As the word “tenement” indicates, 97 Orchard Street was a multiple family dwelling. Like most, it earned its reputation for overcrowding, poverty, and exploiting the working-class. From its opening in 1863 until 1935, the estimated 7000 people who lived in the building put up with fairly deplorable conditions that improved only as the government began regulating housing.
Lucas and Wilhelmina Glockner, from the German states of Baden and Bavaria respectively, were the first landlords of 97 Orchard Street. Originally a tailor by trade, Lucas began his tenure as a landlord when he and two fellow tailors purchased the property of the Second Reformed Presbyterian Church on Orchard Street. The tailors subdivided the Church site into three lots, upon each of which a tenement was constructed; Glockner received the lot at 97 Orchard Street.
When the 97 Orchard Street opened in 1863, it contained no running water, no indoor toilets, and no source of light apart from the few rooms lucky enough to have windows. Residents wanting to use the bathroom had 3 to 6 outhouses available to them in the backyard. In order to navigate the dusky interior of the building, the inhabitants relied on what light they could create with kerosene or oil lamps. For those residents interested in water, it was available via a spigot in the backyard, conveniently located next to the outhouses.
Today, this building is occupied by the Tenement Museum, an institution that honors America’s immigrants, promotes tolerance, and provides perspective on the current political debates on immigration and public health. The Museum opened the first restored apartment in 1992, the 1878 home of the German-Jewish Gumpertz family. Sign up for one of the guided tours offered by the Museum to see this and other apartments and to learn more about the daily life of immigrants in Kleindeutschland.
In the success of the Glockner family and the squalor of the Gumpertz family, a vision of the class divisions that led to the end Kleindeutschland emerges. It’s a common narrative in the immigrant experience—bonds of nationality unraveling in the face of time and money.