Cherry Street in Lower Manhattan in the late 1800s. Children have a wonderful way of making fun where they find it and children of yesterday were no exception. It is a beautiful day in the city, and these children are forgoing one of the city's many playgrounds to make the most of this unattended cart.
In this very grainy photo from before the turn of the Twentieth Century, we see a man selling ice cream outside of 185 East Broadway, the offices of the Jewish Daily News or Yiddishe Tageblatt. At the time of this photograph the Jewish Daily News had a circulation of 13,400, and published in both Yiddish and English. It was one of many Jewish newspapers published in New York City at this time. Across the street from the ice cream vendor, out of the frame of the photo, was a condemned property belonging to the Ludlow Street Jail.
In this hand-colored photograph from the Detroit Publishing Co., we can catch a glimpse of immigrant life on the Lower East Side about 1900. The street is lined with pushcarts, and merchants haggle with residents over fresh vegetables. Laundry hangs on fire escapes. A streetcleaner dressed all in white pushes a broom up the street. Scenes like this came to an end in 1940 when Mayor LaGuardia outlawed the pushcarts and brought the vendors into indoor markets.
Some things never change. One of the joys of childhood is running through a sprinkler in summer. For most this probably conjures images of suburban lawns, but as this photo attests city kids did it, too. On a hot summer day in 1923 on the Lower East Side, these kids cooled off by running in the street under a sprinkler hooked up to a fire hydrant.
Those who have read The Godfather or seen The Godfather II will recognize these as the environs of the young Vito Corleone. A hundred years ago, this part of the Lower East Side was Little Italy, teeming with Italian immigrants looking for a better life. Today the immigrants come from a bit further east than Italy -- China, Viet Nam, Thailand -- but it is still a vibrant home for brave souls seeking opportunity and freedom.
Imagine coming off the Williamsburg Bridge into this mess at Delancy and Clinton Streets on the Lower East Side. It's enough to send you right back to Brooklyn. The traffic jam depicted in this 1923 Black and White photo shows a snarl up of cars, trolleys, and the Third Avenue Rail line. Even by today's standards this is vehicular congestion of epic proportions.
Every year for hundreds of years on Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, Jews perform the Rite of Tashlikh, casting crumbs of bread, symbolic of their sins, into a flowing body of water. Here, in 1910, a group of women and girls cast their sins off from the Williamsburg Bridge into the East River. Jews in New York City still perform Tashlikh on the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges.